Heritage Philharmonic pays bicentennial tribute to Missouri composers in Blue Springs concert

Mike Genet

The Heritage Philharmonic of Eastern Jackson County on Saturday will play its first concert since the onset of the pandemic. 

The community orchestra's free concert at Blue Springs High School, 2000 N.W. Ashton Drive, begins at 7:30 p.m., and will include the orchestral premiere of selections of the “Oregon Trail Suite” by Independence composer and violinist Dana Mengel. Masks will be required for all audience members. 

In addition to Mengel's work, Saturday's concert celebrates Missouri's bicentennial this year by including works from several other Missouri-born composers: Claude T. Smith, Virgil Thomson, John Kander and Robert Russell Bennett.  

The Heritage Philharmonic, conducted by James Murray, began in 1994 as the Independence Symphony and changed its name a few years ago. Murray said he and Mengel had discussed the “Oregon Trail Suite” awhile back, and initially the group planned to have a bicentennial-themed concert this past March, but that was all before the pandemic hit. 

“We tend to try and program a year or two in advance,” Murray said. “We're especially pleased that we're returning with a full orchestra, but we're also glad to be able to do this program.” 

“The first rehearsal back in the fall always has a lot of energy to it because we haven't seen each other in the summer, but this year especially.” 

Mengel composed the “Oregon Trail Suite” in 2014 after he recorded an album inspired by paintings of George Caleb Bingham and chose a project based on the pioneers and families who left Independence bound westward in the mid-1800s and experienced a difficult journey.  

Murray said the orchestra received Mengel's work “quite warmly, for many reasons.” Mengel and his wife and brother are well-known by many orchestra members, he said, and the musician provided some good feedback when rehearsing last week with the group. The piece, Murray said, is “very tuneful and representative of what he was going for.”