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Purdue Symphonic Band premieres dramatic Robert Jager work
Monday, November 13, 2006
Getting the chance to stage a world premiere of a dramatic new work by a respected composer certainly isn’t an every day, or even every decade, opportunity for a university band so the Purdue Symphonic Band’s celebrating its chance to showcase Robert Jaeger’s “Libera Me” at the band’s Nov. 19 concert.
The concert, which features the Symphonic Band performing works by Jaeger plus Tchaikovsky, Saint Saens and others as well as an appearance by Purdue’s Fall Concert Band, begins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, in the Long Center, 111 N. Sixth St. Admission is free.
Regarded as one of the top band and orchestra composers in the country, Jager’s works are familiar to most every musician who’s graced a concert stage. “But for those who know his work, ‘Libera Me’ is unlike anything he’s every done before, “says Symphonic Band director Jay S. Gephart.
“In discussions with him, Jager says it was the most difficult piece he’s written in his long career (spanning four decades, most of it on the music faculty at Tennessee Tech) and he also feels it’s the most profound,” Gephart says. That’s significant because over the years, Jager has received numerous awards for his compositions, including being the only three-time winner of the American Bandmasters Association “Ostwald Award.”
“Libera Me” is dedicated to Purdue University Bands because a 2004 visit to campus as composer-in-residence happened to coincide with a critical turning point in Jager’s life. “The piece is the outcome of a personal crisis Bob Jager happened to be working through at the time. Jager was so moved by the outpouring of compassion for him by the Purdue Bands community that he wanted to write this piece for us and dedicate it to us,” Gephart says.
Difficult emotions roil around in “Libera Me” - anxiety, grief and a lot of angst. The seven-minute piece is “very descriptive as it takes you through a series of very strong and deep emotions. Then, just as they all come together at a climactic point and you sense the most heightened degree of inner turmoil, it’s as if he immediately comes to peace with life,” the conductor says.
“There’s also the hint of a profound religious experience as Jager brings back a hymn tune – “O Come, O Come Emanuel” – pointing to the calm that’s come as a result of working through all those emotions.”
Gephart says it’s definitely an honor to be the first to present the piece. “It’s not often that you get to perform a world premiere and especially to do one with a composer as highly respected as Bob Jager. It’s a very special moment for the Purdue Symphonic Band.”
It was hoped that Jager would be present for the premiere, but health issues and an impending household move from Tennessee to Colorado, prevents that from happening. Nevertheless, the Nov. 19 concert will present an expanded musical portrait of Jager by opening the concert with his popular “Esprit de Corps” march written for the U.S. Marine Band. “It’s a special opening number. Each time we play it, it makes me smile because it’s such a happy, joyful piece of music,” Gephart says.
Following up on the peace and calm that Jager writes into the closing moments of “Libera Me,” the Symphonic Band will present Robert Spittal’s “Pachem: A Hymn of Peace” which opens with a brass choir, and will continue the mood with Saint Saens’ “Finale” from Symphony No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Jesters.”
“It’s all meant to be our gift back to Jager,” says Gephart. The Saint Saens' piece is unique in the composer’s ability to cleverly use the variety of instruments available to replicate the sound of an organ. “The Dance of the Jesters,” is another descriptive piece,” says Gephart. “You can close your eyes and images jesters and clowns dancing around. Elements in it are very ‘Nutcracker’ like.”
The Fall Concert Band, directed by Andrew King, opens the Nov. 19 concert afternoon with a short program of pieces including “The Gallant Seventh” by John Phillip Sousa, “Scootin’ on Hardrock” by David Holsinger, “Folk Dances” by Shostakovich and an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” by William Himes.
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