Wee bit of Irish flavors Purdue Bands' Winter Music Gala
Celtic overtones color several of the works on Purdue Bands' trio of February concerts known as the Winter Music Gala, Feb. 15-17 at Lafayette's Long Center, 111 N. Sixth St.
Concert bands are featured at both 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday concerts, while the Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras take the stage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. All the events are free.
It's not the just proximity of St. Patrick's Day that inspires the selections for the concert band events on Friday and Saturday. Rather it's the fact that band directors Ishbah Cox and Matt Conaway, who also assist with the "All-American" Marching Band, will be spending a week in Ireland with the marching band and actually appearing in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
"Several of the songs in 'At Kitty O'Shea's,' an Irish Folk Song Suite for Wind Orchestra, originate from the regions in Ireland that the "All-American" Marching Band will visit next month," says Purdue Concert Band Director Matt Conaway. It will be featured on Saturday night's concert.
Written in 2010 by Johan de Meij, the title refers to the legendary bar at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, a location where band directors from all over the world (including Purdue University) gather during the annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. "He consulted and collaborated with several noted Irish musicians, none more renowned than Bill Whelan, the creator and composer of Riverdance," Conaway says.
"'The Darling Girl from Clare' is in reference to County Clare, the marching band's arrival point, and the home to the Cliffs of Moher. 'The Kerry Dances' refers to a beautiful county in Southwest Ireland, and was actually used in the soundtrack of The Quiet Man starring John Wayne," he says. "The finale is a relentless collection of slip jigs and reels, the most prominent of which is 'The Rocky Road to Dublin,' representing our ultimate upcoming destination."
The Purdue Concert Band will also perform Camille Saint-Saens "Marche Militaire Francaise" and "Old Home Days" by Charles Ives, a collection of songs in a five-movement suite that clearly reflects the composer's love of familiar tunes and grass-roots American music making.
The Saturday concert opens with Collegiate Band, directed by Ishbah Cox. Among the tunes they will play is Clare Grundman's "Little English Suite," with contemporary settings of four English folk tunes. It will be guest conducted by Craig Aarhus from Mississippi State University who will also conduct Bruce Yurko's "In Memoriam Kristina.
On Friday's concert, Michael Sweeney's "Quad City Stomp" offers a touch of Ireland. Aggressive percussion provides an undercurrent along with clapping, stomping, and other noisy effects to open the piece performed by Varsity Band. An emotionally-charged middle section provides contrast before a Celtic-influenced final segment drives to a rhythmic finish.
The United Kingdom is also represented on this concert by "Three Ayres from Glouster" by Hugh Stuart, reflecting the composer's fascination with early English folk song style. The pieces are designed to capture the mood of the peasants and their life on the fiefs of Wembley castle.
Symphonic Band's contribution to the Friday concert includes "Shortcut Home" by Dana Wilson and "Moon by Night" by Jonathan Newman. Guest conductor Craig Aarhus will lead the band in William Schumann's "Chester Overture for Band," based on a book of tunes written by William Billings during the American Revolutionary War. Chester begins with a march that was played by the Continental Army and sung around the campfire.
The Sunday, Feb. 17, concert will be highlighted by the Philharmonic Orchestra's presentation of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff's well-known "Scherezade" with James Chang as violin soloist.
Among the St. Petersburg-based "Mighty Handful" of Russian nationalist composers, Rimsky-Korsakoff, like his peers, was drawn to legends in general, and more particularly to tales from exotic cultures, distant in both time and place. The commanding theme that opens "Scherezade" is the voice of the Sultan demanding his entertainment. The sinuous one from the violin is the voice of Scheherazade herself as she begins the exotic tales that will save her from being beheaded. It has been suggested that Rimsky-Korsakov's background as a naval officer influenced his decision to begin and end his "Arabian Night's narrative on the sea.
Both orchestras on the program are conducted by Andrew King. The Symphony Orchestra will open the event with Anatol Liadov's "Eight Russian Folk Songs." Like many of his contemporaries, Liadov was drawn to intensely Russian subjects. He combined these eight indigenous pieces into an orchestral suite and it stand as Liadov's signature work.
The Winter Music Gala is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestras which offers many free concerts throughout the year.