Concert Band and Orchestra present American, French music

The Colorado State University Concert Band and Concert Orchestra wrap up their performances this semester alongside CSU faculty member Rachel Ellins, harp, on Sunday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Griffin Concert Hall at the University Center for the Arts, located at 1400 Remington St. The event is free and open to the public.

The Concert Orchestra portion of the program, conducted by Leslie Stewart, consists of a collection of pieces composed by notable French composers, including Berger, Debussy, and Rameau. The collection explores the wide diversity of styles in which these composers wrote.

“We will open with a string orchestra transcription of a suite by Jean-Philippe Rameau originally written for harpsichord,” says Stewart. “This piece has given our students an opportunity to learn about Baroque performance techniques as they play something that was composed for French aristocracy.”

Next on the program the orchestra performs the Prelude to The Deluge by Camille Saint-Saëns, one of the most beloved composers of the Romantic era.

“This overture to his oratorio about Noah’s flood ends with a beautiful solo for the concertmaster,” Stewart said. “I chose this piece to feature Nikki Fassold, who will be graduating with her bachelor’s degree in violin performance in May.”

Finally, Ellins joins the Concert Orchestra to showcase Debussy’s Danses Sacre and Danses Profane. This monumental composer is credited with redefining music of the 20th century by creating an original style of harmonic structure that mimicked the ideals of Impressionist and Symbolist painters of the period.

His music challenged the traditional view of instrument usage in the orchestra by employing string instruments, like the harp, to create color, rather than to create a lyrical tone. Similarly, he rejected the woodwinds as a simple tool for powerful crescendos, and instead used them to create variety. In this way, each instrument was seen as a soloist, playing its specific part to create the vast, complete music ensemble.

“[Ellins] is such a wonderful musician,” said Stewart. “And I know her performance of this masterpiece of French Impressionism will be a real inspiration for our students and the audience.”

On the second half of the program, the Concert Band’s performance is themed “Toccare: The Sounds of Air, Earth, Water, and Fire,” which, according to conductor Erik Johnson, is a framework for a set of eclectic music inspired by these different elements.

The program includes the Japanese Fanfare of Wakakusa Hill; a contemporary rendition of a set of American Riversongs; a new piece called Hypnotic Fireflies that uses an amplified slinky, among other cool effects; the U.S. Coast Guard March by Karl King; and two mid-century symphonic works by Frank Erickson, Toccata and Air.

“This toccata (to touch) technique is used throughout many style periods as an exploratory virtuosic form that touches the physical and soulful parts of humanity,” said Johnson. “The other piece, Air, is also derived from a historical form that is typically slower and indented to move the soul.”

About Leslie Stewart

Leslie Stewart is director of string pedagogy at CSU and director of CSU’s Summer Master of Music Education degree program, with a specialization in conducting for working music educators. In addition, she conducts the CSU Concert Orchestra, teaches violin, coaches chamber music and plays violin in a new faculty ensemble, the Verdoro String Trio. Stewart is a violinist with the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra and Cheyenne Symphony and performs frequently with the Fort Collins Symphony.

About the Concert Orchestra

The highly collaborative Concert Orchestra is a passionate ensemble of 30 string players who perform with CSU choral, wind, and percussion students and faculty on exciting and rewarding programs. The ensemble, which is also open to CSU faculty and staff, meets on Mondays and Fridays from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and is directed by Leslie Stewart.

About Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson is an assistant professor of Music at CSU, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music education. After over a decade of public school teaching in Colorado, his goal is to cultivate a passion for music learning at all levels. Erik is an active guest conductor and clinician working with student ensembles in Colorado and throughout the U.S. He is a frequent music festival adjudicator and presenter at state, national and international professional music conferences.

About the Concert Band

The Concert Band is a dynamic group of more than 80 musicians. The group performs a variety of quality traditional and contemporary wind and percussion literature. Last spring, a CSU Concert Band rehearsal under the direction of Erik Johnson was filmed for inclusion in the recently released documentary “Carry the Tune,” which explores pathways that amateur musicians take to continue music making after high school. The Concert Band – a non-auditioned group at CSU – along with groups from other universities such as MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Rutgers, and the University of Colorado, provided commentary and footage for the project.

About Rachel Ellins

Rachel Starr Ellins has been the instructor of harp at CSU since 1996. She is the first call substitute/second harpist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and principal harpist with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra. Ellins received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado, where she studied with Kathy Bundock Moore; and her master’s degree from the University of North Texas, where she studied with Ellen Ritcher. Rachel studied for two summers at the Tanglewood Music Festival with Lucile Lawrence.

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