University of Iowa News Release
Oct. 28, 2005
Guest Pianist At UI Will Perform Music By Frederic Rzewski Nov. 9
Pianist Jessica Johnson will perform Frederic Rzewski's 36 Variations on "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!" as a guest of the University of Iowa School of Music at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9 in Harper Hall of the UI Voxman Music Building.
The recital will be free and open to the public.
A professor of composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Liege, Belgium, Rzewski is one of the American composers associated with the post-war avant-garde in Europe. He worked with German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in the 1960s and with Musica Electronic Viva (Live electronic music) in Rome 1966-71. Much of his music has a distinct socialist message and he has often used folk and popular melodies in his compositions.
"The People United Will Never Be Defeated!" was written in the summer and autumn of 1975 for the pianist Ursula Oppens, who played the first performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as a part of a series of concerts organized in connection with the bicentennial of the American revolution.
The song on which the variations are based was written by Sergio Ortega, a Chilean composer whose work was part of a cultural movement inspired by leftist politics in Chile. Three months before Augusto Pinochet's military coup, Ortega heard a street singer shouting in Spanish "the people united will never be defeated!" A few days later his new song was performed by the group Quilapayun and quickly became an anthem for the Chilean resistance.
Rzewski wrote, "I first heard Sergio Ortega's song at a concert given by the Chilean group Inti-Illimani at Hunter College in the fall of 1974, which Ursula and I both attended. We walked out onto the street singing the melody, and it never left us from that time on.
"I knew that Ursula was thinking of playing Beethoven's 'Diabelli Variations' on the program planned for Washington. . . . The variation form seemed a good way of developing the idea of unity, which is the basis of the text."
Rzewski was born in Westfield, Mass. He studied music at Harvard and Princeton universities and went to Italy in 1960, where he began a career as a performer of new piano music. In 1966, he helped found Musica Elettronica Viva, which quickly became known for its pioneering work in live electronics and improvisation.
This experience influenced his works of the late 1960s and '70s. Since then he experimented with other ideas, including use of style and language are treated as structural elements, graphic notation and new ways of using 12-tone technique. A freer, more spontaneous approach to writing can be found in more recent works.
Johnson serves on the piano faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is director of graduate piano pedagogy studies. She has formerly been on the faculties of Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., and the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts in Michigan. She received master's and doctoral degrees in piano performance and pedagogy from the University of Michigan.
In addition to her love for the standard keyboard repertoire, Johnson frequently commissions and programs contemporary solo and chamber works. She regularly performs with Sole Nero, a piano-percussion duo with percussionist Anthony Di Sanza, percussion. An active clinician, she has given workshops and presentations at the World Piano Pedagogy Conference, state and national conventions of the Music Teachers National Asociation, and she has held residencies at major universities and colleges throughout the United States, Canada and China. Her articles published have been published in major professional journals.
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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