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March Mania

Wilkowske to perform benefit concert

Nationally acclaimed baritone Andrew Wilkowske will perform art songs, opera arias, cabaret songs, Broadway favorites and more as a benefit concert for Music Matters. His performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at WEAC auditorium in Willmar.

Reserved tickets are $30 and are available at Willmar Community Education and Recreation at 1234 Kandiyohi Ave. S.W., Cash Wise Foods, Walt's, The Church of St. Mary, by phone at 320-231-8490 and at the door.

Student rush tickets are $5.

All proceeds will benefit Music Matters, a program preserving initiative dedicated to "maintaining the present music levels" at Willmar public schools.

"There is a growing concern, with the deficits in education, to try and preserve what we have now," said Darlene Schroeder, president of Willmar Music Matters. "We are making sure students in band, orchestra and choir have access to the fundamentals through small group lessons."

Schroeder said the more small group instrumental lessons available at the middle and grade schools, the better the high school music programs. The group also wishes to help continue the AP Music Theory class at the high school, as well as keeping up the elementary music programs.

Willmar Music Matters hopes to someday help "grow" the music programs, according to Schroeder, but for now it is more a matter of "maintaining" the current programs in the Willmar schools.

Wilkowske will perform selections with the Willmar Cardinal Choir as a part of his evening performance.

A Willmar native, Wilkowske graduated from Willmar High School in 1993. He attended Garfield and Jefferson schools in his elementary school years. When he was in high school, the only musical produced was "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and Andy played the part of Charlie Brown.

It was not his first musical, however. When he was in fifth grade, The Barn Theatre produced "Hello Dolly" and Wilkowske was cast as one of the waiters. That led to a part in The Barn's "Oliver" and later in "Oklahoma." He often volunteered to run lights at The Barn Theatre, as well.

Wilkowske was not only a singer in his formative years, but also a guitarist and a piano player. He won the Minnesota Music Teachers Association Piano Contest two years and had the experience of playing in the Honors Concert at Northrop Auditorium. He played guitar in a local band called "Bomb" and, with his friend Mike Homan, did several gigs of Simon and Garfunkel imitations.

His education beyond Willmar High School includes the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where he earned an artist diploma in opera and a master's degree in voice.

He is married to Erika Taibl, a 1994 graduate of Willmar High School, and they have a 2-year-old daughter, Annika.

On the national level, Wilkowske is a singer of broad range and character. A "gifted" actor as well as singer, Wilkowske's Papageno in "The Magic Flute" "stole the show" according to the Washington Post, and was a "lusty-voiced fellow," according to Opera News.

Past engagements have included singing the part of a scientist in the North American premiere of Howard Shore's "The Fly" at Los Angeles Opera, directed by David Cronenberg and conducted by Placido Domingo. He also starred as Geppetto in the North American premiere of Jonathan Dove's "The Adventures of Pinocchio" with Minnesota Opera.

Additionally, he reprised the role of Noah in Ricky Ian Gordon's "The Grapes of Wrath" with Pittsburgh Opera and Opera Pacific in 2008. Wilkowkse created the role of Noah in 2007 with the Minnesota Opera. As a member of the original cast, he was featured on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show and is included on a complete recording of the opera, available on P.S. Classics.

On the concert stage, Wilkowske has performed Baron Duphoul in "La Traviata" with the Minnesota Orchestra and Rachmaninov's "The Bells" with the Helena Symphony.

Also active on the musical theater stage, Wilkowske's performance in "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" was called "chilling" and "deeply moving" by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and his performance in the world premiere of "Sleeping Beauty" with the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati earned him a nomination for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award.

Wilkowske has participated in the Merola Opera Program, Glimmerglass Opera's Young American Artist Program and the Minnesota Opera Resident

Sharon Bomstad

Sharon Bomstad is the features editor at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., and is the editor of the newspaper's Live it! Magazine. She has been an employee of the West Central Tribune for more than 35 years.

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