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Release: Sept. 10, 1999

University Symphony opens millennium-spanning season with free concert Sept. 22

NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Frank Martin is pronounced frahnk mahr-TEH ("EH" pronounced like the a in tang but without the "ng".)

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra will open its millennium-spanning 1999-2000 season with a free concert under director William LaRue Jones at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

Featured soloist for the performance will be baritone Stephen Swanson, a member of the UI School of Music faculty.

The 1999-2000 season will feature the orchestra's traditional series of free Wednesday evening concerts in Hancher Auditorium, along with performances in Clapp Recital Hall, and a special millennium celebration: a performance of Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony with guest soloists in Hancher on Dec. 1.

Other concerts through the coming season will feature several members of the School of Music faculty as soloists and a wide variety of repertoire.

The program of the Sept. 22 season-opening concert will include three works by American composers: "El Salon Mexico" by Aaron Copland, William Grant Still's "Afro-American" Symphony, and "Overture for the End of a Century" by Libby Larsen.

Swanson will be featured in "Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann" (Six monologues from Everyman) by Swiss composer Frank Martin, settings of texts from an ancient English morality play adapted into German.

"This is a program that parallels the diversity of America," Jones said. "You have a piece using Mexican themes by a Jewish Russian-American from Brooklyn, a piece about the African-American heritage by an African-American from Mississippi, and a piece with an American vernacular influence by a Scandinavian-American who lives in Minneapolis.

"Add to that a piece about the human condition by a Swiss composer, and you have a mosaic as complex as any slice of America."

Copland's "El Salon Mexico" was first performed by the Mexico Symphony Orchestra in 1937, under the direction of the distinguished Mexican composer Carlos Chavez. Copland explained that the piece was based on "musical souvenirs" that he picked up during a 1932 visit to Mexico:

"From the very beginning the idea of writing a work based on popular Mexican melodies was connected in my mind with a popular dance hall in Mexico City called Salon Mexico. No doubt I realized, then, that it would be foolish of me to attempt to translate into musical sounds the more profound side of Mexico. . . . All that I could hope to do was to reflect the Mexico of the tourists, and that is why I thought of the Salon Mexico. . . . It wasn't the music I heard but the spirit that I felt there that attracted me. Something of that spirit is what I hope to have put into my music."

William Grant Still was the son of the town bandmaster of Woodville, Miss. Like many composers before him, he started to study medicine but soon became deeply involved in musical activities. He had a stunning variety of early musical experiences: studies at Oberlin Conservatory, playing violin in an Army Orchestra in World War I, playing oboe in W.C. Handy's "Shuffle Along Orchestra," composition studies with the avant-garde composer Edgar Varese, and then with the academically respectable George Whitefield Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music.

His Symphony No. 1 ("Afro-American"), based on spirituals, blues and other music of the African American tradition, in 1931 became the first symphony by a black American to be played by a leading orchestra. Composed at a time when America was seeking its own nationalist identity in music, the symphony struck a wide response in audiences. Through a long career Still remained known for his nationalist works that employed African-American and other folk idioms.

A pioneer in the musical world, Still was the first black American to conduct a major orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, and one of the first to write for radio, film and television. He received many honors, including a Guggenheim fellowship, honorary doctorates and numerous awards from American orchestras.

In the past 20 years, Libby Larsen has become one of the most important and successful composers in the United States, including a composition commissioned by the UI Hancher Auditorium. Her works encompass orchestra, dance, opera, choral, theater, chamber and solo repertoire, and are performed throughout the United States and Europe. Her music often reflects the American vernacular tradition. She has served as composer-in-residence with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Charlotte Symphony, and is an adviser to the National Endowment for the Arts, ASCAP and the American Symphony Orchestra League.

The "Overture for the End of a Century" was premiered in 1994 by conductor David Gilbert and the National Honors Orchestra at the National Music Education Convention in Cincinnati.

A native of Geneva, Switzerland, Frank Martin was a Calvinist whose works often reflected his religious and moral values. The texts he selected for his "Sechs Monologe" had been translated from English by the great German playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. In his adaptation of the medieval morality play "Everyman," Hofmannsthal created a powerful commentary on life and mortality. His "Jedermann" became a revered theater piece for German-speaking actors, and was for many years the opening production of the annual Salzburg festival.

Unrelated to theatrical productions, Martin's settings of six monologues from the play form a cycle that addresses the same issues in musical terms. The original vocal setting was written in 1943, a time when Switzerland was in the center of war-torn Europe. The orchestral version was created after World War II, in 1949.

A student ensemble that is supported by the UI School of Music, the University Symphony has been presenting free concerts on the UI campus since 1921. In its 78-year history, the University Symphony has had three major conductors: Founder Philip Greeley Clapp, who was conductor of the orchestra 1936-1954; James Dixon, who was conductor 1954-59 and from 1962 until his retirement in 1997; and Jones, who succeeded Dixon.

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society.

Jones is conductor of the Bloomington (Minn.) Symphony and has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world. He has conducted all-state and festival orchestras in 46 states and five Canadian provinces. He has been conductor-in-residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Miami (Fla.).

Stephen Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly 20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During that time his repertoire grew to more than 70 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Swanson recently took part in the Viktor Ullman-Projekt 1998, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of a composer who died in the Nazi death camps. Swanson sang major roles in Ullman's operas at performances in Europe, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Martyr's Museum in Los Angeles.

Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. He has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." He made his professional debut in 1970, singing in Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aron" with the Chicago Symphony in Chicago and New York's Carnegie Hall.

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University Symphony Millennium Season: 1999-2000

Sept. 22: University Symphony, William LaRue Jones, conductor, with Stephen Swanson, baritone. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium.

Oct. 20: University Symphony, William LaRue Jones, conductor, with Christine Rutledge, viola. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium

Nov. 10: University Symphony, William LaRue Jones, conductor, with Delbert Disselhorst, organ. 8 p.m., Clapp Recital Hall

Nov. 21: University Chamber Orchestra with Kantorei, Timothy Stalter, conductor. 3 p.m., Clapp Recital Hall.

Dec. 1: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125. University Symphony and Choruses, William LaRue Jones, conductor, with guest artists. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium.

Feb. 9: University Symphony, William LaRue Jones, conductor. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium.

March 8: University Symphony, William LaRue Jones, conductor. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium.

April 5: University Symphony and Choruses, Timothy Stalter, conductor. 8 p.m., Hancher Auditorium.