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Award-winning composer debuts
“Anthem” at Purdue Bands
A three-time winner of the National Band Association’s Revelli Composition Award, Steven Bryant, will premiere “Anthem,” a concert band work that could be a future award winner at the Purdue Bands Showcase concert on Friday, April 15. The new work was commissioned in honor of Purdue Bands & Orchestras 125th anniversary in 2011.
Bryant will be on campus to conduct “Anthem” and other of his original works as part of the annual Showcase event which features eight ensembles in three free concerts, April 15-17, in Elliott Hall of Music.
Purdue Wind Ensemble, Symphonic and University Bands perform at 8 p.m. Friday, April 15; Varsity, Collegiate and Purdue Concert Bands at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 16; the Purdue Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17.
Bryant, 39, was the perfect composer to create a work to be premiered by college musicians, says Wind Ensemble Director Jay Gephart.
“I wanted a young composer who writes in a completely unique and cutting edge style,” he says. “The way Steve orchestrates, and uses the colors of an ensemble, is so fresh. It doesn’t sound like anything the students have heard or played before.”
“Anthem,” a bright energetic work, reminds Gephart a lot of “Radiant Joy,” the first Bryant work to receive the Revelli Prize in 2007. It will also be featured on the April 15 concert. Both infuse jazz and rock into a classical structure with tuneful melodies. Bryant told Gephart that “Anthem” “may be the happiest piece he has ever written. It really adds to the celebratory mood of our 125th anniversary.”
Bryant’s works tend to fall into three categories. Besides those with a tie to jazz and rock, “there are lovely chorale style pieces like ‘Bloom’ and “Dusk,” both featured on Showcase concerts. They are lovely but not predictable.”
Then he writes in another category - musical parody. “Meta March” and “Chester Leaps In,” on the weekend’s programs, serve as examples of taking old, well-known band melodies and integrating them to new pieces in a very contemporary, often humorous, way.
Many other concert band works fill the Friday and Saturday concerts. The Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras are featured on Sunday’s Showcase.
Friday Highlights: The Symphonic Band, conducted by Max Jones, will augment Bryant’s musical moods with several colorful pieces. Ron Nelson, composer of “Aspen Jubilee, says it was inspired by the “stupendous beauty of the Rockies, the blinding sunlight on snow-covered peaks; and the frontier spirit of old Aspen with its brash, funny dynamism.” From the movie “Rocky,” the band will perform “Fanfare for Rocky,” music that made composer Bill Conti an instant celebrity when the low-budget became a megahit. Gephart’s Wind Ensemble will also perform two descriptive pieces, “Easter Monday on the White House Lawn” by John Philip Sousa and “Undertow” by John Mackey.
Saturday Highlights: Varsity Band, directed by Ishbah Cox, kicks off the evening with the Bryant work “Bloom” and several dance pieces. Erik Morales “Urban Dances” draws from elements of today’s popular music and features a large battery of percussion. “Buffalo Dances” by Robert W. Smith, honors the natural beauty and the Native-American heritage of Buffalo, MN, which commissioned the work. The composer says that if one listens carefully, the sound of snorting buffalo can be heard amid the festive atmosphere that precedes the concluding fanfare.
Collegiate Band, under the baton of Pamela Nave, performs Bryant’s “Meta March.” Their set also features Samuel Hazo’s “Ride.” Hazo wrote Ride for his good friend Jack Stamp, Director of Bands at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It describes the composer’s experience following Stamp to his home, which turned out to be a wild ride down country roads.
The Purdue Concert Band, under Cox, presents Bryant’s “Dusk” and also features Norman Dello Joio’s “Scenes from ‘The Louvre.” Each of its five movements is based on themes by Renaissance composers. The music, written from an NBC-TV documentary, won an Emmy Award for Dello Joio in 1965. The band also performs Brian Balmages “Elements.” The first movement, “Air,” has a minimalist quality; the second, “Water,” is impressionistic; “Earth is light and playful while the final movement, “Fire,” is aggressive and relentless.
Sunday Highlights: An Aaron Copland piece, “Down a Country Lane,” performed by the Purdue Symphony Orchestra under Andrew King, opens the concert. Howard Hanson’s “Symphony No. 2” or “Romantic Symphony” is also featured.
Copland’s “Down and Country Lane” and the “Outdoor Overture,” performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra, represent the composer’s participation is a campaign called “American Music for American Youth.” It focused on optimistic compositions that would not only appeal to young people but could also be played by them. The Philharmonic also performs another Copland tune, “Saturday Night Waltz” from “Rodeo.”
Their featured piece is William Grant Still’s “Symphony No. 1” or “Afro American Symphony.” In 1931, the work became the first symphony by an African-American composer to be performed by a major symphony orchestra. Praised as a work of great originality, the Afro-American Symphony does borrow musical motifs; for example the use of a prominent Blues idiom in the first movement, quoting Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” in the scherzo, and repeatedly sounding a distinctive motive from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” near the end of the hymn-based finale.
Works by American composers, including these works by Still and Copland, will be featured on summer 2011 concerts that are part of the orchestra’s trip to Europe.
The concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestras.
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