Masters of Russian Musical Literature Featured at December Concert

CKCB poster December 2017
Fabulous poster art by CKCB member Jason Sturgill

Music is powerful. But can you imagine a time and a place where composing  a musical piece could jeopardize your and your family’s life?

That’s the position Dmitri Shostakovich found himself in after receiving criticism from no less than Joseph Stalin himself for writing music that didn’t comport with the official state musical tastes.

Shostakovich’s next work couldn’t anger the management again, and likely had to satisfy them. Fortunately, he succeeded with the Fifth Symphony. And fortunately for us, we have that symphony accessible to us in today’s world.

Central Kentucky Concert Band Conductor Dr. Ben Hawkins says of Shostakovich, “Perhaps more than any of his other pieces, the Fifth has come to represent Shostakovich’s lifelong struggle to walk the fine line between staying in the good graces of Stalin while composing music that did not compromise his great personal integrity. Few, if any, musicians in any age have worked in constant peril the way that Shostakovich did.”

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 Finale will be a featured selection in the band’s next concert.

Says Hawkins, “I would guess that the Shostakovich Fifth is one of the ten or so most performed symphonies. It may be the most-performed 20th-century symphony, although one of the Mahler symphonies may very well claim that position. At any rate, its place in the standard orchestral repertoire is written in stone.”

In addition to Shostakovich, the band will be featuring several other Russian composers’ music. When asked what about the Russian composers attracted Hawkins to program the entire primary block of the program with their music, he says, “I like the Russians because they have a way of writing really engaging melodies, and because they all, even the most Western-influenced, bring certain melodic and harmonic inflections that distinguish their sounds from German music in particular, but even from the French tradition that did provide an important influence. One can almost always hear Russian folk coloring, and especially the great choral tradition of the Orthodox Church.”

Alexander Goedicke, another of the Russian composers featured in the upcoming concert, was a lauded pianist, composer (who had no formal training in composition), and professor at the Moscow Conservatory. The band will perform Goedicke’s Concert Etude featuring the band’s very own principal trumpet player T.J. Thomas as soloist.

Thomas, a native Kentuckian, attended the University of Kentucky on scholarship and

TJ Thomas
T.J. Thomas at a recent CKCB rehearsal

received his Bachelors of Arts in Music in 2005 and his Masters in Music Performance two years later in 2007. Thomas enlisted in the United States Army and played with the Army Ground Forces Band in Atlanta as well as the 100th Army Band out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The Concert Etude is a piece that demands precision to execute it properly–there is no slack allowed.

Speaking of the technical aspects of the solo passages of the Concert Etude, Thomas says, “The double-tonguing requires precision and careful coordination with your fingers as well as the band.  Also, it is important that the articulation remain light and not get too heavy in the main melody, otherwise the lyrical section will feel out of place. However, it is a fun piece to play, and like most music, it is more fun the faster you go!”

CKCB has many talented players in it and is delighted to have Thomas among them. Thomas has been a member of the band for around 8 years. Says Thomas, “I enjoy performing with CKCB because it provides an outlet to perform some pretty interesting and exciting music that we may not otherwise have experienced.  I have also made some lifelong friends in CKCB and that, to me, is equally as important as the music.”

Hear the band perform Shostakovich, Goedicke, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and more at Haggin Auditorium in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center, Transylvania University, at 3 PM on Sunday, December 3rd, 2017. There is no cost for admission, and no tickets are required.