ISU Symphony Orchestra visits Marshalltown | News, Sports, Jobs
The Iowa State University Symphony Orchestra is heading to Marshalltown in just under two weeks, and the community is invited to attend a free performance at 7 p.m. on December 1 at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center.
Jonathan Govias, the director of orchestral activities at ISU, as well as the conductor of the symphony, often seeks opportunities to broaden his students’ horizons with regard to their performances, both by visiting new places and performing a wide variety of music.
For the upcoming performance, Govias chose several unique musical compositions, and as he decided which pieces would go on the program, he looked for ways to create an overarching narrative for the audience with the chosen music.
“I’m always looking for the right kind of thing for the orchestra, and I’ve wanted to do a piece by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a black British composer, for some time, but the question was how do I frame it? How do we contextualize it for an audience? Govias asked.
While pondering Coleridge Taylor’s Ballad in A minor, he found Alexander Borodin’s Symphony No. 3, rarely performed. “Not for lack of musical merit”, in the words of Govias, but rather because it is incomplete. There are only two movements in the piece, and these movements were completed and orchestrated by Borodin’s friend, the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.
Govias thought the easiest solution would be to bring the two works together, and he also added another work by Borodin, “Notturno” from String Quartet No. 2. Some may know the song, as it was used for the soundtrack to “The Little Matchgirl” 2006 Disney Short. It was arranged for solo violin and orchestra by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov.
ISU Morrill music teacher Jonathan Sturm will perform the violin solo in the piece, and he brings 55 years of experience to the table. He received his music about a month ago and has been working on perfecting his performance ever since. Sturm said he had never heard this specific arrangement of the piece before and found it relatively unique.
“I think one of the reasons the arrangement isn’t popular is that it’s very difficult technically and the technical difficulty is something that I tweaked, to make it work better, because the mood of the music is meant to be very quiet and relaxing. ‘Nocturne’ literally means night piece, or a piece to calm you down at night,” Sturm said. “This arrangement makes for a great virtuoso show piece, with all sorts of sounds produced by the violin that don’t really contribute to the original mood of the piece.”
Sturm said he had played the Nocturne as a string quartet piece “hundreds of times” in his life, but never solo, and he felt that some modification of the violin arrangement would make it better.
“I think the main challenge is getting that extra technique to sound good in a track that’s supposed to sound relaxed and very intimate. If you have a room where the mood is generally intimate and you arrange it to be very outgoing, then you really have completely changed the character of the room. So I try to retain some of the extroverted qualities, but more importantly preserve the intimacy of movement when I’ve made my edits,” Sturm said.
This will be Sturm’s first time playing in the ISU Symphony Orchestra in about 15 years, so he is looking forward to playing with them again. Although he hasn’t played with the ISU in a while, he keeps those muscles ready and ready to play as a concertmaster or principal violinist with the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra.
The December 1 performance, which is expected to last just over an hour, will conclude with the Ballad of Coleridge Taylor.
“The intention, on my part at least, is to approximate the narrative and emotional trajectory of a full symphony,” Govias said.
Govias thinks Coleridge Taylor’s line-up will be a good finisher for the program, but he thinks it’s an important part of the performance for other reasons as well.
“I think it works very well in relation to my objective, which was to try to arrive at a completion of the symphony, but it is also very important within the framework of our pedagogical, but also moral and ethical responsibilities in as instructors to make sure our students are exposed to music from writers outside of what we might call the Western European white male canon,” Govias said. “The idea is to make sure we let’s not just play works from one era or part of the world, but something more representative of the world we live in.”
In addition to Coleridge Taylor’s piece, Govias announced that they would be opening with Danzón No. 1, a piece written by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.
After the main performance, the ISU Symphony Orchestra will perform an encore with the MHS Orchestra, conducted by Orchestra Director Derek Claussen. In the spirit of the holiday season, they will perform Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”.
Govias said he wanted to provide them with the opportunity to perform with his students in order to support the MHS orchestra program and expose MHS students to music at a higher level.
“We want to support their program through our performance. We want to make sure their students get the exposure they deserve,” Govias said. “It’s educationally good for my students to work with students who are only a few years younger, but on a different trajectory in high school than in college, to encourage and inspire them and I think that’s is good for Marshalltown students too.”
Claussen was excited when he learned that the ISU Symphony was coming to Marshalltown, and he was happy that his students had the opportunity to see a talented group of performers.
“Listening to live music is an exciting experience for everyone. My students will be able to take what we have learned all year and process it through a new and different lens. A performance like this can motivate and inspire. I hope my students will ask to hear more and seek out live performances of all kinds,” Claussen wrote in an email. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the connections my students can make. I hope they all play their instruments after high school and that’s the kind of event that could motivate them to keep playing.
Claussen knew that “Sleigh Ride” would challenge his students technically. He is proud of how they have risen to the occasion and he looks forward to his students sharing the stage with the ISU Symphony.
Govias believes it’s important to be a “good neighbor” to communities in central Iowa, something he thinks the orchestra hasn’t done a good job of in the past, in part because of COVID. With the pandemic over, however, Govias has worked to increase awareness and community partnerships.
In October, the ISU Symphony Orchestra performed at Valley High School in Des Moines, and now they have been able to partner with MHS. He also hopes to visit Ottumwa again in the future, as they performed there last year.
“I think it’s very important to cultivate a sense of service in our musicians and the idea that they are there to serve communities,” Govias said. “So the idea is just to be present and to support the musical activity in all these different places.”
They’ve never visited Marshalltown in the past, and Govias is looking forward to “making new friends” and putting on a good performance for the community.
The concert will take place at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center, which is located on the MHS campus at 1602 S. 2nd Ave.
Contact Susanna Meyer
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