Friday, April 22, 2011

University of Nebraska-Lincoln performers put on Bach's Mass in B minor

On Sunday, the University Singers, under the direction of Peter Ecklund, collaborated with the Chiara String Quartet and other performers from the UNL School of Music to perform J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor. Kimball Recital Hall held a large audience, all moved by the powerful piece.
The UNL School of Music provided programs with extensive notes that explained the text and musical settings of each movement. Before the concert began, audience members could read a short history of the piece and why Bach, a German Lutheran, would write a Mass. Not only is the work a spiritual encounter of Catholic and Lutheran devotions, but it is also “a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution [Bach] made to music.” This work is sometimes called “the greatest work of art of all time,” and as the culmination of Bach’s career, it is fitting that it is also the last work that he completed in his lifetime.

A musical setting of the Mass always covers the same texts called the Ordinary of the Mass in the following order: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (Lord have mercy, Glory to God in the Highest, I Believe, Holy, and Lamb of God). Bach takes each prayer and divides it into different movements to emphasize each line and sentiment in the prayer.

A number of movements call for soloists: Talea Block and Michala Martin were the soloists for Christe Eleison, a movement for unison violins, continuo, and two solo sopranos. In the Gloria, the text beginning Laudamus te (We praise you) was performed by Kellyn Wooten, mezzo-soprano, and Rebecca Fischer, violin, in a virtuosic style. Later in the Gloria, Allison Harvey, soprano, and Zach Vreeman, tenor, sang a duet with the accompaniment of Stephanie DeMaura on the flute. After a movement with chorus, Katie Mozack Bramsen sang an aria accompanied by William McMullen on the oboe, followed by an aria sung by John Stewart with Joshua Johnson, horn. The Gloria closed with another triumphant fanfare with full chorus. In later movements, Karina Brazas, Cami Phigreen, Andrew Last, Patrick O’Halloran, and Hannah Kurth sang beautiful solos.

The UNL performers did a wonderful job bringing this piece to life with its solos, duets, and choruses with examples of fugues, colossal Baroque style, moments with Renaissance style music, ritornellos, and all the stylistic techniques of which Bach was the master. Many audience members were brought to tears by the beauty of the music.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lincoln Symphony Orchestra: Cheaper tickets and bigger venue

Breaking news this past Friday was the announcement by the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra of a number of changes for the upcoming season. While many orchestras are struggling financially, and are tempted to raise their prices, the LSO is making tickets more affordable. In the symphony’s official press release, it is stated that “more than half of the seats will be available for the same price as a movie” and Executive Director Barbara Zach stated that “The lower ticket prices are the final piece of the puzzle in terms of truly becoming Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra by making live classical music financially accessible to everyone in our community.”
Concerts this year cost $24.99, $34.99, or $44.99 based on seating, and the costs during the next year are as follows:
  • Premium seats (approximately half of the venue) will cost $25, and remaining seats will cost $10
  • 20|30 Club members (anyone ages 18-39 who joins the club by calling the LSO office and providing their email address and date of birth) will receive premium seats for only $10
  • Tickets for children ages 5-17 will cost $5
  • Ticketing fees will be added to every ticket
The lower ticket prices will attract a larger audience, and by moving the principal venue from Kimball Recital Hall to the Lied Center for Performing Arts, the capacity goes from 850 to 2,200, the LSO will be able to accommodate their growing attendees. The move to the Lied Center is helped by donations from John and Rhonda Seacrest and the Lienemann foundation as well as by many smaller donations and season ticket holders.

Clark Potter, principal viola for LSO, told this examiner that he looks forward to playing more at the Lied Center, although he also loves playing in Kimball and stated that “the sound in there is excellent. I love the feeling that the audience is right there close and, like any musician, I love playing for a packed house. No one in the orchestra was disappointed with Kimball.” At the same time, however, Potter states that “the sound in the Lied is terrific” and that having played there a lot in his 15 years in Lincoln, it won’t feel strange to be there.

In regards to the ticket prices, Potter said he thought it sounded like a good experiment. “I really like that the orchestra is trying to make something happen,” Potter said, “it would be easy in ‘these economic times’ to sit back and just try to weather the storm. The fact that the orchestra is being proactive is a terrific sign of forward motion.”

The LSO is certainly doing its part to keep Classical music alive in Lincoln—now anyone can attend for a reasonable price and experience great, live music. However you’re dressed, whatever your tastes in music, and even on a low budget, you can enjoy an evening with the orchestra!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'Sonatas and Toccatas:' The organ recital of Kurt Knecht

Nebraska Wesleyan University’s O’Donnell Auditorium was the location of Kurt Knecht’s organ recital yesterday evening. On the program were works by Bach, Rheinberger, and Jongen, composers that are heard at many organ recitals, but unique to this performance was the first performance of Dr. Knecht’s own organ piece entitled “Sursum Sonata.”
According to his official website, Dr. Knecht already has choral compositions that are a “staple of the modern choral festival literature having been performed on All State and ACDA concerts in over 15 states.” His work, “Manly Men,” has been a hit with men’s choirs (TTBB) and audiences for years.
Dr. Knecht received his Doctor of Music Arts degree in Musical Composition from UNL and was awarded the prestigious Folsom Distinguished Dissertation Award for his composition, “Missa Prolationem,” a beautiful piece incorporating historical compositional techniques with modern ones. This piece was for soloists, choir, string quartet, and organ.

On last night’s recital, the program was:
  • Sursum Sonata by Kurt Knecht (b. 1971)
  • 1. Surging Fluctuations
  • 2. Suspended Mirrors
  • 3. Spinning towards Euphoria
  • Sonate No. 7 in f minor Op. 127 by Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901)
  • 1. Preludio – Allegro non troppo
  • 2. Andante
  • 3. Finale – Grave – Vivo
  • Toccata Op. 104 by Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
The highlight of the evening was the premier of Dr. Knecht’s “Sursum Sonata.” Despite his many compositions and published works, Dr. Knecht has only composed one piece for organ before this work. He wrote the “Sursum Sonata” a few years ago for an undergraduate student who was studying organ at UNL, but the piece has not been performed publicly until now. Dr. Knecht introduced the piece by telling the audience to listen to the contrasting sections that make up the first movement of a sonata. Then he told the audience that the second movement would make use of inversion. According to the online Britannica Encyclopedia, “to invert a melody means to change its ascending intervals to descending ones and vice versa.” Imagine a melody in a mirror—reflected back at itself. That seems to be the inspiration for the title of that movement, “Suspended Mirrors.”

Lincoln should keep an eye out for further works and performances of Dr. Kurt Knecht!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ideas and inspiration from Andy Strain

A few pictures showcasing Andy Strain and his creative colleagues, Jerry Smith and Yotam Mann
Recently, Lincolnites were treated to performances by Andy Strain and the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra where Andy shared some of his unique talents on the trombone, improvisation, and interpretations of music and light using video-game technology. Now, he is sharing a little more with Lincoln readers through an interview about some of his experiences, inspiration, and advice.

How long have you been playing the trombone?
I've played since I was 12. I'm 33. wow! 21 years! I started on the baritone horn, and switched to trombone because I wanted to play jazz in middle school. I never really thought I'd still be playing all these years later! Sure glad I am!!

How did you first get the idea to work with video game technology and trombone performance together?I had seen graffiti artists using laser pointers to paint with projected light on buildings, and I wondered how that would fly with the trombone. At Mills College where I was working on my Masters degree in Free Improvisation, I teamed up with a computer musician and programmer to put together an experimental duet. We used both visual and audio tracking to create live projected imagery and processed sound. It was all improvised stuff. What we performed at Kimball last week was a simplified and more refined version of that project.

How long have you been working with Yotam Mann and Jerry Smith?
I've been working with Jerry for about a year now - we met at a performance a few years back, and I really liked his work. So I asked him to join me. When we realized we needed more help, we found Yotam through a friend. We work amazing as a trio, and I'm excited to see what comes next.

What draws you to performing for school children?
There is a certain and fantastic energy surrounding young people and sound. They are curious, as I am, why music can make us feel certain ways. With young people, it's not about perfection, but detail. It's about showing them what honesty sounds like and looks like in performance. When young people experience new sounds for the first time, so do I. And when we have a discussion about it, young people are unafraid to ask questions and get involved. We are using the addition of projected light as a tool to help young people relate to and perhaps better understand existing classical music, modern music, and improvised music.

What advice do you have for children to learn more about music?
Follow your ears! Try to imagine the birds and the cars on the street as music. try to imagine classical music as birds and cars. It's okay to like any kind of music out there - find what you like, and listen to the bass, the melody, the words, the loud, the drone, the fun, the rhythm… and then listen to how they all relate to each other. Hint: they are just like people - sometimes they work in harmony and sometimes they work against each other. I think music holds a lot of clues to life!

What advice do you have for adults who aren't familiar with Classical music?
Be a child again, unabashed, and without fear. When you hear something you like, find more of it. If you see a good concert coming up in town, listen to the music they will perform as much as you can before you hear it live. And lastly, if you encounter music that is difficult to focus on, challenge yourself to find something inside it that is interesting, even if it's the lonely triangle player in the back.