The Wild West only lasted three decades – from 1865 to 1895 – but those years will forever be remembered for their boundless energy and rollicking sense of adventure. That time period was known for cowboys, American Indians, gunslingers, pioneers, outlaws, and more. On November 4 and 5, you won’t need a time machine to celebrate that chapter of American history. Tickets are readily available to Postcards from the Wild West, the second concert in the 2017-2018 Masterworks series of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO).
Masterworks II: Postcards from the Wild West will be held 8 p.m., November 4, at the Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA, and 2 p.m., November 5, at Centennial Hall, Augustana College, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island, IL. The program, conducted by the dynamic QCSO Music Director, Mark Russell Smith, will feature four musical selections: John Williams’ Overture from the film, The Cowboys; Violin Concerto, composed by David Ludwig with violin performance by Bella Hristova; Into the Wild, an original composition by Rock Island composer Jacob Bancks; and Suite from Billy the Kid by Aaron Copland.
“With the premiere of Ludwig’s Violin Concerto as the starting point, I was looking for other great American works to compliment it,” Smith said. “Composer Aaron Copland jumped to mind first and foremost, since I have always loved his music from the ballet, Billy the Kid. The Wild West theme just took off from there.”
The Cowboys Overture
The Cowboys is a 1972 Western movie in which John Wayne plays a rancher who loses his hired hands to a gold rush. This forces him to recruit local schoolboys to help him with a 400-mile cattle drive. John Williams’ sweeping overture to the film captures the lively energy that makes this movie so memorable.
“John Williams is one of America’s great composing talents, and his music is not featured on Masterworks Concerts often enough,” Smith said. “The Cowboys Overture is from very early in his career, and embodies the sound of the Wild West – at least the Wild West of the movies – better than any other piece I know.”
“We feel the Western theme, as typified by The Cowboys Overture, will appeal to our Midwestern audience,” said Michael Harring, Interim Executive Director of the QCSO. “Our area has special significance related to that era. Historically, Illinois was once part of the Northwest Territory. Also, John Deere’s plow was essential to opening up the Old West. Those self-scouring steel plows helped break up the thick Kansas and Nebraska soil.”
Acclaimed violinist Bella Hristova joins the QCSO to premiere American composer David Ludwig’s celebratory and touching Violin Concerto, inspired by loving concepts of marriage and community. “Bella has performed in the Quad-Cities before,” Harring said, “and we’re happy to have her back.” In 2007, she took part in a two-week residency with Quad City Arts and performed at area schools.
“Bella is not only a virtuosic violinist, but also plays with great emotion and intensity,” said Smith. “This piece was written for her as a wedding gift from her husband, composer David Ludwig. The Quad City Symphony is part of a commissioning group with a number of other orchestras in helping bring this piece to life, and I am very excited that David will be in the Quad Cites to hear his piece and meet our music-loving public. His wife is a spectacular violinist, so they are quite the team.”
Ludwig started composing at age 8. “I grew up with all kinds of music,” he said. “It was a very musical family. Classical music is a tradition I feel fortunate to be a part of.”
Ludwig first conceived of the Violin Concerto before he married Hristova. “She’s a fierce musical player, and I wanted to write music that matched her personality.” he said. He noted that the Violin Concerto grew along with the relationship. “This piece isn’t about us being married. It’s about the ritual and ceremony of marriage, and what it means to commit to someone else.”
Violin Concerto became a commission which eight orchestras came together to support. “Mark Russell Smith gave me my first orchestra premiere,” Ludwig said, “so at one point, I got in touch and asked if the Quad City Symphony Orchestra would want to be a part of this.”
At performances, Hristova plays a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin. The famed violin maker Antonio Stradivari was a student of Amati and emulated his work.
“Not every piece in the concert is about the Wild West,” noted Caitlin Bishop, QCSO Director of Marketing, “but they are all picturesque and capture the bold spirit of our country. They create a portrait of America.”
Into the Wild
Into the Wild, by Augustana College composer Jacob Bancks, explores the concept of wilderness – rural and urban, literal and metaphorical. Originally from southern Minnesota, he came to the Quad Cities in 2011 from Chicago to teach at Augustana. There he now serves as Associate Professor of music theory and composition.
“The two movements of Into the Wild were born from very contrasting inspirations,” Bancks said. “The first was my recollection of canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota when I was growing up, and the other was the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. Though these evoke very different scenes, and therefore sound somewhat dissimilar, both are in their own way about the wilderness.”
“Into the Wild is a beautiful and evocative description of the Boundary Waters – an area that many Quad Citians know well,” Smith said. “It also takes a sonic snapshot of St. Paul of the Great Gatsby era. This is yet another colorful, evocative piece that Jacob brings to his audience. He creates amazing sound worlds with tremendous energy and spirit.”
Suite From Billy the Kid
The evening’s final selection follows the exploits of infamous outlaw Billy the Kid in music, from Aaron Copland’s 1938 ballet. Billy the Kid has become one of Copland’s most popular and widely performed works. “This piece really does bring out the Wild West,” Harring said.
Cowboy tunes and folk songs in the ballet are used to tell the rollicking tale of this Wild West gunfighter. Billy lived from 1859 to 1881, and while he died at age 22, numerous men claimed they were him for many years after his death.
Even though the Wild West came to an end more than 120 years ago, it still appeals strongly to American hearts and minds. “Unbridled optimism was so prevalent at that time,” Smith said. “There was so much unknown and unexplored, there were seemingly no limits to the potential prosperity and what the future might hold. That optimism is a crucial American trait, and if we get a good dose of that at this month’s Masterworks, so much the better for all of us.”
“Our hope is that this concert will musically transport our audience from the current time into the Wild West,” Harring said.
Quad City Symphony Orchestra tickets are available at the QCSO box office at 327 Brady St., Davenport. You can also call the QCSO at (563) 322-7276 or visit www.qcso.org.