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UA Music+Festival focuses on artists who bridge classical and popular music

jeremy-huw-williams-paula-fan-1024pxJeremy Huw Williams, baritone, and Paula Fan, pianist, perform at the St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson on Oct.13, 2015. (Solaris Photography)

The Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts will present its 13th annual Music+Festival, featuring the music of George Gershwin (1898-1937), Steve Reich (b. 1936), and William Bolcom (b. 1938), from Oct. 9-12.

All festival events will be online, with free admission. Featured guest artists will include Jeremy Huw Williams, baritone, and Paula Fan, piano.

The festival will present the lives and music of the three composers, all of whom bridge the worlds of classical music and vernacular, or popular, music, “within a rich and broad humanistic framework,” Festival Director Daniel Asia says.

Gershwin, born and bred in New York City, was “a musical prodigy just waiting to happen,” Asia says. His parents, Russian Jews who immigrated to this country at the end of the 19th century, bought a piano for George’s older brother, Ira, to learn to play. But when George sat down at the keyboard and knocked out a tune he had only heard at someone’s house, they gave the lessons to George instead. He studied piano and then composition from a young age, and even after dropping out of high school at age 15 to write songs on Tin Pan Alley. His career straddled both sides of the musical tracks, writing songs, musicals, and then works for the concert stage that combined both jazz and classical, which would be labeled third stream music a few decades later.

Gershwin and his music were beloved by the classical musical giants of his age, including Heifetz, Klemperer, and Schoenberg, and many songwriters considered him to be simply the best, Asia says, adding, “He is a towering historical figure in the history of early American music, to be placed right up there with Ives and Copland, who unfortunately died tragically young.”

Reich was born into a Jewish family in New York City, his father a lawyer and his mother a songwriter. He studied and played percussion as a youth, influenced by classical music and the burgeoning worlds of popular and jazz music. After studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, primarily in philosophy, he attended The Juilliard School in New York City, and then Mills College in Oakland, California. He remained in the Bay Area for a number of years, playing in the first performance of the seminal minimalist work of Terry Riley, In C, and creating his early tape works using the technique of phasing. Moving back to New York, he began to write for acoustic instruments. His musical interests grew to include African drumming, Gamelan, and Hebrew cantillation. His later, highly structured works also incorporate his interest in American speech, primarily through sampling, found street sounds, and a greater opening up to composers of the 20th century classical tradition.

“Among the first generation of minimalists, including Young, Riley, and Glass, Reich’s output and musical journey is the most hermetic and hard-edged, a music of shimmering beauty and restrained ecstasy,” Asia says.

Bolcom grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington starting at age 11 – another prodigy, Asia says – where he studied composition and piano. Like Reich, he studied at Mills with Darius Milhaud, then at Stanford University, and finally with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. His earlier music seems influenced by Harris and Bartok, and composers of the European Avant-garde, including Boulez, Stockhausen and Berio. But then his style opened up to history and the American vernacular. He was part of the ragtime revival of the ’70s, and has written cabaret songs he and his wife, the singer Joan Morris, perform in concert.

“Bolcom’s ‘Songs of Experience,’ on the eponymous book of poems by William Blake, is set for gargantuan forces and speaks in many languages of music, including classical, pop, country, jazz etc. His is a music of the greatest eclecticism and stylistic diversity. It is a music of wide emotional expression that includes levity, humor, and grace,” Asia says.

Along with Williams and Fan, the festival will feature guest speakers, performers, and a composer, as well as UA faculty and students.

The festival schedule follows. Links will be available at one week prior to the events.

Friday, October 9, 5:00-6:10 p.m. (PDT)
“The Russian Gershwin” – Post Classical Ensemble in collaboration with WWFM; Joseph Horowitz, Angel Gil-Ordoñez; Bill McGlaughlin (host)

Saturday, October 10, 2:30-4:00 p.m. (PDT)
The Music of George Gershwin, Steve Reich, and William Bolcom
William Bolcom; Russell Hartenberger; Joseph Horowitz, presenters

Concert I:
Saturday, October 10, 5:00-6:00 p.m. (PDT)
Chamber Music and Songs of Gershwin, Reich, and Bolcom
Kristin Dauphinais, mezzo-soprano; Paula Fan, piano; Morris Palter, percussion
Timothy Kantor, violin; Elena Miraztchiyska, piano

Concert II:
Sunday, October 11, 3:00 p.m. (PDT)
Piano Music of Gershwin, Reich, and Bolcom
Michael Dauphinais; Daniel Linder, piano

Concert III:
Sunday, October 11, 5:00 p.m. (PDT)
Songs of Gershwin and Bolcom – Jeremy Huw Willliams, baritone; Paula Fan, piano

Monday, October 12, 5:00-6:00 p.m. (PDT)
Fred Fox School of Music Visiting Composers Series: William Bolcom, presenter

For more information, contact Asia at or (520) 203-1660, or Ingvi Kallen at or (520) 626-6320.