World Relief Quad Cities is joining its strong voice in harmony with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) to present the Masterworks III: Ode to Guitar concerts on Dec. 3 and 4, 2022 at the Adler Theatre.

Through the new partnership, WRQC and QCSO aim to bring people together around the power of music, while giving back to area refugees in the process by donating 50% of ticket proceeds to support immigrants and refugees in the local community.

“At a time when our communities are in need of connection, this program will bring people together to celebrate music across cultures,” said World Relief Quad Cities executive director Laura Fontaine. “World Relief Quad Cities is thrilled to join the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in telling the story and recognizing the critical contribution of immigrants and refugees in our society. We are thankful to QCSO for their support in giving back to our immigrant and refugee communities in the region.”

Laura Fontaine is executive director of World Relief Quad Cities.

The program will feature acclaimed guitarist Mak Grgić and composer Michael Abels, along with narrator and Local 4 TV anchor Jim Niedelman. In the concert, Grgić is joining the QCSO to premiere a QCSO co-commissioned Guitar Concerto “Borders” composed by Abels.

“This piece is inspired by the museum exhibit ‘Sahara: Acts of Memory’ by Amir Berbic depicting life in camp ‘Sahara’ that was created in Denmark for housing refugees of the Bosnian War in the 1990s,” Michael Abels said in a recent release. “Among the refugees were graphic artist Ismet Berbic and his family. The exhibit details the Berbics’ struggle to preserve individuality, family and cultural identity in the face of losing country and community.

Guitarist Max Grgic

“Guitarist Mak Grgic is a friend of the Berbics, and experienced the Balkan war firsthand as a child,” the composer noted. “In the first movement of this concerto, the guitar is a protagonist that is repeatedly confined by sonic bars or walls created by the orchestra. The second movement depicts a child running, sometimes joyfully, but also sometimes in fear.”

“When Michael and I first started talking about the narrative of the new guitar concerto, we couldn’t help but notice that we both came from turbulent backgrounds and that music had provided a safe haven for us,” guitarist Mak Grgić, an immigrant himself, said.

“It was a sheer coincidence that around the same time, my friend Amir Berbic had an exhibit in Pomona, California, about his family’s experience as refugees during the Balkan War in the 1990s. We visited Amir’s exhibit ‘Sahara: Acts of Memory’ together, and it touched us both deeply, providing further inspiration for Michael’s writing of the concerto, which took on the title ‘Borders.’

“Beyond thrilled”

“I am beyond thrilled that we chose to present music as something that supersedes life’s obstacles, and that the Berbic family’s story of persistence and perseverance has been told so well,” the soloist said in the release.

Composer Michael Abels

Erica Parrigin, WRQC’s grant writing and communications manager, said the QCSO collaboration came together when orchestra executive director Brian Baxter reached out about what he imagined could be a “really powerful” partnership, since the concert will feature this concerto inspired by recent refugee stories and art. 

“The partnership is increasing the accessibility of our local arts by using music as a universal language,” Parrigin said recently by email. “Refugees wouldn’t necessarily attend the symphony on their own, whether because of money, lack of interest, or simply not knowing it exists, but many of our former refugees on-staff LOVE the symphony.

“We want our families to experience the arts like any other Quad Citizen — just like our partnerships with the Putnam and Botanical Center,” she said. “It’s also nice to have the refugee population represented more broadly across what we consider to be quintessential QC culture.”

The ticket proceeds will be used where they are most needed — whether to help families prep for the winter, help Afghans afford legal fees while seeking asylum, etc., Parrigin said.

Tickets to the performance are on sale now and can be purchased on the QCSO event page. To give back to World Relief Quad Cities with your ticket purchase, the code WRQC can be entered on the discount code page of the check-out process.

Grgic, a native of Slovenia, performed on Sept. 11, 2022 for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra chamber music “Up Close” series at Davenport’s Redstone Room.

For more information on World Relief, visit its website.