The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 19, 2003

Agrell And Mazunik Will Improvise On A Concert For Horn and Piano Dec. 2

Jeffrey Agrell, the adventurous horn player and composer who teaches at the University of Iowa School of Music, will team up with jazz pianist and composer Evan Mazunik to present a concert that will combine improvisation of various types with written music ranging from the Middle Ages to Irving Berlin at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The recital will be free and open to the public.

Agrell and Mazunik have been playing together since Agrell joined the School of Music faculty three years ago. Their concerts have often included improvisation, but always as part of pieces they composed themselves.

The Dec. 2 concert represents a new exploration, using classical music of various styles and vintages as sources of inspiration for musical comment and reflection. In some cases, they will play a piece as written, followed by an improvisation, reflection or variation on the original. In others, they will simply improvise on motives or moods of the musical source.

"Once upon a time, all musicians were improvisers," Agrell explains. "Even when written music came along, players knew how to decorate, elaborate and develop written material, use it as a source for new and varied improvised performances.

"With the coming of the huge orchestra of the romantic era and the highly complex music for it, the ability to improvise died out until the only improvisers we have today are jazz players, who retained this feature of aural tradition."

And so Agrell says, he asked himself a question -- rhetorical in his case, as it turns out. "In what ways could the classical repertoire serve as source material and inspiration for spontaneously generated new pieces? What if a written piece could serve as a beginning instead of an end?

"What if classical musicians could once again improvise on written compositions as was done for so long? What might that sound like?"

The answer is: it would sound just like the program being planned by Agrell and Mazunik. The titles on the program -- representing sources for musical comment, reflection and elaboration -- will be:
-- "Bergeronnete" by Adam de la Halle and the anonymous "A l'entrade del tens clar" from the Middle ages;
--Adagio and Presto by Baroque composer Georg Phillip Telemann;
--"Nachtpoema" composed in 1963 by Prosper Van Eechaute;
--Variations on "Nachtpoema" by Agrell and Mazunik;
--"Alpha," composed in 1973 by Jean-Michel Defaye;
--"Beta: Reflections on Alpha" by Agrell and Mazunik; and
--"Puttin' on the Ritz" by Irving Berlin.

Agrell joined the UI School of Music faculty in 2000 after a 25-year career as symphony musician. At the UI he teaches horn, directs the Horn Choir, teaches introduction to improvisation and performs with the Iowa Brass Quintet. Before coming to Iowa, he was associate principal horn with the Lucerne (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra 1975-2000, playing symphonic music, opera, operetta, ballet, musicals, choral music and chamber music.

Agrell began composing and arranging during his college years and played jazz guitar and electronic music in the 1980s. For the past decade he has had a steady stream of commissions from professional chamber music ensembles. His works have appeared on CD and have been broadcast on radio and television nationally and internationally. Several of his compositions have won awards.

Widely respected as performer, teacher and composer, Agrell has performed and given clinics and lectures at regional, national, and international workshops. He is on the faculty of the Asian Youth Orchestra in Hong Kong and was recently elected to the Advisory Council of the International Horn Society. An avid writer, he was on the editorial staffs of two brass journals for decades, writes two regular columns for the Horn Call, the journal of the International Horn Society, and has some 60 published articles to his credit. He is currently working on a multi-volume method that integrates traditional technique with aspects of improvisation, jazz and contemporary music.

Agrell has degrees from St. Olaf College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He did further studies at the Institut de Hautes Etudes Musicales in Montreux (Switzerland) and at the Basel Conservatory.

Mazunik's broad experience as a pianist, composer and improviser includes work with distinguished musicians including Carla Bley, Bob Mintzer, Bobby Shew and Steve Swallow. He is currently the pianist for Johnson County Landmark, the UI's top jazz big band, and keyboardist for the Steve Grismore/Paul Scea Ensemble. He recently received a UI Student Art Grant to record Gamut's debut album, "Countermeasures."

Mazunik has been a member of the New York City-based Walter Thompson Orchestra since 2002. In 2001, he founded Gamut, Iowa City's first ensemble based on Soundpainting -- a system for conducting an improvised performance pioneered by Thompson's ensemble -- and he continues to serve as the group's artistic director and conductor.

He has written the score for the documentary "Checker King" screened at the 2002 DOCtober Film Fest in Santa Monica, California, and aired on HBO2. He has served as musical director for "In Sarajevo," a musical that received its premiere as part of the 2002 Iowa New Play Festival, and a collaborative production of Charles Mee's "Trojan Women." He is currently completing a master's degree in jazz performance at the UI.

Agrell and Mazunik recently recorded a CD of their original works that integrate written material and improvisation, and have received a grant for a second recording next summer.

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

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <ur-acr@uiowa.edu>.

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, peter-alexander@uiowa.edu.

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.