Artists in Action: Get in tune with music in 2014
Dec 21, 2013 | 1064 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Start out the New Year in grandiose style with stirring music performed by accomplished musicians at the Foothills Piano Festival at Jacksonville State University Jan.10.

As a matter of fact, a good New Year’s resolution would be to take advantage of the many offerings by the music department scheduled for 2014. Most are free and open to the public, and cover a wide range of musical forms.

Four musicians will deliver a diverse musical menu on two pianos, showcasing the many voices a piano can raise in a performance Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Two of the pieces are by well-known composers. The third is a new experimental work written by a music faculty member for eight-handed piano ensembles such as these.

JSU faculty Wendy Freeland, Legare McIntosh, Andy Nevala and Gail Steward will perform works written for two pianos, with eight hands. They will perform transcriptions of crowd-pleasing favorites such as “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa, as arranged by Mack Wilberg, the music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, arranged by E. Guiraud. Additionally, the quartet will give a premiere performance of James Woodward’s “Four Abstracts.”

Hearing this new work will be especially fitting for new musical challenges as the university’s new semester begins, said Freeland. Woodward teaches music theory and composition at JSU. His original compositions have been played by the JSU University/Community Orchestra as well as the Etowah Youth Orchestras.

“Four Abstracts” is a four-movement work, whimsical and throught-provoking in style, Freeland added. She describes the movements as examples of minimalism, which in musical terms means taking a small melody and creating a pattern and variation from it. The work was written with the personalities of the musicians in mind, said Woodward.

In this concert, the pianos voice many moods, as the other two selections will prove. “Danse Macabre,” written in 1874 by French composer and teacher Camille Saint-Saens, is a symphonic poem, according to the text “Discovering Music” by Howard D. McKinney. Considered the utmost of intense realism in its day, it still makes for good listening because of the vivid imagery the tunes illicit of the character “Death” (who plays the violin) summoning skeletons from the graveyard.

“This will be appealing because it is a haunting, feverish and exciting dance,” Freeland said.

But perhaps the most lively and stirring selection will be the classic “Stars and Stripes Forever” by American bandmaster Sousa. Interestingly, while he was known as “the March King” during his career, he also wrote light operettas and played the violin. The final chorus of “Stars and Stripes” features an electrifying piccolo-like sound added to the piano tune. In addition, Nevala and Freeland will treat the audience to some Cuban music.

Because musical literature for eight piano hands is limited, concerts like this don’t come along often, said Freeland. Nor is it easy to find venues with two pianos on stage for double-duet performances, she added.

Each pianist has a different approach to the musical scores. Freeland’s talent is spirited and versatile, her co-workers say, while McIntosh is “a gentleman and a scholar” in his touch to the keys.

“Dr. Steward’s technique seems to come out with ease,” Freeland said, “and Dr. Nevala’s direct approach is exacting, but playful and fun.”

Freeland invites everyone to save the date for this musical event.

“In our fast-paced society, it’s a treat to sit and listen to music for an hour,” she said. “Many people say they find it relaxing, and some say they do their deepest thinking during a concert. Still others simply find it enjoyable.”

The piano quartet performance is free and open to the public.
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