Camp invades classical when the Purdue Symphony Orchestra and guest pianists Greg Kostraba and Marc Loudon present Saint-Saens’ "Carnival of the Animals" on Sunday, March 4, as part of a music-filled Partners in Music Education day at the Purdue Memorial Union.
Two free concerts - an afternoon event focusing on symphonic band music and an evening concert centered around orchestral works - put the spotlight on performing groups from Purdue University Bands and North Central High School from Indianapolis. Bands from both institutions perform at 2:30 p.m. in the Union’s ballrooms, while the orchestras are featured at a 7 p.m. concert in the same location.
Each year, Purdue Bands shares its musical resources with an Indiana high school for a year through the "Partners in Education" program. Joint concerts are held at both schools as part of the collaboration.
Highlighting this year’s event, the Purdue Symphony Orchestra presents Saint Saens’ clever classical work, "Carnival of the Animals," which uses musical instruments to create animal personalities. Flutes are flitty birds, the string bass becomes an elephant, and the cello transforms into a swan. The French composer didn’t stop there, choosing to go beyond typical zoo animals to create his fun-loving musical menagerie. To Saint-Saens, "Fossils" were not trilobites and crinoids. Instead, "he brings back the fossils of French music, old themes by dead composers," says Purdue Symphony Orchestra conductor Jay Gephart.
Kostraba and Loudon, the two guest pianists, get their own spotlight. "One of the animals is the pianist, the most ferocious of them all," says Kostraba. The section "parodies the Hannon piano exercises. We just act as pretentious as possible doing our exercises because of course everyone wants to hear these (pianist) animals," says Kostraba. "We’re going to ham it up and have fun with it."
Retired Purdue mathematics professor Bob Zink, who’s known for his talents as a comic reader, will interpret Ogden Nash poems during the performance. Kostraba says nothing about the piece is "stuffy," an adjective used to stereotype classical music.
" ‘Carnival of the Animals’ is so much fun. This piece is just a riot. I hesitate to use the word campy, but it borders on camp, and with Bob Zink it’ll probably go way over the line," Kostraba says.
The Purdue Orchestra will also present the Finale to Tchaikovsky’s "Fourth Symphony" on their portion of the concert that also features the North Central High School Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Chris Holmes.
At the 2:30 p.m. Sunday concert, the Purdue and North Central Symphonic Bands take the stage in the Purdue Memorial Union ballroom.
Gephart, who also directs the Purdue Symphonic Band, says the university ensemble will showcase two contemporary works - "An American Elegy" by Frank Ticheli and "In the Spring, At the Time When Kings Go Off To War" by David Holsinger.
Although the Holsinger piece sounds like it could date back several centuries, it was written in the late 1980s. Trumpet fanfares and a heavy use of percussion mark the rhythmic piece that also requires the musicians to vocalize as another musical effect.
Ticheli’s "An American Elegy" was commissioned in memory of students who died during the Columbine High School shootings. "It has a religious tone," Gephart says. "At one point there’s a chorale based on the school’s alma mater that’s quite unique and very beautiful."
The North Central High School Symphonic Band, directed by Michael Akers, will get its own spotlight, but for one number the two bands will join forces. North Central trumpeters will play the antiphonal parts in the Vaclav Nelhybel prelude titled "Praise to the Lord."
"Partners in Music Education," the program that brings the two groups together, encourages Purdue Bands’ faculty to work directly with faculty and students at the high school level. Purdue Jazz Band director M.T. "Mo" Trout has also invited the North Central Jazz Band to perform with his group on March 23.
Beyond the sharing of expertise, the program "reinforces to students that there are opportunities to keep on performing after high school without being a music major," says Trout. Currently there are 15 North Central graduates active in marching band, concert band, jazz and percussion programs at Purdue University.