Hancher throws a goodbye party for Hurtig

BY BRIAN DAU | MAY 14, 2009 7:27 AM

In the 23 years Judith Hurtig has worked on Hancher Auditorium’s staff, she has seen many different acts pass through Iowa City. From the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet’s statewide tour in 2007 to Bill T. Jones’ nude choreography of the early ’90s, Hurtig will have plenty of memories to last through her retirement. Although last year’s flood may have dampened some of her final days as a Hancher employee, she said her experience overall was overwhelmingly positive.

“This was not the way I’d hoped my last year would be,” said Hurtig, who spent most of those 23 years as Hancher’s artistic director. “I had planned to retire at this time several years ago but only spent about 10 minutes reconsidering.”

In honor of Hurtig’s departure, Hancher will host a benefit concert at 7 p.m. Friday at the Brown Deer Golf Club, 1900 Country Club Drive. Tickets are $250, with $210 considered a donation toward bringing chamber music to Hancher. The Ying Quartet will perform alongside pianist Wu Han.

The Ying Quartet has a special connection to Iowa, in that it’s where the members got their starts as performers. After graduating from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., the group spent two years living and performing in Jesup, Iowa, on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Hancher hosted many acts the quartet members found inspiring, violist Phillip Ying said, and he credits Hurtig for those bookings.

“We’d drive down to Hancher to hear these world-class artists,” Ying said. “[Hurtig] was incredibly supportive of what we were doing. I’ve always been so impressed not only with her artistic judgment and taste but also her imagination and willingness to take on projects that bring music into the community.”

Ying said the quartet will perform work by Chinese-American composers Vivian Fung and Lei Lang. Wu will play a selection of Tchaikovsky before the two acts combine for a piece by Anton Dvorák, a collaboration Ying eagerly anticipates.

“Anytime we work with great musicians is so exciting for us because you play off them, you hear how they shape sounds, where they push and pull, and the experience of making music with them is really exciting,” Ying said. “[Wu’s] terrific, and that [Dvorák] piece is right up there with anyone’s list of great chamber music.”

Hurtig’s work bringing great chamber music to Hancher is not the only thing she’s proud of, however. When she heard about the “One Community, One Book” program first instituted by a woman in Seattle, she mentioned the idea to Burns Weston, senior scholar at the UI Center for Human Rights. Weston latched onto the idea and quickly established the program in Iowa City, focusing on books dealing with human-rights issues.

“I thought it was fabulous that everybody read the same book and you could talk about it with all kinds of people,” Hurtig said. “It’s really about how literature can be a force in shaping the community.”

Just because Hurtig won’t bring the acts to Hancher anymore doesn’t mean she plans to quiet down during her retirement.

“I have a lot of thoughts; I’m not leaving Iowa City,” she said. “I’ll be looking for projects. I’m not going to disappear; I am going to stay active and be involved with things. I don’t have any big plans, but I’ll get involved with yoga, that’s for sure.”

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