This weekend the Quad City Symphony Orchestra is celebrating composers who stood apart, in some way, from the conventions of their time. Although the program does include Beethoven and Strauss, the emphasis is on modern American composers, three of whom are living.
As Music Director and Conductor Donald Schleicher explained, these are (or were) composers "on the cutting edge" who "invented and created and didn't just follow the patterns of their predecessors.
"So often we play music by dead composers," Schleicher said. "Dead composers were once living, so I think it's interesting to investigate and perform music by living composers. Like an artist, composers sometimes become more famous after they die."
Jennifer Higdon and Joan Tower are two prominent female composers featured in the concert. A third contemporary composer, Dana Wilson, will take part in several events scheduled in conjunction with the "Celebrate Composers" concerts.
A nationally recognized composer, Wilson's works are performed by high-school bands and orchestras around the country. He will visit local high schools as well as classes at Augustana College and St. Ambrose University to discuss his music and the creative process of composition.
Wilson will also join Schleicher for "Concert Conversations," a discussion of the program held an hour before each concert.
In a similar event, Schleicher will host "Inside the Music" on Thursday, February 1, at St. Ambrose University's Rogalski Center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The concert will span from the Classical period with Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major to the late Romantic period with Strauss' Don Juan and finally to the modern period with Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. More-recent pieces are Higdon's Blue Cathedral, Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 2, and Wilson's Shortcut Home.
In a program focusing on composers who were "ahead of their time," Beethoven and his first symphony definitely have their place. The symphony premiered in 1800, in the latter part of the Classical period, but clearly deviated from the standards of Beethoven predecessors Mozart and Haydn. Although the work is structured like a traditional four-movement symphony, he replaced the waltz-like minuet of the third movement with a scherzo, which is based on that same rhythm but with a tempo that is almost twice as fast.
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man for brass and percussion premiered in 1943. As one of the most prominent American composers of the 20th Century, Copland is the "dean of American Music," Schleicher said. The heavy, or in this case exclusive, use of brass and percussion is distinctly American, and this appears in each of the American pieces in the concert.
The first example is Joan Tower's response to Copland's piece: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No. 2. She uses the same instrumentation as Copland, then adds glockenspiel, marimba, chimes, and drums.
Although Tower's piece was written in 1989 and revised in 1997, she began composing in the 1960s, at a time when the male-dominated music world followed the composition standards of post-World War II Europe. She is among the generation of American women composers credited with creating her own voice and leading the way for later generations - including Jennifer Higdon.
Higdon's Blue Cathedral, a memorial to her brother Andrew Blue, premiered in 2000 and quickly became one of the most frequently performed modern orchestral works in the United States.
"It's very colorful," Schleicher said. "In a way it's like if you imagine an artist who has found a way to develop new colors from what the other predecessors used - not just one shade of blue but several shades, and several shades of red and several shades of yellow. It's very beautiful."
Wilson's Shortcut Home will close the concerts. Like the three other American works, this one also features woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Wilson described his piece as a fanfare featuring each section of the orchestra.
"A shortcut may be the shortest way to get somewhere," he wrote in the concert's program notes. "but it often requires giving up the smooth road for a route that encounters puddles and fences. So it is with this piece. Drawing upon various jazz styles, the music proclaims and cascades, always driving toward the C-major 'home' of the final chord."
This concert marks the symphony's return to the Adler Theatre. Both the Saturday-evening and Sunday-afternoon performances have been held at Augustana College's Centennial Hall while the Adler was closed for renovations, but with the theatre recently re-opened, the symphony's Saturday performance will return to downtown Davenport.
"It will be good to be back home again, in a sense, on our Saturday-night series," Schleicher said.
Despite the move, shuttle service for Saturday performances will continue, re-routed to the Adler. Schedule updates are available at (http://www.qcsymphony.com).
Performances are 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 3, at the Adler Theatre and 2 p.m. Sunday, February 4, at Centennial Hall. For this weekend's concerts, the symphony is offering a two-for-one special on tickets purchased by phone.