symphony of diversity embraces human diversity in concert

Morrgan Zmolek

Stephens Auditorium hosted the Iowa State Symphony Orchestra in their production of their Symphony of Diversity event, in partnership with the Lectures Program here at the university.

The concert, about an hour length in total, included six pieces from around the world. Each piece was introduced by two students, usually one who spoke in English and one who, according to the conductor and artistic director Jonathan Govias, are students who have immigrated from different countries and so introduced the songs in their native languages, including Spanish, Farsi, German and others.

Dawn Fanfare by Austin Hammonds was the first song of the concert. It was played by a small ensemble of assorted brass and percussion instruments. Hammonds, a film and media composer, has written scores for the music of a number of movies such as Love and Interest and Apple Pie. Hammonds graduated from Morehead State University in Kentucky in 2017, where he studied and began to compose music. Many of his pieces are created for ensembles, much like Dawn Fanfare. This work was premiered only three years ago in 2017.

The second piece performed, Bal Masqué Op. 22, or Masked Ball, was written by Amy Beach. After she married, Beach was forced to leave her budding career as a pianist. Her husband, much like many others at the time, believed it to be improper for a married woman to publicly perform. However, she was still allowed to compose music, given that neither her married or maiden name appeared on her pieces. Beach did not stay within the confines of typical “feminine” music of the time, instead breaking out into the world of symphonic movements. This particular piece was originally written for the piano and is Beach’s take on a lighthearted walz. Because of the rarity of the sheet music for this piece, it was not often played until the American people regained their interest in learning about the cultural diversity of their country. This lead to the creation of new editions of Beach’s work, and thus making it more readily available for musicians to perform.

Concerto for Violin in D minor was written by Amanda Maier-Röntgen, a young Swedish violinist and composer. She was the first woman to graduate from the Royal Swedish Academy in Music with a degree in conducting, and at age 19. She premiered her own concerto a few years before Brahms’ Concerto for Violin in D Major, though he was much older than she was. Much like Amy Beach, Maier-Röntgen’s career in music came to a screeching halt after her marriage to Julius Röntgen. This was common practice in those times for women in the field of music performance, with a decade at most being available to them to compose and perform before being married. In this piece, the orchestra was accompanied by Adrian Anantawan, a violinist from Canada who is missing his right hand. Anantawan performs, speaks and teaches across the globe as an advocate for both disability and the arts.

Juba Dance, the fourth piece in this concert, was composed by R. Nathaniel Dett, who was the son of a Canadian mother and an African American father. Dett moved to an America where segregation and Jim Crow laws were still in place. Nonetheless, he graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music with an education in Western European Art Music as the first African American alumnus. He used his diverse heritage in his music, bringing African American and Western European music together. Dett believed in the importance of African Americans to hold a mastery over things predominantly seen as white to prove that the color of a person’s skin does not determine who they are or what they are able to accomplish. Juba Dance is inspired from the Djouba style of music made up of syncopating clapping that was originated by slaves who were denied drums by their owners.

Nanabush and the Giant Beaver, written by Richard Mascall, was narrated in this performance by Sarain Fox, an Anishinaabekwe activist, dancer and television host. Fox narrated over the music to tell the story behind the piece. The tale is that of Nanabush, a hero or heroine in the Algonquin tradition, and the Giant Beaver, and how the war between them created the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River. Mascall, who was born in Canada, uses his music as a way for him to advocate for First Nations culture. First Nations, the original denizens of Canada, honored Mascall with the name “Singing Beaver on Water,” embracing him as kin. This performance of the piece was only the second to be done in the United States.

Conga del Fuego Nuevo, or Conga of the New Fire, was written by Arturo Márquez. He was a little-known Mexican composer until his performances of Danzon No. 2 by Gustavo Dudamel that was broadcast internationally and brought him into the spotlight.

“I really liked the difference in music,” commented Leah Wilcox, a freshman in animal science, after the show ended, “I thought it was very well done, and I really loved the different styles of music and how they introduced the pieces.”