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Plight of immigrants takes center-screen in Utah Symphony’s ‘Casablanca’

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – This weekend, the Utah Symphony performs the score to one of the most iconic films of all time – Casablanca. 

It’s the story of Rick and Ilsa, star-crossed lovers torn apart by war. The film features a cast of immigrants to the United States, and the film happens to be all about the plight of the immigrant or refugee. 

A plight familiar to Wen Yuan Gu, associate principal second violinist for the Utah Symphony. 

“I always think about my grandparents and my father and what they went through to get here,” said Gu, who came to America at age 19.

During her early years, China’s bloody Cultural Revolution was at its height. Gu said her educated parents encouraged her to study music, but she had to practice her violin in secret to avoid being punished by the government. Educated individuals like Gu’s father were deemed enemies of the government. Gu said her grandfather was sent to a labor camp for his politics. 

“They told us they were gonna check on our houses and destroy everything,” said Gu, who had to hide her musical instruments during checks. Practicing her violin in her childhood was very difficult.

“We had to literally close all the curtains and windows and every door as possible…so I could practice without getting in trouble,” she said. 

Now a U.S. citizen, Gu recalls the hurdles she had to jump through while trying to immigrate at age 19. 

For her, getting a visa to come to the United States in the late 80s was difficult, and some looked on her with suspicion.

She remembers seeing Casablanca in a Chinese movie theater when she was a child. Too young to pick up on the theme of the plight of the refugee, she just remembers it was difficult to get a ticket to the picture, which had already had its heyday decades before when it premiered in 1942. 

Today, the same problems exist for many trying to immigrate to the United States, as President Donald Trump and Congress squabble over who should be able to come into the United States and how. 

Now, as Gu rehearses with the Utah Symphony for Casablanca in concert, variations on the theme of the difficulties of finding a better life for oneself play in her mind. 

Incidentally, the Utah Symphony has also been teaching Utah elementary school students about important immigrant composers in recent school concerts.

“We just kind of go through the history of immigration in the U.S. and show what an incredible melting pot it’s made us,” said Conner Gray Covington, associate conductor for the Utah Symphony. Covington is also conducting Casablanca

Gu said she’s incredibly lucky to be freely living her dream of playing with a prestigious orchestra here in the United States. A sentiment that “as time goes by” comes with the feeling of hope for all who are searching for a Hollywood ending in America. 

Tickets for Casablanca in Concert are still available. The Utah Symphony will perform it March 1 – 2 at 7 p.m.
 

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