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A Trickster’s Lesson in Music: William Campbell’s “Coyote Dances,” Performed March 31 and April 1 by the Quad City Symphony PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Frederick Morden   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 09:20

William Campbell

While a brief, unpretentious piece, Coyote Dances – by local composer William Campbell – is long on musical adventure, drama, and humor fashioned from a Native American moral yarn reminding us not to get too big for our britches.

In personal and e-mail interviews, Campbell – chair of the St. Ambrose University music department and an associate professor there – explained how he portrayed a story of the folkloric trickster hero Coyote in music and the March 31 and April 1 premiere of the composition with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.

“I wanted to write fun music with exuberant, joyful moments,” the composer said. And the score indicates that Coyote Dances is full of them.

 
Finding an Easy Oddity: Ragaman, “And Other Anagrams” PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 22 March 2012 06:31

Ragaman

My first listens to And Other Anagrams, the full-length debut of the Quad Cities trio Ragaman, brought to mind something Andrew Bird said to me in a 2007 interview: “I don’t know what a bass line is supposed to do.” The context was finding collaborators who didn’t play “stock footage,” who fight pop formulas in the creation of pop music.

Bird and Ragaman share an endearing softness and a natural aversion to subjugating intelligence, and both seem constitutionally incapable of conventional approaches, from instrumentation to style to structure. Ragaman employs the sitar as the lead on “Everyone You Know,” for example, and it’s the perfect essential detail: Taking the traditional rock role of the electric guitar, the instrument is comfortable yet foreign, and its chattiness anchors the song. The break of “Ankle Bells” features what sound like kazoos and trumpets – although I suspect some of that is mouth-mimicry.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Lars Rehnberg, bassist/engineer Gordon Pickering, and percussionist Leif Rehnberg make up Ragaman – an anagram of “anagram,” a joke referenced in the album’s title. Their style is a pop stew with distinct flavors – jazz, funk, and world music intermingle and take turns dominating. But it’s unified enough by its ambition, its breezy texture, and the vocals and playing of Lars Rehnberg – a former co-worker at the River Cities’ Reader.

 
Brutally Brilliant: The Quad City Symphony’s War Requiem Performance, March 3 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Frederick Morden   
Sunday, 11 March 2012 12:20

It was more than a concert. It was an artistic assault against war.

Performing Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece War Requiem – with its contemporary music, Latin requiem, and harrowing poetry of World War I soldier/poet Wilfred Owen – the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and its performing partners from Minnesota, Germany, and our own community on March 3 exposed the crippling sadness, human devastation, and insanity of war and found in its darkness a timeless argument for peace.

It was a gutsy decision for the symphony to program a single, 90-minute composition with unfamiliar words and music exploring the grotesque realities of war. But Quad City Symphony Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith accompanied that choice with education, altering the usual concert format by using the first 40 minutes to explain Britten’s literary restructuring of the requiem, demonstrate its fresh sound, and show key guideposts in the dramatic flow of the piece.

And the coherent, compelling performance of Britten’s epic work decisively outweighed any disruption of concert rituals.

 
Meeting in the Middle: Kaivama, March 10 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 06:27

The Minnesota-based Finnish-American instrumental folk duo Kaivama – performing at the River Music Experience on March 10 – has been around for less than two years, and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rundman acknowledges that “the whole band has kind of happened in reverse. We got a gig before we existed as a group. So we had to form the band in order to play the gig.”

And its self-titled debut album came out less than a year after the group’s genesis – before it had even toured.

Rundman attributes this to demand. The Finnish-American population, he said in a phone interview last month, is small but active, and that audience frankly doesn’t have many options when it comes to traditional music from its ancestral home.“It’s a niche,” he said. “We’re some of the only choices they have as far as that goes.

“But apart from the demographics, I think it’s because Nordic music is really beautiful. I don’t say that because we’re such a great band; I say that because ... it’s just beautiful music. ... It’s just undeniably gorgeous music. ... The raw material is wonderful.”

He’s right, but also too modest. With roughly the same number of traditional tunes and originals, Kaivama is expertly poised between the old and new – aged melodies adorned by modern flourishes. A warm, jaunty keyboard, for example, matches Sara Pajunen’s coolly nimble fiddle on opening track “Schottische 150.”

 
Peace for the Living and the Dead: The Quad City Symphony Performs Britten’s “War Requiem,” March 3 and 4 PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Frederick Morden   
Tuesday, 28 February 2012 06:44

The March concerts by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra feature just one work, and the imposingly somber title alone might give their potential audience pause: War Requiem. It is a difficult and complex work, and a mammoth undertaking for the symphony and its performance partners. But understanding composer Benjamin Britten’s goals and methods can illuminate the experience of his anti-war masterwork and help attendees make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

 
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