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United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Final Summer Orchestra Concert Features Dance Music from 17th to 20th Centuries

By Master Sgt. Kristin duBois | United States Marine Band | August 14, 2018

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The Marine Chamber Orchestra will conclude its Summer Orchestra Series with a program of music that dances the gamut from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Conducted by Marine Band Director Col. Jason K. Fettig, the concert will showcase trumpet soloist Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Harding and pianist Gunnery Sgt. Russell Wilson in André Jolivet’s Concertino for Trumpet. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

 

The concert begins with Georg Philipp Telemann’s Suite, La Bizarre. Telemann was an exceptionally ambitious and successful composer who lived from 1681-1767. He was one of the most prolific composers in history with more than 3,000 works to his credit, including operas, oratorios, passions, suites, and concertos. Among these works are more than 120 orchestral suites that were composed for court audiences during the middle Baroque period, which stand as some of the most innovative works of the time. In some of the suites, the titles of the stylized dance movements provide a special narrative, while other suites bear nicknames that described the nature of the work as a whole. Such is the case in Telemann’s Suite in G minor, subtitled La Bizarre. The collection of movements takes the traditional form of a Baroque suite, with an overture in the French style followed by a series of popular dances of the day, including the courante, gavotte, branle, sarabande, and minuets. However, true to the descriptive title of this particular suite, Telemann’s keen sense of humor shines through as he takes several unexpected turns with the melodies, harmonies, and forms of the traditional dances. Although these musical twists may not sound unusual to the modern ear, they would have surprised and delighted the court audiences who first heard the suite.

 

The concert continues with another suite of dances that modern ears will recognize as quintessentially American. In the mid-1950s, Ulysses Kay, nephew of jazz legend Joe “King” Oliver, was approached by a friend to compose something light for strings to be broadcast on the CBS radio program String Serenade. The first two dances were written for the program, and in the following years Kay was inspired to compose the four additional movements that completed the present collection. Six Dances for String Orchestra are inspired by traditional American dance forms from the 19th century, including the schottische, waltz, round dance, polka, serenade, and galop. The iconic styles are recognizable in Kay’s settings, but they are also cast in his unmistakably modern voice. The music is at once light on the surface and complex in construction, with each dance bearing a ruggedness that is characteristic of Kay and serves as an apt illustration of the unique qualities of the American spirit.

 

In keeping with the theme of “dance” music, André Jolivet called his brief but substantial Concertino for Trumpet a “ballet for trumpet,” and it has been choreographed several times since its première. The piece is among the first written by Jolivet after the Second World War, when the composer began to explore a more accessible harmonic language. Although he was still very interested in exotic sounds, his new framework incorporated a strong rhythmic drive and more prominent jazz influences. Although written for solo trumpet it has an equally prominent and difficult piano part, making for a work that is essentially a double concerto. In a span of ten minutes, it journeys through three main sections, each painting a distinct character for the soloists. The piece opens vigorously with propulsive rhythms, jazzy syncopations, and strong declarations by the solo trumpet. The music eventually subsides into a languid and misty central section, with the muted trumpet hovering over a bed of thick chords in the strings. An intense accelerando brings the music back to a lively tempo, and a piano solo ushers in the final section, where the orchestra relentlessly propels the work to a frenetic and virtuosic coda for both soloists.

 

The concert will conclude with a return to Baroque dances with Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3. Respighi gained international recognition in 1916 with his large-scale work The Fountains of Rome, the first installment of three tone poems about Rome. In the midst of these successes, however, he began to study Italian lute and baroque guitar music written around 1600 and discovered a tremendous wealth of inspiration for his own compositions. He chose several of these antique songs to create three separate suites of Ancient Airs and Dances, written in 1917, 1923, and 1932. Each suite was orchestrated for a different kind of chamber orchestra, with the third composed for strings alone. Rather than create faithful transcriptions, he fed the melodies through his compositional prism to expose new harmonic possibilities and invent a fresh and colorful perspective on this old music.

 

The concert is free, tickets are not required. The Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall is located at 4915 East Campus Drive in Alexandria, Va. Free parking is available in the adjacent lot.

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