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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 6, 2009

PHOTO: Pianist Alan Huckleberry will play Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with the UI Symphony Orchestra Feb. 18

UI Symphony Orchestra performs at West High School Feb. 18

The University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra (UISO) will offer one soloist, two conductors and a large array of instruments in its next concert at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the Auditorium of Iowa City West High School, 2901 Melrose Ave.

The concert will be free and open to the public.

The soloist will be the pianist Alan Huckleberry for a performance of the original jazz band version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." The conductors will be guest conductor David J. Nelson, leading a performance of the Prelude and Quadruple Fugue by Alan Hovhaness, and the orchestra's music director, William LaRue Jones, leading a performance of Richard Strauss' epic tone poem "Ein Heldenleben" (A hero's life).

And the instruments? They will range from no fewer than 34 winds onstage for Strauss' massive orchestra to the piano, a saxophone trio and a banjo for the "Rhapsody in Blue" jazz band.

"The UISO begins the new year with a barrage of musical fireworks," Jones said. "Three distinct sound worlds meet one another with the mystical Hovhaness, the tap-your-feet original jazz band version of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' and the passionate fireworks of Strauss' 'Ein Heldenleben.' With such diversity, this will be a highly entertaining and memorable program."

An American of Armenian-Scottish descent, Hovhaness was a composer of extensive cross-cultural interests. Introduced to Eastern European music by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu at Tanglewood, Hovhaness studied Armenian folk and religious music, traveled to India and Japan, and incorporated elements of Asian styles in his compositions. He came to believe that music should reflect the natural style of folk music, and all of his works have a strong emphasis on melody. He wrote hundreds of works, including more than 60 symphonies, several concertos and other concert works, film music, operas, ballets, choral music, chamber music, songs and piano pieces.

Gershwin was a unique musician whose creativity within the standard popular and jazz styles of the early 20th century earned him a permanent place in American musical history. He showed a remarkable ability to achieve popular success, from the song "Swanee," written in 1917 at the age of 19, through a string of Broadway hits, until his premature death in 1937.

But Gershwin aimed for, and ultimately achieved, far more than popular success. He studied composition with classically trained teachers, and he left behind a remarkable legacy that crosses genres and styles in a way that seems particularly American. Toward the end of 1923, he discussed the possibilities for a "jazz concerto" for piano with the popular bandleader Paul Whiteman. With the help of Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grofe, he completed the "Rhapsody in Blue" in less than six weeks. Gershwin played the solo part with the Whiteman Band on a concert listed as "An Experiment in Modern Music," in Aeolian Hall in New York on Feb. 12, 1924. Most of the music on that concert is forgotten today, but the "Rhapsody in Blue" was an immediate hit.

With his operas and tone poems, Richard Strauss emerged in the late 19th century as the successor to Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt in the central European musical tradition. He wrote a series of tone poems that attempted to portray in music literary and folk-mythological figures ("Don Juan," "Don Quixote," "Till Eulenspiegel"); the mundane events of daily life ("Sinfonia Domestica"); life after death ("Death and transfiguration"); and even philosophical writings ("Also sprach Zarathustra").

One of the largest and most virtuosic of his orchestral works is "Ein Heldenleben" (translated as either "A hero's life" or "A heroic life"), composed in 1899. The score has been widely interpreted as Strauss' possibly ironic portrait of himself. The irony is at least implied in the composer's own narrative: "Since Beethoven's 'Eroica' is so very unpopular among our directors today and played so seldom, I am composing (to help out in the pressing need) a large tone poem entitled 'Ein Heldenleben' (however, without a funeral march, but still in E-flat major), with many horn parts, which are singularly suited for a heroic subject."

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. For more information visit

Nelson is currently director of the UI School of Music and was the founding director of the UI Division of Performing Arts. As a violinist and conductor, he performed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the Austin (Texas), Omaha, Quad-City and the Madison symphony Orchestras, and served as associate concertmaster of the Owensboro (Ky.) Symphony. For more information visit

An active solo pianist and chamber musician, Huckleberry joined the UI faculty in 2003. He has performed both in recitals and as a soloist with orchestras in Germany, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Spain, France and the United States. He is also a prizewinner of numerous national and international piano competitions, including the first prizes in the German National Competition and the University of Michigan concerto competition. For more information visit

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 and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then 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),