Rock Island orchestra director knows what love is, playing with Foreigner

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Violinist Matt Manweiler (far right) and cellist Michael Wahlmann (center) got to perform with Foreigner for two Iowa dates in March 2018.

For the second time in four years, Quad Cities violinist Matt Manweiler will get the thrill of performing with the popular rock band Foreigner on tour.

An orchestra director for the Rock Island-Milan School District, Manweiler first performed with the classic rockers on two Iowa dates in March 2018, with four other QC musicians among an orchestra of 20-plus. This time, he’s the only local musician to join the contracted orchestra on three Foreigner dates — Oct. 11 in Detroit, Oct. 12 in Youngstown, Ohio, and Oct. 13 in Grand Rapids, Mich. For their fall 2021 tour, Foreigner is only doing three other dates with orchestra — in California Sept,. 29, Oct, 1 and 2.

The Grammy-nominated composing/arranging team of Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer “really knocked these orchestra arrangements out of the park, and I can’t wait for more people to hear their work,” Manweiler said recently. “The first Foreigner + Symphony tour back in 2018 is possibly the most fun I have ever had on stage, and I formed friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.”

Rock Island school district orchestra director Matt Manweiler on tour with Foreigner in 2018. He gets to join the band again in October in Michigan and Ohio.

In March 2018, he played on two Iowa concerts, in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City, with an orchestra of between 20 and 25 musicians. Manweiler was first contacted by QC cellist Michael Wahlmann, who contracts area musicians for major touring shows, and himself played with Foreigner in Iowa, among five QC musicians that time.

“You have these timeless rock songs that are just so fun to listen to them and then, Dave and Chuck did the orchestrations for this show and they took a year working with Foreigner to try to find the way to expand Foreigner to a symphonic sound,” Manweiler said.

“And they just knocked it out of the park,” he added. “A lot of times when rock and pop groups will bring in strings, they’re playing background sustained parts, but these parts are very intricate. They serve the music very well and, you know, it’s just a rock show and it’s a blast.

Foreigner started adding orchestra a number of years ago, in Switzerland with the 21st Century Orchestra, a full 58-piece orchestra, and they released an album with them in 2018. “I think it was the top of the classical Billboard charts for 10 weeks or so,” Manweiler said. (Watch them do “Double Vision” HERE.)

Foreigner performed with the 58-piece 21st Century Orchestra in Switzerland in 2017.

“I’m super excited,” he said of next month’s tour (for which transportation is provided). “Some of the relationships that I formed when I was on this tour, is one of the reasons that I was able to get asked to come back again. A lot of times, musicians there’s so much of opportunity that comes just from getting to know people and being a kind person and doing your job and then, just those basic things I believe lead to new opportunities.”

There are no other QC musicians who will be part of these shows, but the group includes someone from Cedar Rapids, Manweiler said.

Before and after the 2018 gigs, the orchestra director said some of his students were very excited to hear about the shows.

“For some of them, I think it was an introduction to this the style of music and their first chance to see, oh, you know, this is what classic rock is like and violin and viola can work really well with the style of music,” Manweiler said. “That’s one of my goals teaching – is for these students to see that their instrument, while it is wonderful at classical music, it can also sidestep and play in these different genres of music, such as classic rock, jazz, Latin, hip-hop and you name it.

Of the Foreigner set list, he said he enjoys the orchestra most on the up-tempo, harder-edged songs.

“The best of the ballads are very nice, but these arrangements, they are very technical and they serve the music very well. And it’s just special — my favorite song probably to play is ‘Double Vision’,” Manweiler said. “Which is one of their faster tunes and so they’re different. But I enjoy the faster, upbeat stuff a lot.

“There’s just a level of intricacy to the arrangements where they’re ‘re paying respect to the original recordings as much as possible, but bringing it to this whole new life of possibilities with symphonic music,” he said. “I think that’s why the shows are so fun to play as they really found that sweet spot between the two.”

Foreigner (co-founded in 1976 by British guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones) released an album with the 21st Century Orchestra and Chorus in 2018.

Manweiler also was excited to see 17 students from the Rocky chamber choir perform “I Want to Know What Love Is” with Foreigner in early March 2020 at the Adler Theatre, as Moline High choir members did in 2015 at a TaxSlayer Center concert. Asking local school choirs to join on their No. 1 1984 anthem is standard for the band.

“Foreigner has been very supportive of musical education and they donate a lot of money to school music programs and try to involve students,” Manweiler said. “The Rock Island High School choir got to sing with them, and that was the last show that Foreigner played before they got shut down due to Covid.”

Members of the Rock Island High School chamber choir sang “I Want to Know What Love Is” with Foreigner at the Adler Theatre, Davenport, in March 2020.

Having multiple connections with Foreigner will hopefully inspire students to pursue music as a possible career and improve their musicianship, Manweiler said. For many years, he has brought top-notch visiting artists to Rocky to work with and perform with students in public concerts (including electric violinist Mark Wood, Turtle Island String Quartet (with Quad City Arts), violinist Christian Howes, and world-renowned Latin violinist Jesus Florido).

Any Foreigner members possibly coming here in the future?

He said it couldn’t be until the next residency is done, in early 2023. While Foreigner doesn’t have any QC stops in its new tour, the closest to the area will be Nov. 5, when they will play at the University of Illinois-Springfield Performing Arts Center.

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