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Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble presents 'Music for the 21st Century' Feb. 22

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble, a flexible chamber orchestra of 30 players from Minneapolis/St. Paul specializing in "Music and Performance for the 21st Century," will present a program of contemporary music at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22 in Clapp Recital Hall on the University of Iowa Campus.

The concert, which is presented by the UI Center for New Music, will be free and open to the public. Duane Schulthess, artistic director and founder of the ensemble, will conduct.

From its 1993 debut performance at the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble (MCE) has performed to critical acclaim throughout the country. The Dallas Morning News called the MCE "one of the country's leading advocates of the new in music," and their 1997 debut album, "180 Degrees from Ordinary," was characterized by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as "a tour de force of technical ability and engaging new music."

The Feb. 22 program will feature three recent works, all dating from the 1990s, as well as a major work by the highly individualistic English composer Peter Maxwell Davies, "Eight Songs for a Mad King," composed in 1969.

The psychotic behavior of England's King George III inspired the 1994 film "The Madness of King George" starring actor Nigel Hawthorne as the deranged king. But many years before the film, the same events had been the subject of a virtuoso performance piece by composer Peter Maxwell Davies, "Eight Songs for a Mad King." Making up the second half of the program, Davies' score will feature bass-baritone Robert Osborne in a performance staged by Twin-Cities playwright, director and journalist William Randall Beard.

According to historical accounts, George III became increasingly unstable beginning about 1788 -- immediately after the American Revolution. At night he would wander the halls of Windsor Castle, wearing his nightshirt and holding a candle, muttering and talking at a furious pace. On one occasion, he spoke without stopping for 16 hours, his voice raspy and hoarse from the constant vocal barrage. By 1811 the king was violently insane and was replaced on the throne by his son.

Davies' "Eight Songs" uses a text based on historical accounts by writer Randolph Snow as well as actual words uttered by George III during bouts of delirium.

Davies makes his permanent home in the Orkney Islands, an isolated, wind-blasted island chain off the north coast of Scotland. Accessible only by boat or private airplane, the Orkneys are moss covered and void of any trees due to extreme weather conditions. In this austere landscape,

Davies has found inspiration for a large output of works including three symphonies, a violin concerto and chamber music. He is currently escaping the hustle and bustle of the Orkneys to spend several months in Antarctica. He received a knighthood from the British government in 1987.

The concert will feature three other works, opening with the "Concerto Mediterraneo" of Linda Robbins Coleman. A graduate of Drake University, Coleman has been in residence at the Drake Theater for the past 20 years and was composer in residence for the Cedar Rapids Symphony 1994-96. The "Concerto Mediterraneo" was commissioned by the Iowa Music Teachers Association and premiered at its 1994 state convention. Its three movements -- "Italiano," "Espagnol" and "Francais" -- were inspired by cultures and artists that Coleman has studied and admired.

"Duo-Bagatelles" of Paul Siskind was composed in 1990. The first of a projected series of short pieces for small mixed ensembles, the score consists of five contrasting movements, each presenting a concise, self-contained mood or gesture. The composer has characterized the "Duo Bagatelles" as "virtuosic show pieces (that) present numerous challenges to the performer."

Finally, violinist Angela Fuller will perform John Howell Morrison's "Rising Blue" for violin and tape. An eclectic composer, Morrison acknowledges influences as diverse as the Grateful Dead to bluegrass to experimental 20th-century music. Morrison created "Rising Blue" at the Presser Electronic Music Studio at Luther College in Decorah, where he is assistant professor of music.

Robert Osborne has sung throughout the United States, Europe, Russia and Asia, in performances with many leading conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and Seiji Ozawa. His operatic repertoire includes more than 40 roles, and he has appeared with the Boston, Singapore, New World and Schleswig-Holstein symphonies, among others.

William Randall Beard has had plays produced by Hothouse, a festival of new plays, and the Red Eye Collaboration. He is currently working on a commission from Hennepin County, Minn., and developing scripts for Chanhassen Diner Theater and Ballet of the Dolls. As a journalist, he has written the Advocate, Minnesota Monthly, Twin Cities Reader and City Pages. He is theater and film critic for FocusPOINT in the Twin Cities.

A native of Seattle, Angela Fuller is a senior at the University of Minnesota. She has performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra and will perform the Brahms Concerto this year as the winner of the orchestra's 1998 WAMSO competition. She has performed as concertmaster of the Seattle Youth Symphony, the Aspen Festival Opera Orchestra, the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra and the University of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.

A professional horn player as well as conductor and composer, Schulthess has been a featured soloist with the Royal Academy of Music, London, and was also a member of the Regent Wind Quintet. Since coming to America in 1991 he has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and served as principal horn of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. He has worked closely with leading composers including Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio, Hans Werner Henze and Libby Larsen.

The performance of the Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble is made possible in part by the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature, the Iowa Composers Forum, the Best Western Inn on the Park--Madison, and the American Composers Forum through its performance incentive fund which is underwritten by the Knight Foundation.

2/6/98