Cather’s ‘My Ántonia’ to come alive in song

"Prairie Songs:  Remembering Ántonia" will premier March 28 at the Lied Center's Johnny Carson Theater.
"Prairie Songs: Remembering Ántonia" will premier March 28 at the Lied Center's Johnny Carson Theater.

Cather’s ‘My Ántonia’ to come alive in song

calendar icon16 Mar 2017    

Lincoln, Neb.--Since 2002, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has provided internationally recognized scholarly work on Nebraska author Willa Cather through its Cather Project. Now, taking direction from Cather’s love of music, the Cather Project has commissioned a song cycle inspired by the text of “My Ántonia,” Nebraska’s prairie and the author’s letters.

The song cycle, “Prairie Songs: Remembering Ántonia,” will have its world premier Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Johnny Carson Theater, R and 12th streets. It is composed by Brent Edstrom, Washington State Music Teachers Composer of the Year, and features the voice of Fremont native and Glenn Korff School of Music alumnus Scott Miller (DMA 2006), associate professor of music at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. Tana Bachman-Bland will lend her talents on violin.

Two additional performances are slated for Thursday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Kimmel Theater at Midland University, 900 N. Clarkson St., Fremont; and Saturday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Kaneko, 1111 Jones St, Omaha.

A 6 p.m. reception and 6:45 p.m. artist presentation will be held prior to each performance. All performances are free and open to the public. Additional information can be found here: http://cas.unl.edu/prairie-songs.

A little over a year ago, Guy Reynolds, director of the Cather Project, and Beth Burke, a project manager, wanted to expand the Cather Project beyond scholarly works and looked to the arts. Thanks to a generous endowment established by Cather’s nephew, Charles Cather, the Cather Project was able to work with Edstrom to commission an entirely new musical work.

“We’re looking at more creative adaptations of her work,” Reynolds said. “We’re trying to keep the legacy of Cather alive and vibrant by translating her work into different forms, using different media, different forms of artistic performance and expression.”

Edstrom described the songs as a series of vignettes, characters and scenes from “My Ántonia.” The song cycle is written with a “distinctive American voice that is informed by the work of Stephen Foster, Aaron Copeland, Charles Ives and others.” Unlike other song cycles, this piece utilizes a violin in addition to the voice and piano.

Edstrom traveled to Nebraska in 2016 to draw influences from Cather’s own life, visiting Red Cloud and spending time in the archives at Nebraska, reading her letters and writings. One song in the cycle is based on a letter she wrote to her brother. The letter described the characteristics of her favorite songs.

Reynolds and Burke said the song cycle will likely be performed in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in 2018, the centenary of “My Ántonia.”