Wednesday, October 22, 2014

American Composers on the Stage

After traveling around the world with our community and high school choirs, the Orchestra of Southern Utah brings us back home.  OSU performs “American Composers Without Borders,” on Thursday, November 13, at 7:30 pm in the Heritage Theater as the second concert of the season celebrating Pieces of Peace. Each number has a unique aspect for lifting spirits and bringing joy. Join us as we listen to these uplifting pieces from George Gershwin to Marshall McDonald and Steven Sharp Nelson. 
Adam Lambert and Carylee Zwang, our assistant conductors, are showcased with two entertaining pieces by Leroy Anderson. Lambert, and our trumpet section, perform Bugler’s Holiday. Albeit, technically challenging, this classical-pops piece is sure to get your foot tapping. Zwang solos on an unconventional percussive instrument, a typewriter! This will have you wishing you were the orchestra’s secretary while listening to The Typewriter!
We introduce new composers Chad Cannon and Mark Dal Porto with music that washes over you with pure sounds and blended chords. Chaconne for After a Storm by Cannon and Song of Eternity by Dal Porto explore the tonal range of the orchestra under the direction of Xun Sun, OSU Music Director and Conductor.
Through the eyes of Marshall McDonald and Steven Sharp Nelson, OSU performs the sounds of Africa with the help of Enterprise High School’s Concert Choir.  The World Premiere with OSU from 2009 has inspired many around the globe. We’ve even sold our recording in Sweden! You will dance to the drums and be swept across the Sahara with the beautiful harmonies and bold melodies of Africa!  Marshall McDonald continues to compose and perform in Salt Lake City and Steven Sharp Nelson is the cellist in the internationally popular Piano Guys.

The night will end with the talents of 14 year-old Sarah Sun as she tickles the ivories with the famous Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. From the trill of the clarinet to the last cymbal crash, the musical story captivates its audience with jazz-like orchestration. She received top honors in her age category in the Salt Lake Piano Competition this summer.

“American Composers Without Borders” will be performed Thursday, November 13, at 7:30 pm in the Heritage.  Doors open at 6:45 with lobby music by pianist Harry Taylor. Tickets may be purchased for $10 for adults, $5 for students (ages six and up), $30 for groups of six. Tickets are available at the Cedar City Heritage Center Box Office by calling 435-233-8213 or online at Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended. Children over the age of six are welcome at all the concerts with adult supervision.  OSU requests that babies and children less than six years old not attend as evening concerts are recorded.
The major sponsor for the concert is Melinda Wagner in memory of her father Orien Dalley, who was born in Summit, taught at SUU, and went on to a distinguished career at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as well as being instrumental in the establishment of the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
For more information, please visit or call the Orchestra of Southern Utah at (435) 233-8213.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Soaring on Song

By Bryce Christensen
            Musique, mooski, musyka, glazba, mele, hubda, yin yue . . . translatable into every language, music can carry the listener to every inhabited corner of the globe.   And it was the adventure of musical globe-trotting that brought hundreds to Cedar City’s Heritage Center on October 9th, as the Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU) hosted four choirs and a distinguished guest conductor for melodic travel in a concert dedicated to “Exploring the World through Music.” 
            After OSU President Harold Shirley welcomed the audience with an invitation to leave Cedar City far behind without the inconvenience or shots or of clearing customs, the concert began with Mouth Music, arranged by Doris Keane and John Faulkner, performed by Canyon View High School’s Madrigals, directed by Adrianne Tawa.  Preserving the lilt of ancient Celtic ballads and pulsing with the rhythm that Melanie Hunt beat out on a hand drum, this number transported listeners across space and time, to a tribal world where the primal energies of Celtic bards still rang out.  But thanks to the globe-straddling power of music, the Madrigals flew with miraculous speed from the Celtic world to the Maori world, singing as their second number Kua Rongo, by Ngapo Wehi.  Capturing the dynamism of a Maori Powhiri, or welcome ceremony, this marvelous number leaped into irresistible song overflowing into dance-like arm-and-hand gestures.   The Canyon View Madrigals performed both of these very different numbers with remarkable poise and polish!
            As the second guest choir on the stage, Southern Utah University’s Opus Chamber Choir added Zimbabwe to the evening’s travel itinerary, reaching this African nation via Mbiri Kuna Mwari, written by Lee Kesselman in the spirit of the choral yearnings of Shona spirituality.  Drums sustained the harmonies, their beat swelled by claves and by that most ancient but most responsive of percussion instruments—hands clapped in exultant joy.   In their second number, the Opus singers stayed in Africa, but moved south for Gabi Gabi, a South African praise song bursting with blissful celebration.  For depth of feeling and sensitivity of expression, the audience could hardly have asked for better musical travel guides than those that Opus Choir director Kevin Baker brought with him this evening.
            A markedly different musicality filled the center when the Master Singers took the stage under the direction of Dee Rich.    In O Home Beloved, the Master Singers carried listeners both back in time and across the Atlantic as they joined 19th-century Welsh immigrants to Utah as they nostalgically dream of their beautiful Welsh homeland.   But in their second number, the Master Singers returned once again to Africa—albeit Africa transplanted.  The African musicality of I’m Going to Sing when the Spirit Says Sing is the African musicality of slaves, who found spiritual consolation in song during their long years of American bondage.  Beginning with a powerful solo by Gary Pfaffenberger, this piercingly plaintive number carried listeners not just to a region of American geography and history but also to a region of the spirit where hard-pressed souls find their hope renewed.  Over almost seven decades of performances, the Master Singers has won a reputation for choral brilliance, a reputation only burnished with these two numbers.
            The unpredictable adventure of musical travel took listeners to the trenches of World War War I when In Jubilo took the spotlight to sing Pokarekare Ana.  To be sure, it is not these foul and ugly trenches that listeners ever actually experienced.  For though it was a homesick Maori World War I soldier who wrote this song, his romantic impulses opened to him a vision of his beautiful South Pacific home and the loved one he had left behind.  And in the soul-renewing vision of this war-weary man, New Zealand found its unofficial national anthem—and the Heritage Center concert-goers found their passport to a lost Maori paradise.  But concert-goers did not linger long in this paradise, for their In Jubilo travel guides whisked them north and east to the Emerald Island with the gentle strains of An Irish Blessing, arranged by Jeffry Lowden and Jay Daniels.  Refulgent with tender emotion, this gentle benediction evoked all the abiding hopes of a longsuffering people.  Director Jackie Riddle-Jackson and the singers who performed under her leadership deserve high praise for their superb rendition of these two numbers.
            World travels continued after the Intermission, but initially in a very somber direction, placing listeners in the dark vales of battlefield peril as listeners listened to words without music, words read with great feeling from two texts forever tied to the nation’s great bloodletting in the Civil War.  With a self-possession astonishing in such a young reader, Britton Gardner read an excerpt from Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage recounting  Henry Fleming’s painful parting from home for the war.  Next Joshua Stavros shared the poignant emotions that Union Captain Sullivan Ballou poured into a letter to his wife, shortly before his death at the First Battle of Bull Run. 
Then, as if to remind listeners of how music can distill emotions expressed in words, OSU director Xun Sun led the orchestra in Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell .  To be sure, Sun directed the orchestra with a violin rather than a baton in hand.  Indeed, he launched an unforgettable rendition of this number, redolent with the sorrow of a Scottish lament, with his own masterful solo, conveying all the haunting pathos that made this number the fitting background music for Ken Burns’ probing documentary on the American Civil War.  As the entire orchestra joined Sun, the melancholy strains invited the audience to reverent reflections on those who, as Lincoln said, gave “the last full measure of devotion” for their country.
            But in the final musical journey of the evening, the audience visited China for the life-affirming Chao Yan Valley in its inaugural American performance.   First performed in Beijing in 2013, this exuberant number marks the breaking of a drought with rains promising a bounteous harvest.  Composed by Wang Jixiao, Jiang Hongxuan, and Liang Sihui, and arranged by Jin Wei, Chan Yan Valley gave concert-goers the fullest immersion China’s cultural riches that they are likely to have without a visa.  Making this immersion particularly complete was the presence on the platform of guest conductor Tao Wu, the Chief Conductor of the Henan Symphony Orchestra.  Wu conducted not only the OSU instrumentalists but also the combined voices of the four guest choirs, who joined in singing—in Mandarin Chinese!—Yang Lanchun’s lyrics for this magical number.  As scores of Southern Utah singers who just a few weeks before had known nothing about any Asian language joined in liquid harmonies in an unfamiliar tonal language, the audience marveled afresh at how music shrinks the globe!   (The sheer sound was an aural treasure, but concert-goers greatly appreciated the sparkling translation of the lyrics provided in the program by OSU member Benjamin Lee!)

            OSU director and conductor Xun Sun has once again put area music lovers deeply in his debt not only by organizing and overseeing the preparation of this delightful world-spanning concert but also by stepping brilliantly into the role of instrumental soloist.  Concert-goers also owe profuse thanks to the Dixie and Anne Leavitt Foundation , the major sponsor of the concert.   To be sure, local travel agents may fear that the singular success of this concert has made their services seem quite unnecessary!    But let them think again: Local music-lovers now know not only of the musical gifts of OSU’s Chinese-born conductor Xun Sun, but also of the likewise-dazzling gifts of Tao Wu (now an honorary member of OSU).  How can they not want to visit the land that nurtured such musical talent?  This night’s musical travels may just be prelude to even more adventurous journeys!

Monday, October 6, 2014

4th Grade Students Invited to Explore the World of Music with the Orchestra of Southern Utah

Melissa Bishop Leavitt, OSU Education Director, will be visiting the schools in Iron County school district and presenting the 4th graders with a "Passport to the Orchestra". Homeschool students who are of 4th grade age may pick them up at St. Judes (70 N. 200 W., Cedar City) on Wed. at 4:30 or on Thursday, Oct. 10, before the concert. 
Melissa said, "I will spend a few minutes explaining to them what an orchestra is and what orchestra music sounds like. I think they will be surprised how many times they hear orchestra just about any show they watch or video game they play. We'll talk a bit about their opportunity to start learning to play orchestral instruments next year and then I'll tell them a little about OSU's theme for the year and specifically about the program planned for Thursday. I plan to have a surprise for anyone who can bring an authentic passport with 5 punches on it! Before each concert I will email the teachers with listening files and lesson plans/ideas for their use. I will also follow up in February when we take the assembly to the schools." Thanks to everyone involved in getting the program implemented.
This is an exciting new initiative that Melissa Leavitt is working to implement as the new Education Director under OSU Manager Emily Hepworth. 4th grade is a crucial time because the students decide in 5th grade if they are going to study an instrument in our Cedar City public schools. We are excited that the students can explore the world of music with OSU. Thanks to our wonderful donors who are making this possible.

For more information contact Emily Hepworth, OSU Manager, at 435-592-4266 435-592-4266.

For more information on the Orchestra, see