Aaron Dworkin will perform his spoken-word composition, “The American Rhapsody,” on April 8 with the Augustana Symphony Orchestra, with Fernanda Lastra conducting.

The free performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island. Tickets are not required at this time.

Dworkin was a member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee and is founder and president of the Sphinx Organization, a group that focuses on bringing diversity into the arts. “The American Rhapsody” tells the story of the nation through the life and words of George Washington, the first U.S. president. The work is set to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Symphonic Variations on an African Air.”

“The American Rhapsody” integrates and weaves together the literary content with the 1906 music through a process Dworkin calls “musetry,” according to a Friday release from Augustana. Named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, Dworkin served as dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance and is currently a professor there.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (named after the famous poet) was mixed-race English composer who lived from 1875 to 1912. The spoken-word multimedia orchestral work is “a tribute to the ideals of courage, freedom and commitment while also serving as a story of vulnerability and the progression of humanity through the great injustices which plague our history,” according to a summary of “The American Rhapsody.”

“The victories and agonies of our past not only resonate with but inform our present as our nation seeks to find a pathway toward a more unified future,” it says. “The American Rhapsody excerpts a variety of speeches and writings by George Washington, with both prosaic and poetic interludes. A statesman, a general, and the commander-in-chief, Washington was an entrepreneur and a patriot who respected loyalty and fought against ignorance and division. He also favored education and the arts.”

The work integrates and weaves together the literary content with the music. “Despite rare performances, Symphonic Variations on an African Air is sonorous, evocative and beautifully orchestrated,” the synopsis says. “As a set of variations, it offers a unified musical content that is at once pictorial and rare in its form.”

College orchestra headed by Argentine woman

The Augustana Symphony Orchestra is a full-size orchestra of 70-80 members that has an active and diverse performing schedule throughout the year.

Argentina native Fernanda Lastra is director of orchestras at Augustana College.

Conductor Fernanda Lastra was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina. In 2019, she was a finalist for the Assistant Conductor position at the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra, and in 2018 Fernanda was awarded First Prize for the conducting competition held by the Opera de Bauge, France.

Her interests encompass a vast repertoire including symphonic, contemporary and opera works. She has served as assistant conductor in public opera performances, most recently, the University of Iowa’s 2019 production of Little Women by Mark Adamo.

In April 2019, she joined the production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Neuchatel, Switzerland as assistant conductor of Musiques des Lumieres Orquestre and in November, conducted for Revival Theatre Company the production of the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma

Lastra currently serves as director of orchestras at Augustana in Rock Island, where she leads the Symphony and Chamber orchestras. She also serves as assistant conductor for the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra.

Lastra is leaving at the end of the semester, and Augie is searching for a new orchestral director. Daniel Chetel, the previous director, moved to Chicago last summer.

Lastra has been appointed Diversity Conducting Fellow at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for the 2022-24 seasons.

From 2018-2020, Lastra was conductor of the University of Iowa Opera program. She previously was Principal Conductor for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Orchestra during the 2016-2017 season.

The Conductor Diversity Fellow position is a two-year fellowship providing a challenging and professional work experience with the BPO, while serving to engage with all parts of Buffalo’s diverse community in a meaningful way, according to that orchestra. Lastra will participate in structured training and professional development while functioning as a member of the BPO’s artistic team, and will be an active member of the BPO’s Diversity Council.

“Fernanda is a serious and deeply gifted conductor who will be a superb addition to our BPO family,” Music Director JoAnn Falletta said in a January release. “The musicians and I look forward to working together with her over the next two years, and warmly welcome her.”

The April event at Centennial Hall is free and open to the public. Masks are required. For additional information, contact the Ticket Office at tickets@augustana.edu or 309-794-7306.