Pianist Greg Kostraba highlights Purdue Bands’ Winter Music Gala
Pianist Greg Kostraba expresses his creativity during the day as program director for WBAA Radio. Out of the office, and on stage, he's a passionate pianist. As part of Purdue Bands & Orchestra's Winter Music Gala, he'll perform two works for piano and orchestra on Sunday, Feb. 19, that were written by prominent African-American composers.
The Winter Music Gala, features five concert bands and two orchestras in three separate Long Center concerts on Feb. 17, 18 and 19. The opening concert at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, features the Purdue Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band. The 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, concert features the Varsity, Collegiate and Purdue Concert Bands. The 2:30 Sunday, Feb. 19, concert features the Purdue Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras with Kostraba.
Admission to all the concerts is free.
February is Black History Month and Kostraba's performance spotlights music by two of the most admired African-American composers of all time - James Johnson and William Grant Still. A pianist who bridged the ragtime and jazz eras, Johnson was a pioneer of the stride style of jazz piano. William Grant Still, who created everything from symphonies to TV themes, and is known for shows like "Gunsmoke" and "Perry Mason," is considered the Dean of African-American composers.
With the Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew King, Kostraba will perform Johnson's "Yamekraw, A Negro Rhapsody" for jazz piano and orchestra that was inspired by the success of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Originally premiered in 1928, it is named after a black community in Savannah, Georgia.
Still's "Dismal Swamp" is the piece Kostraba will tackle with the Philharmonic Orchestra. It metaphorically refers to slavery.
The concert also contains a variety of other works including a couple with Biblical references. Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco Overture," from his 1842 opera, retells the Biblical story of the slavery and eventual exile of the Jews under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. "The Dance of the Seven Veils" comes from Richard Strauss' 1905 operatic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "Salome." In it Salome uses a sensual dance to persuade King Herod to deliver John the Baptist's head on a platter.
Other pieces include Antonin Dvorak's Finale to "Symphony No. 8," "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughn Williams and "Roman Carnival Overture" by Hector Berlioz.
On both the Friday and Saturday night concerts, Ward Miller from the University of South Alabama will be a guest conductor. He will lead the Symphonic Band in Jack Stamp's "Bandancing, on Friday, a tune with tango, jazz waltz and samba sections. With the Purdue Concert Band on Saturday, he'll conduct Jan Van der Roost's "Rikudim," four-part suite written in the style of Jewish folk dance.
On Saturday, Feb. 18, Varsity Band, under the direction of Chad Downey and Jay Gephart, headlines their set with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera." It also performs a John Philip Sousa march and a Gioacchino Rossini "Can Can" dance tune. Collegiate Band, under the direction of Pamela J. Nave, performs Henry Fillmore's "Americans We" and Robert Smith's "Mekong" among other tunes. The Purdue Concert Band, led by Ishbah Cox, adds "Morning Alleluias for the Winter Solstice" by Ron Nelson and "Hear My Prayer O Lord," a Henry Purcell piece transcribed for the band by one of its clarinetists, Eric Mirro.
The Gala's opening concert on Feb. 17 features a set by the Purdue Wind Ensemble that they will perform at the prestigious American Bandmasters Association's national conference on Feb. 29. It is the third time in Purdue's history that the Wind Ensemble has been asked to perform at the conference.
Highlighting their set is "Anthem," a Steven Bryant piece commissioned by Purdue University to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Purdue Bands. Under the baton of Jay Gephart, the Wind Ensemble favors works by contemporary and time-tested composers. The evening will also include Rio's Convergence, a Justin Freer piece inspired by the majesty and power of the Rio Grande River, and "Turbo Scramjet," a fast and furious piece by William Pitts. "Scramjets are both fast and extremely unpredictable," says Pitts "and I wanted to incorporate these characteristics into the music."
Among other works, the Ensemble will also perform two pieces dating to the early 20th century, Frederick Fennell's circus march "Rolling Thunder" and "Radio Waves" by Fred Jewell, a composer whose pinnacle of success was as leader of the Barnum and Bailey Circus Band. On the Symphonic Band's portion of the program are "The Gum Suckers March" by Percy Grainger and "Heroes Lost and Fallen" by David Gillingham.
The Winter Music Gala is presented by Purdue Bands & Orchestras which offers a variety of free jazz, concert band and orchestra concerts.