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Release: Sept. 27, 2002


Two neo-classical works of composer Igor Stravinsky -- works composed in the early years of the 20th century that helped change the direction of musical composition -- will be performed by the University of Iowa Chamber Orchestra as part of a free concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The concert of early 20th-century music will feature Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments of 1923, the Suite from the ballet “Pulcinella from 1920, and Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (The tomb of Couperin) from 1920.

The Ravel score and “Pulcinella” will be conducted by faculty member William LaRue Jones, who is also conductor of the University Symphony. The Octet will be conducted by Lucia Matos, a doctoral student in the School of Music.

At the beginning of the 20th century, composers such as Mahler, Schoenberg and Stravinsky were composing works that grew out of the Romantic style of the 19th century. Scored for very large orchestras, typically long and structurally diffuse and concerned with intense emotional expression, these works were extravagant in their use of musical and expressive resources.

But beginning around 1915, many composers turned to a more economical style. An interest in musical models from the Classical period, a desire for greater simplicity and directness, and a lack of resources brought about by World War I combined to lead composers toward a style that has been called “neo-classical.” It is characterized by the use of smaller ensembles, clear formal structures and an absence of over-wrought emotional expression. Many works composed in the late 1910s and 1920s reflected this new style. One of the leading composers of the neo-classical style was Stravinsky, whose “Pulcinella” and Octet for Wind Instruments were especially prominent.

“Pulcinella” was the last of a series of ballets that Stravinsky wrote for the great ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev. These ballets, considered some of Stravinsky’s greatest and most influential works, included “The Firebird,” “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring,” written between 1910 and 1913.

In a dramatic change of direction from the exotic Russian subjects of the earlier ballets, Diaghilev suggested in 1919 that Stravinsky adapt a group of keyboard pieces by (or attributed to) the Baroque composer Pergolesi for a ballet with a commedia dell’arte theme. Stravinsky, who had already adopted a spare, neo-classical style, found the Pergolesi pieces very compatible. The combination of Pergolesi’s regular rhythms and simple harmonies with Stravinsky’s more astringent style created an impression of cheerful modernism touched by nostalgia.

The ballet, with decor and costumes by Picasso, was performed very successfully at the Paris Opera in 1920. Two and a half years later the Boston Symphony gave the first performance of the suite that Stravinsky made from the ballet music. In this form, the score has been very popular with concert audiences.

The Octet was composed not long after Stravinsky moved with his family to France, following the end of World War I. He completed the work in Paris in 1923. It was modeled on the 18th-century serenade, where tonality and modulation are fundamental to structure. Recalling classical models, repetition and imitation are used prominently, while balance and contrast figure in the formal design.

The composer, who liked to mystify and mislead critics, gave conflicting accounts of the Octet’s origin. One was that he began to write it as an abstract piece of music, without knowing what instruments would play the piece. Another describes a bizarre dream in which Stravinsky sees himself in a small room surrounded by eight instrumentalists playing bassoons, trombones, trumpets, a flute, and a clarinet. “I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose the Octet, which I had had no thought of the day before,” he claimed.

Stravinsky had had distasteful experiences in the early performances of some of his other works for winds, and for that reason he conducted the premier of the Octet himself at the Paris Opera House in October 1923.

Composed during World War I, “Le Tombeau de Couperin” also followed 18th-century precedents. A suite of six pieces for piano based on Baroque dance styles, it was nominally written in honor of Francoise Couperin, a renowned 18th-century composer of music for harpsichord. However, the score can also be considered an homage to 18th-century French music in general. The tributary aspect of the work took on an additionally meaning when Ravel dedicated each of the movements in memory of friends and comrades who had died in the war.

The piano version premiered in 1919 in Paris. The composer made the orchestral arrangement of the suite in 1920.

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 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.).

A native of Brazil, Matos worked from 1997 to 1998 as assistant conductor of the Campinas (Brazil) Symphony and University of Campinas Symphony Orchestra. In 1998 she was awarded a Brazilian scholarship for continuing her studies. She received a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the UI, and she is currently completing the requirements for a doctorate as Jones’ student. She has conducted the Des Moines Symphony, Americana Symphony and Campinas Symphony Orchestra.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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