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University of Iowa News Release


March 23, 2010

UI Symphony explores land, sea and zoo in March 31 concert

Earth Day doesn't happen until April 22 but the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra will get a head start and welcome spring with a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Director William LaRue Jones said, "In recognition and support of Earth Day, the UI Symphony Orchestra will present a concert of American composers who have written compositions with a focus, both whimsical and serious, on our planet."

The program will be "The Infernal Machine" by Christopher Rouse, "The Tender Land" Suite by Aaron Copland, "And God Created Great Whales" by Alan Hovhaness (photo, left) and "A Zoo Called Earth" by Peter Schickele (photo, right). Two of the works include pre-recorded material -- whale sounds in the Hovhaness piece and Schickele's voice as the "alien narrator," originally recorded for the Grammy-nominated children's album on which "A Zoo Called Earth" appeared.

Rouse wrote of "The Infernal Machine," "The work takes its title from the eponymous play by Jean Cocteau, though that drama's retelling of the Oedipus myth had no influence on the piece. Rather it was my intention to compose a brief orchestral showpiece inspired by the vision of a great self-sufficient machine eternally in motion for no particular purpose.

"But while this machine is not specifically satanic, it is more than a little sinister. The score is a perpetuum mobile wherein the monster sometimes whirs along in mercurially unconcerned fashion, while at others it sputters or throws off slightly hellish sparks, occasionally grinding as it changes gears."

Although he had written an opera for young voices during the Depression, Copland was reluctant to enter the operatic arena, worried about finding a suitable libretto and production issues. But when Rogers and Hammerstein offered to commission an opera in 1954, he decided to give it a try. The result, "The Tender Land," is one of the few American operas to find an enduring place in the repertoire.

It tells the story of a farm family, and Copland's contribution has been especially lauded for its strong evocation of the land, to which the family lives so closely.

Hovhaness, who died in 2000, was a remarkably prolific American composer of Armenian and Scottish heritage. Adventurously creative, he absorbed musical and spiritual influences from around the globe in a career that produced more than 500 works, including nearly 70 symphonies.

His passionate mixture of mysticism, music and nature can be seen in his comment, "Armenian music belongs to the ancient world when ragas, melody lines, and talas, rhythmic lines, were main pillars of universal music. When music was melody and rhythm, when each melodic combination was a gift of the gods, each rhythmic combination was a mantram to unlock a key of power in nature, then music was one of the mysteries of the elements, of the planetary systems, of the worlds, visible and invisible.

"The cycle of Western civilization since the Renaissance has developed outer laws of music and the outer forces of nature. This knowledge is limited. It pierces no veil and brings no well-being to the inner life -- it offers no remedy for the disaster of inward disintegration -- it leaves the human nucleus unthreaded, uncentered, unrevealed, with no hope of recovering the form or the central sun of existence."

"And God Created Great Whales" was commissioned by Andre Kostelanetz for the New York Philharmonic, and the piece was far ahead of its time in incorporating the sounds of nature into a musical score.

Peter Schickele, who was born in Ames to academic parents, is of course best known by his comic persona, P.D.Q. Bach, through which he parodies both music and music history. But he has led a varied compositional career, including orchestrating recordings of Joan Baez and Buffy St. Marie, writing serious music in the classical tradition, leading a chamber-rock band and producing a variety of works for children.

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

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, UI News Services, 319-430-1013,