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items tagged with Quad City Symphony

From Dead Ends to a Destination: The Evolution of Jacob Bancks’ “Rock Island Line,” Premiering March 8 and 9 with the Quad City Symphony
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2014-02-20 11:23:18

Jacob Bancks. Photo by Joshua Ford (JoshuaFord.com).

The blast of a train whistle has been transformed in the hands of composer Jacob Bancks – a shrill warning becoming the musical core of a composition that he intends as a greeting to his new community.

Using a “whistle chord” as musical glue and localism as an overriding theme, Bancks combined elements of the Mississippi River and the railroad in a way that is artful, rigorous, and sophisticated. But in creating Rock Island Line – which the Quad City Symphony Orchestra will debut on March 8 and 9 – he also incorporated nods to a local jazz legend and a popular song, playful components that help the work breathe and reach out to the audience.

Yet moving from ideas to a finished composition was not a straight line for the Quad Cities-based composer (who turns 32 on February 21). The effort included derailment and dead ends before finding workable inspiration toward an ultimate destination.

In earlier commissioned works, Bancks tried to find musical and non-musical connections to the organization and community for which he was writing. But this time the commissioning agent was the orchestra where he lives, and Bancks was particularly sensitive about the audience and community for whom this premiere would be presented. “These images and how they work with each other are very important to me, because this is my first piece in my new home and new community where I hope to remain,” he said in August, in his first interview with the River Cities’ Reader. “So, for me, through this piece, I will meet musical people I hope to meet again. And ... this would be a good way to introduce myself to a community I hope to be a part of.”


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Finding the Big Picture in the Details: The QC Symphony, December 7 at the Adler Theatre
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-12-18 16:23:15

Through the thick melodic honey of Russian Romanticism and the ever-changing musical illusions of a contemporary American composition, the Quad City Symphony on December 7 fashioned a successful concert from two divergent approaches to lyricism. Although the symphony occasionally blurred the differences between melodies and their accompaniments, they achieved resplendent moments of uplifting splendor in both pieces.

The program paired Jennifer Higdon’s imaginative, three-movement Violin Concerto – which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize – with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s profusely tuneful Symphony No. 2. Separated by a century of musical development, these works feature vast differences in compositional technique and tonality: Rachmaninoff worked in the customary symphonic form while Higdon writes improvisationally, and Rachmaninoff used traditional harmonic structure while Higdon employs a variety of tonal systems developed during the 20th Century.

But they are similar in using lyricism or songfulness as the primary means of self-expression. Consequently, in both cases, the artistic challenge for the Quad City Symphony was the same: to emphasize, with dynamics and stylistic nuances, melodic and motivic fragments and differentiate them from background sounds and accompaniment – a task the orchestra and its guest conductor struggled with in the first movement of Rachmaninoff and throughout Higdon.


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Compelling Mystery: The QC Symphony Performs Jennifer Higdon’s Bewildering, Beautiful “Violin Concerto”
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-11-29 11:09:13

Jennifer Higdon. Photo by J.D. Scott.Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto unfolds as a slow burn with flickering, firefly-like tones, then straps you into a sonic roller coaster, corkscrewing through ever-changing musical images. When you have experienced the sublime disorderliness of Higdon’s concerto, it seems miraculous that it ultimately makes sense; you have experienced something that was perceivable if not completely comprehensible.

The winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music, Higdon’s concerto could be bewildering for audiences at the Quad City Symphony’s December 7 and 8 concerts, with its copious, fast-changing variations of instrumental combinations and dynamics: violin harmonics with small finger cymbals, tingling high woodwinds with low, growling cellos and basses, sudden changes in volume, and constantly contrasting textures of sound. The musical events might seem random at first, but somewhere in your brain, you should be able to recognize and reorganize them enough to get a sense of Higdon’s complex yet stunningly accessible musical thinking.


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Steps Forward and Back: The Quad City Symphony’s Season Opener
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-10-15 18:17:29

The first Masterworks concert of the Quad City Symphony’s 99th season was a checkerboard of strengths and weaknesses. Huge, transcendent moments filled the Adler Theatre in the October 5 concert, but when things got quiet, discrepancies in tone color, balance, and rhythm appeared.

Under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith, the orchestra explored four diverse approaches to composition in reverse chronological order. Commissioned by the Quad City Symphony, the world premiere of American composer Michael Torke’s Oracle opened the program, followed by fellow countryman Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis, featuring only the strings. The mid-20th Century’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by British composer Benjamin Britten – with humorous narration by local media personality Don Wooten – completed the first half. After intermission, pianist Jonathan Biss joined the orchestra for Johannes Brahms’ Concerto for Piano No. 1.

The concert was an elegantly designed program that included a variety of contemporary works balanced by a classic masterpiece, but – except for Torke – it was not a good selection of music for this orchestra. In the tutti sections, when all the instruments were played, the mixture of timbre was profuse. Yet as the scoring broke down into smaller instrumental combinations, the differences in individual colors became more problematic. The result was tonal incompatibility both among the same instruments and between instrumental families.


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Foreshadowing the Season: The Quad City Symphony Premieres Michael Torke’s “Oracle”
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2013-09-17 18:43:02

Michael Torke. Photo by Brian Hainer.

In February, the Quad City Symphony contacted a representative of Michael Torke with the hope of commissioning a short season-opening piece from the well-known American composer. It was a long shot – a request with a turnaround time of a few months instead of the typical year or two between commissioning and the orchestra’s first rehearsal with the completed music.

But Torke was looking for a summer project, a short work to add to his library of titles. “I love those drop-everything-now projects,” Torke said in a phone interview in July. “The Quad City thing seemed perfect.” With the logistics in place, what remained was finding an appropriate artistic concept and completing the piece before rehearsals in September.

Oracle was composed in a burst of creative energy from mid-June to mid-July. “I think this is going to be one of the best pieces I’ve ever written,” Torke predicted the day after the five-minute composition was completed. “I am so jazzed up about it. It starts off with this kind of ‘Pines of Rome’ thing, with one variation of the melody warm and juicy, and another noble.”


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