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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 8, 2008

University Symphony will include 'Pictures at an Exhibition' at Feb. 20 concert

The University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra (UISO) will play one of the best known and best loved works of the orchestral repertoire, as well as two less familiar gems, for its first concert of 2008, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, in Hancher Auditorium.

The concert, under the direction of William LaRue Jones, will feature two soloists from the UI faculty, violinist Katie Wolfe and double bassist Volkan Orhon, playing an infectiously fun showpiece, the "Grand duo concertante" by Giovanni Bottesini.

The concert will open with the orchestra performing one of the most successful recent scores, "blue cathedral" by Jennifer Higdon, written in memory of her brother.

The final piece on the concert will be one of the most familiar virtuoso orchestral pieces in the repertoire, Maurice Ravel's brilliant orchestration of "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky.

The Feb. 20 performance is part of the 2007-08 subscription series of concerts by the UISO. The remaining dates in the series of ticketed concerts presented by the UISO in Hancher Auditorium will be:

--March 26: New UI flute faculty member Nicole Esposito will make her UISO debut with Jones conducting the orchestra.

--May 7: Timothy Hankewich, music director and conductor of the Cedar Rapids Symphony, will be the guest conductor.

Hailed by The Washington Post as "a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit," Higdon is one of America's most frequently performed composers. Her works have been recorded on over two dozen CDs, including the 2004 Grammy Award-winning "Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra/City Scape" by the Atlanta Symphony. She teaches composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

A notice in the Portland, Maine, Press-Herald commented, "Higdon is one of America's hottest young composers, and 'blue cathedral' is among the most daring and inventive new compositions to surface in years. According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, 'blue cathedral' is the most-performed contemporary work in America. It is easy to see why."

Higdon provided the following notes for "blue cathedral": "Coming to the writing of this piece at a unique juncture in my life, I found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make, especially at Curtis, where the pursuit of 'the singing soul' is what music and life are all about. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the whole of the group. ... our journeys and the places our souls carry us."

You can learn more about Higdon at

The composer of many virtuosic pieces for the double bass, Bottesini lived during the height of the 19th-century Romantic era. He was a successful opera composer and conductor who conducted the premiere of Verdi's "Aida" and whose own operas played at the major Italian opera houses around the world. As a double bass virtuoso, Bottesini stunned audiences in Europe, South America and the United States. His technique was so dazzling that he was known as "the Paganini of the double bass."

 "Pictures at an Exhibition" is a prime example of what is known as "program music": music that tells a story or describes a visual scene. It was composed in 1874, during a time when program music of various kinds became especially prominent among European composers.

The story behind "Pictures at an Exhibition" is one of classical music's most-told tales: One of Mussorgsky's friends, the Russian architect Victor Hartman, died suddenly in the summer of 1873. His friends made up a memorial exhibition with as much of his work as they could gather together. The exhibition ran for two months early in 1874. Later that year, Mussorgsky wrote a cycle of piano pieces in which he described in music several of Hartman's drawings and designs, with linking passages that portrayed the composer himself strolling through the exhibition.

There is no record of a public performance of "Pictures at an Exhibition" during the composer's lifetime, although Mussorgsky apparently played it for a few friends. Only when the score was arranged for orchestra did it begin to achieve any popularity. There have been several different orchestral versions, but Ravel's 1915 arrangement, with its brilliant orchestral effects and powerful climax, has remained the most popular version of the score.

Originally from Minnesota, Wolfe joined the string faculty of the UI School of Music in August 2004. She has had a diverse career as a soloist, teacher, chamber and orchestral musician on the national and international stage. For more information, see

Orhon joined the UI faculty in the fall of 2002. His professional career spans a wide variety of solo, orchestral and chamber music performing and teaching across the country and around the world. Among other honors, he was the first double bass player ever to win the Grand Prize overall and first prize for double bass at the American String Teachers Association Solo Competition. For more information, see or

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. The founding director of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. See

Individual tickets to University Symphony concerts are $10; UI student and youth $5; senior citizen $7. Tickets are also eligible for a discount as part of the UI Division of Performing Arts 2007-08 series.

If purchased together with other tickets for events presented by the UI Division of Performing Arts -- the Mainstage season of University Theatres, the annual Dance Gala performances, ticketed School of Music concerts in Hancher Auditorium and a production by the UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater -- tickets to the concert may be eligible for a series discount.

The events are detailed in a Division of Performing Arts brochure that is available at the Hancher Auditorium Box Office and from the division's marketing office at 319-335-3213. As explained in the brochure, patrons who purchase tickets to four, five or six events will receive a 20-percent discount; purchasing tickets for seven or more events earns a 25-percent discount.

Hancher Auditorium box office school-year business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets also may be ordered online at

Hancher box office orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

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

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072 (office), 319-541-2846 (cell),