Vancouver symphony season opener will feature former Miss America

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If you go

What: Vancouver Symphony season-opening concert with soprano Katie Harman.

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $48 reserved; $33 general; $27 seniors; $10 students.

Information: 360-735-7278 or http://www.vancouversymphony.org/tickets.php.

Bolstered by $144,000 collected in an emergency fundraising drive, the Vancouver Symphony has rebounded from a near-death experience and will kick off its 33rd season with a concert featuring Katie Harman, who was named Miss Oregon in 2001 and Miss America in 2002. Harman will sing a selection of operatic arias and popular songs in the first half of the program.

The concert will open with Oregon composer James Niblock’s “Symphonic Overture” and end with Shostakovich’s “Symphony No 5 in D Minor.” All of the works will be conducted by the orchestra’s music director, Salvador Brotons.

Gresham, Ore., native Harman, who studied voice from Ruth Dobson at Portland State University, was selected Miss America two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since then, she has been very busy, balancing performing and speaking career with raising two children and launching a children’s clothing line.

“This is the second time I’ve performed with the Vancouver orchestra,” said Harman. “I sang with them in the summer concert in 2008. That was when I was pregnant with my daughter.”

Harman will sing “O mio babbino caro” (“Oh My Dear Father”), an aria from Puccini’s opera “Gianni Schicchi.” This was the aria that Harman sang the night she won the Miss America title.

“My parents aren’t musicians, but they certainly appreciate good music. As a student of classical music, much of which I sang was in another language,” Harman said. “When I told my parents about this piece, my dad said, ‘Gee, I wish that you would choose a piece that I could understand.’ So, I told him a bit of the background of the song, which tells about a 16-year-old girl, Lauretta, who is begging her father to let her marry her boyfriend. After that, I had my dad hook, line and sinker, because he is the father of three daughters.”

Harman also will sing is the “Song to the Moon,” an aria from Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka.” Other selections include Norman Leyden’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Embraceable You,” plus “Summertime” from Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

She will finish her part of the concert with an arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in your Eyes” and “Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen So Heiss” (“My lips, they kiss so hotly”) from Franz Lehár’s operetta “Giuditta,” which Harman described as a “fun, flirty party piece.”

The concert opener, “Symphonic Overture,” was written by Niblock in 1964 on a commission from the Lansing Symphony.

“It’s a pretty traditional overture,” he said of his work. “It has a slow beginning and a fast ending. It’s been played around quite a bit by orchestras.”

Niblock, who will be 94 in November, was born in 1917 in Scappoose, Ore. His family moved to Lyle, on the north side of the Columbia River just east of Hood River, Ore., where he graduated from high school in 1935. After graduating from Washington State University, he served in the Army during World War II and studied with two renowned composers: Roy Harris and Paul Hindemith. After the war, he taught at Michigan State University until his retirement in 1985.

“I composed a few things while in the Army and sent them to Harris,” Niblock said. “When I was stationed in Amarillo, Texas, I used to take the overnight train to Colorado Springs, (Colo.), where Harris was. After the war, I moved to Colorado Springs and lived there for three years, and studied with him. Hindemith came there for his vacations. He had a cabin up in the mountains, and he wouldn’t tell anyone where it was. But he came into town to teach at the college there, and that’s when I studied with him.”

The second half of the concert will be devoted to Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5 in D Minor,” which he composed in 1937. This symphony, with its heroic scope and dramatic transitions, received an enthusiastic 30 minute ovation from the audience at its premiere and has remained one of Shostakovich’s most popular works.

“It is a symphony that was written under very difficult circumstances,” Brotons said. “It has a lot of deep feelings. I have performed it many times with several different orchestras. I would recommend people to concentrate on the first and third movements, which are the ones that have the most deeply felt music. The second movement shows the burlesque side of Shostakovich, and the last movement shows the faked triumph of Soviet music.”