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University of Iowa News Release

March 17, 2006

'Thoroughly Modern Masterworks' Completes UI Symphony Series March 29

University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses will present "Thoroughly Modern Masterworks," a concert featuring two of the acknowledged masterpieces of the 20th century, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 29 in the UI Hancher Auditorium.

Conducting duties for the concert will be shared by William LaRue Jones, director of orchestral studies in the UI School of Music, and Timothy Stalter, UI director of choral activities. To open the concert, Jones will lead the orchestra in a performance of Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, and after intermission Stalter will conduct the orchestra and combined choruses from the School of Music in a performance of Samuel Barber's "Prayers of Kierkegaard."

Soloists in the Barber will be graduate students in the School of Music: soprano Heather Youngquist, mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Bieber and tenor Paul Gregg.

Bartok emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1940, in protest against the increasing encroachment of the Nazis. He was already a respected teacher, ethnomusicologist, pianist and composer in his native Hungary, but he arrived in New York with little money and in ill health.

He found renewed energy with a commission that had been arranged by Hungarian musicians already active in American concert life -- the violinist Josef Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner, who had been Bartok's student in Budapest. The resulting work, the Concerto for Orchestra, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 1, 1944, and was an immediate success. It was Bartok's last completed work -- he died of leukemia the next year -- and it remains one of his greatest and most popular.

Traditionally, a concerto highlights the contrast between soloist and orchestra. Bartok explained the title of his "symphony-like" Concerto for Orchestra by its "tendency to treat the single instruments or instrument groups in a . . . soloistic manner." He described the work's mood as progressing from the "sternness of the first movement and the death-song of the third, to the life-assertion of the last one."

Serving as intermezzos between these movements are the second movement, which is labeled "game of pairs" and features paired wind instruments; and the fourth movement, which is labeled "interrupted intermezzo" and nostalgically incorporates a Hungarian popular song that is interrupted by a theme from Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony that Bartok thought vulgar.

Samuel Barber's grand-scale religious work "Prayers of Kierkegaard" is a setting of devotional texts by the influential 19th-century Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard.

The composer's letters suggest that the work was inspired by a service he attended at St. Anselmo, a small church in Rome. In 1950 he attended a Christmas Eve service there and heard 60 Benedictine monks sing a Mass in Gregorian chant. He wrote, "The simplicity and sincere style with which they sang this overwhelming music warmed all the corners of my heart left cold and untouched by the morning's magnificent pageantry" at St. Peter's Basilica.

When Barber returned to St. Anselmo in the spring of 1953, while he was composing "Prayers of Kierkegaard," he wrote again about the Gregorian chant that was sung there: "For me it is the only religious music possible."

The score of "Prayers of Kierkegaard" unfolds as a series of four prayers. The first is followed by a brief silence, while the remainder of the work is performed as one continuous movement. The influence of the chant from St. Anselmo is evident from the outset, as the first prayer begins as a quasi-Gregorian chant for a cappella male chorus in unison, and the motif from this passage is heard later in the work.

The four prayers, interspersed with expressive orchestral passages, are a choral invocation of an infinitely merciful and loving deity; a first-person meditation on the suffering Christ as redeemer sung by the soprano soloist; a complex consideration of human longing and frailty set for soloists, chorus and orchestra; and a final chorale that expresses simplicity and the serene acknowledgement of salvation.

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. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with a wide array of professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia, ranging from the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minneapolis Pops to the Penang (Malaysia) Symphony, the Antofagasta (Chili) Symphony and the Symphony Orchestra of Lucerne (Switzerland). Jones has conducted more than 70 all-state orchestras with additional festival/clinics in most of the 50 states and Canadian provinces.

He has served extended conducting residencies at the North Carolina School for the Arts, the University of Miami, Interlochen Academy for the Arts and Kansas City Conservatory. He also is the founding artistic director of the critically acclaimed Conductors Workshop of America. In addition to serving as guest clinician for numerous conducting seminars for professional/educational associations internationally, Jones is music director and conductor of the Oshkosh (Wis.) Symphony.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota, a music honorary society.

Jones holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin, University of Iowa and Kansas State University, with additional studies at the Juilliard School of Music and the University of North Texas.

Stalter joined the UI faculty as director of choral activities in 1999. He directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, teaches graduate conducting courses, and administers the graduate program in choral conducting. He has research interests in teaching conducting to undergraduate and graduate students and historical music performance practices. An active member of the American Choral Directors Association, he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral conducting around the United States.

In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has appeared as tenor soloist with Apollo's Fire, the Newfoundland Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France, the Robert Shaw Chamber Choir in Atlanta, the Classical Music Seminar and Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. He has recorded as tenor soloist with conductor Robert Shaw on two compact discs released on the Telarc label.

Prior to coming to the UI, Stalter was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Goshen College in Indiana. He received a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied with renowned choral conductor Robert Fountain, and a master's from the University of Illinois, where he studied with Don Moses, who was UI director of choral activities in the 1980s.

The March 29 performance will be the final event in the University Symphony's 2005-06 "Signature Series" of concerts in Hancher Auditorium.

Individual tickets to University Symphony concerts are $8 (UI student and youth $3; senior citizen $6) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets also may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hancher box office website: http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu.

Hancher box office orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

The Division of Performing Arts is part of 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.