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Oregon Symphony's 'Sounds of Home' uses music to explore timely issues. First up this weekend, is immigration.

COURTESY: OREGON SYMPHONY - Music Director Carlos Kalmar leads the Oregon Symphony as it takes on socially conscious themes in its 'Sounds of Home' series, starting with immigration with Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' Nov. 4-6 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.Is the Oregon Symphony getting political with its "Sounds of Home" series — which has themes of immigration, homelessness and the environment?

They say no, but during a time of particularly heightened tensions in the world, just seeing the word "immigrant" on its own might steer some into heated debate.

Nonetheless, the group maintains it's simply hoping to present thought-provoking tunes — let's face it, what's often playing on the radio isn't always "enriching" — and give people a chance to contemplate.

"We're not trying to change minds or inform policy, but merely offer the space for people to reflect," says Oregon Symphony President Scott Showalter.

The first round of concerts in the series focuses on immigration. Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" will open on Saturday, Nov. 4, with additional shows on Nov. 5 and 6, all starting at 7:30 p.m. at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway. For tickets: orsymphony.org.

The organization is getting increasingly creative with its strategies — proving effective, apparently, considering neither its budget nor ticket sales are in the red.

"Rhapsody in Blue" will be intriguing in the fact that the symphony actually commissioned a play to go along with the concert — the first orchestra in history to do so, according to Showalter.

But how exactly does "Rhapsody in Blue" incorporate themes of immigration anyway?

Well, it's all just sort of intertwined in the fabric of the show, Showalter says — not necessarily in-your-face.COURTESY: OREGON SYMPHONY - With 'Sounds of Home,' Scott Showalter, Oregon Symphony president, says the goal is to 'merely offer the space for people to reflect.'

"Melodies from their homelands are written into the music," he says.

George Gerswhin, though an American composer, had Jewish-Russian roots. Meanwhile, symphony Music Director Carlos Kalmar is an immigrant from Uruguay and Austria. And, Showalter says, one in five of the orchestra's members are immigrants.

"The 'Sounds of Home' series ... had its roots years ago when we talked to the community about what issues are important. We started with the notion that art should respect society," Showalter says.

The next concert in the series, Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring," is slated for Jan. 13-15 — shifting from immigration to the environment. It will feature commissioned multimedia video work to accompany the orchestra.

"It's not gimmicky," Showalter assures.

The final concert's theme is homelessness, a topic seemingly reaching every crevice of life in Portland these days.

World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell is the star of that show, May 12-14. He once performed in a Washington, D.C., metro station with an extremely expensive violin. Like many people on the streets panhandling, he was virtually ignored.

"If out of that, people think differently — great. If all they've done is heard great music and turned off their cellphones for a couple of hours, that's great too," Showalter says.

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