Larson’s Our Fathers to have World Premiere at Meadowlark Music Festival
calendar icon30 Jun 2017
Difficult times can create a bonding experience. It’s not that Tom Larson, Hans Strum and Chris Varga didn’t already have a strong friendship but the death of all of their fathers within a six-month period in 2013-14 solidified it.
And out of that time period came, Our Fathers, a piece by Larson, which was commissioned by the Meadowlark Music Festival. It will have its world premiere on Friday, July 14 at 7 p.m. in Kimball Recital Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus as part of the festival. Tickets are available.
The concept for the project was initiated by Professor of Double Bass, Dr. Hans Sturm in 2014. Larson (Assistant Professor of Composition), Sturm and percussionist/composer Varga performed from 2011-2015 as the rhythm section of the Glenn Korff School of Music Faculty Jazz Ensemble. The piece is dedicated to their fathers: Roger Larson, one of Lincoln’s great community builders; Frank Varga, a photographer and artist who lived and worked in Lincoln and Omaha for many years; and Douglas Sturm, a devoted educator and pioneer on the issues of ethics and social justice.
Sturm broached the idea with Larson of the creation of a new piece that would pay homage to the lives of their fathers - three very productive and creative men with distinct passions: photography and art, community building, and social justice. Each member of the trio provided Larson with a theme and he has woven them together into a five-movement piece. The large-scale composition features a jazz piano trio, string quartet and three guest soloists: Varga (vibraphone), Greg Simon (trumpet), and Jackie Allen (jazz vocalist).
“They were three men who never met or knew each other,” Larson said in his program notes. “Three men who were born of different circumstances, pursued different career choices, and who lived remarkably different lives. Each had extraordinarily different journeys through life. One became an artist who chose photography as his medium. One was a successful businessman and community builder. And one became a college professor committed to social justice.
“But in many ways these three men – Frank, Roger, Douglas – were very similar. Each had a zest for life, an enthusiasm that rubbed off on and lifted up their friends, families, their coworkers, and even people they didn’t know. Each of them wanted to make a difference in the world, to ‘leave the woodpile a little higher than we found it.’ Although there was a significant disparity in the years of their birth – 1947, 1925, 1929 – each died unexpectedly within a year of one another.”
Larson added, “It took a while for us to figure out the logistics of what this piece was going to be and in what form it was going to materialize. After some discussion, we settled on a hybrid ensemble consisting of a small jazz group – piano, vibes, bass, drums, trumpet and vocal – with a classical string quartet. There would be five movements; the middle three, which eventually came to be known as Artist, Builder, and Social Justice, would be written about each of the three men by their respective sons. These would be bookended by the opening and closing movements Fathers and Sons, written by me. Any rules to the composition were unwritten, but each of us I think understood that at its core, Our Fathers was a jazz piece. With orchestration. In other words, lots of possibilities, and lots of challenges. What resulted is a work that is a varied as the lives of the men that inspired it. At times the entire ensemble swings hard; at other times the string quartet plays by itself in an intimate chamber setting. There is open improvisation, and there is intricate written arranging. There are tricky rhythms, complex harmonies, sublime melodies, and wordless vocals. And somehow it all works. One of the interesting things to emerge from putting it all together was that the three middle movements would feature solo improvisations by their respective authors. It was almost as if these players and their instruments – Chris on vibes, myself on piano, Hans on bass – become proxy voices for our fathers.”
Tickets are $20 for adults and students 16 and under are free. For tickets and more information about this event and other concerts, please visit http://meadowlarkmusicfestival.org/ It’s the 17th season of the Meadowlark Music Festival.
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