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Release: Immediate

University Symphony will feature Strauss horn concerto Feb. 12

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Symphony will perform three popular orchestral works of the 19th century as it begins its final semester under long-time director James Dixon, in a concert at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

Dixon, who has led the University Symphony for more than 40 years, will retire at the end of the current academic year.

The Feb. 12 concert will feature hornist Kristin Thelander playing the Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major of Richard Strauss. In addition to this popular show piece for the horn, the orchestra will perform two other works considered landmarks of the Romantic style in music: Berlioz's brilliant "Roman Carnival" Overture and the Symphony No. 4 in E minor of Johannes Brahms.

The concert will be free and open to the public.

Although he is known to contemporary audiences for his orchestral works, Berlioz sought operatic success throughout his career. His first opera to reach the stage was "Benvenuto Cellini," given three performances at the Paris Opera in 1838. Berlioz's music was too original for either the performers or the audience, and the opera was considered a failure. As a result, the Paris Opera never again staged one of Berlioz's works.

The score was filled with music of great beauty and brilliance, however, and in 1844 Berlioz took some of the best pieces and put them into the "Roman Carnival" Overture. The main section of the overture is based on a scene in the opera that indeed takes place during the Roman carnival. The excitement of this scene is contrasted with the overture's opening, based on the music of a love aria from the opera.

Richard Strauss was the son of Franz Joseph Strauss, principal horn player in the Munich Court Orchestra and widely considered one of the greatest players in Europe. Although he played the first performances of many of Wagner's music dramas, Franz Joseph Strauss had very conservative tastes. He hated Wagner's music and for many years only allowed his son to hear music of the Classical period.

As a result of his father's influence, the younger Strauss' early compositions are conservative in style, sticking to the standard forms of the Classical period, including a string quartet, a serenade for winds, a symphony and a violin concerto.

The work that owes the most to his father's influence, however, is the Horn Concerto in E-flat major, composed in 1882-83 when Strauss was 18. The score shows clearly what the son had learned from the father: the solo part, with its resounding fanfares, lyrical melodies and jaunty leaps in the finale, uses all the resources of the instrument, while the three connected movements reflect a familiarity with traditional forms.

Brahms belonged to an older generation than Strauss. Thus his Fourth Symphony, composed two years after the Horn Concerto, represents not the beginning but the height of a creative career. It is the accomplished work of a composer assured of his place in the musical world.

Brahms began the symphony in the summer of 1884 and completed it the next year. He then had the luxury of rehearsing the Symphony in private before performing it, working with the orchestra maintained at his castle by the Duke of Meiningen.

Brahms was afraid that the symphony, in the austere key of E minor, would be too stern for the general public. "It tastes of the climate hereabouts," he wrote to a friend while working on the score. "The cherries are hardly sweet here." In fact, both the public and the composer's friends were slow to warm to the work, but Brahms stuck to his convictions, writing in a characteristically laconic manner, "the piece does not altogether displease me." Performances soon overcame all doubts, however, and today the symphony is regarded as one of the greatest works of the Romantic period.

Dixon, a professor in the UI School of Music, has conducted the University Symphony Orchestra since 1954 and was music director and conductor of the Quad-City Symphony in Davenport from 1965 until his retirement in 1994. He studied conducting at Iowa under the late Philip Greeley Clapp and as the protege of Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

Dixon has appeared as a guest conductor with major orchestras throughout the world. He has won numerous awards for his musical and educational activities, including the Gustav Mahler Medal, the Ditson Award from Columbia University and the Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composer's Alliance. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Augustana College in Rock Island in 1980, and a Doctor of Fine Arts from St. Ambrose University in Davenport in 1988. In 1989, he was appointed Philip Greeley Clapp/Carver Distinguished Professor of Music at the UI.

Thelander joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1989. Active as both soloist and chamber musician, she is a member of the Iowa Brass Quintet. During the summer she performs with the Britt Festival Orchestra in Jacksonville, Ore. Previously she was on the music faculty at the University of New Mexico, and she was a member of the New Mexico Brass Quintet, the Santa Fe Symphony, the New Mexico Symphony and the Four Corners Opera Festival in Durango, Colo.

She was the first prize-winner in the 1981 American Horn Competition, and she has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico, South Korea and the People's Republic of China. She has been a featured artist at many regional and international horn workshops in recent years.