Since it opened in 2004, West Salem’s Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts has hosted a wide variety of entertainment.

The facility’s superb acoustics, comfortable seating and unobstructed sight lines make it an excellent place to enjoy music, yet a full orchestra has never performed there.

That will change on Nov. 17 when the Northern Symphony Orchestra makes the trek from the Twin Cities for a show that will combine beloved Christmas music with popular classical compositions chosen to fit the season.

According to Dan Heerts, the facility’s art director, this is a first for the Heider Center. “We’ve never had a full concert experience before. We’ve had smaller groups come through that played some “classical” fare, but the Northern Symphony Orchestra will be the first (orchestra) to take our stage,” he said.

“There’s going to be something for everyone,” promised Mike Halstenson, the orchestra’s conductor. He co-founded the group some 10 years ago. At first it was a strings-only group, but has since grown into a full symphonic orchestra.

Although the 70-piece NSO primarily serves the northern metro area of the Twin Cities, Halstenson stressed that it is not one of those community music ensembles where anyone who wants to play is allowed in.

“We hold auditions for every part — not just anyone can join,” he said. “There are a lot of good players in the area so we can be be particular.”

While the orchestra has developed a loyal following in the Twin Cities, Halstenson said the most satisfying compliment he’s ever received came from Los Angeles and John Williams, the legendary film composer whose music has been nominated for Academy Awards a record 51 times.

“One of my former students is now a film composer in L.A. and she was having lunch with him, “Halstenson said. “She had some of our music playing and Williams told her, ‘That’s a fine orchestra.’”

When it comes to music, Halstenson admits to being biased, but he believes there’s nothing quite like the rich sound a 70-piece orchestra can deliver. “A full symphony orchestra with woodwinds, strings and brass has so much color,” he said.

The program for the Nov. 17 show not only includes holiday music and seasonal offerings like “The Skater’s Waltz” but something rarely seen in a city the size of West Salem — an actual world premiere.

“‘Winter Overture’ is an original piece of music composed by one of our trumpet players,” Halstenson said. “It’s a wonderful piece and this will be the first time we’ve performed it in public.”

The trip to the Coulee Region is a bit of a departure for the NSO because in the past it has performed exclusively in the Twin Cities area.” “We’re really excited about bringing a real orchestra to the Heider Center,” Halstenson said. “This is something new for us. We’ve never traveled as an orchestra before.”

Heerts, too, is anticipating what the NSO has to offer. “It will be great to have a symphony from outside the area bring in something new and different,” he said.

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