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Symphony and Steelband come together
On September 16 and 18, the sounds of steelband and orchestra will be heard in the concert hall when the Northern Illinois University Steelband will once again embark on a boundary pushing collaboration, this time in a series of concerts with the famed Chicago Sinfonietta which, hailed by many, has been called by the Chicago Tribune Chicago’s “hippest orchestra.”
The concert will feature the Northern Illinois University Steelband performing one of Mozart’s best-known works Rondo alla Turca arranged by Yuko Asada.
Northern Illinois University Steelband will then join the Chicago Sinfonietta’s principal harpist Faye Seeman on her original solo composition Fayed to Blue before closing their portion of the concert with both the steelband and the orchestra performing together a version of Lord Kitchener’s famous Pan in A Minor arranged by Jit Samaroo, and orchestrated by Gary Gibson.
In an effort towards outreach and education, before the concert and during intermission, audience members will have the opportunity to learn to play the steelpans. The steelband workshop is being coached by Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Steel Orchestras led by Scott McConnell while its leader Malika Colleta is on a Fulbright scholarship in Trinidad. In addition to the NIU Steelband, the Chicago Sinfonietta will also share the stage with Chicago’s Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre.
“Our programming continues to reflect a pioneering and innovative spirit more than ever, especially through the dedication to showcasing unusual instruments, and our unprecedented commitment to featuring brand new commissions by diverse, prominent women composers,” notes Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta.
Yuko Asada, Northern Illinois University Steelband’s steelpan technician, echoes these sentiments of diversity, stating “Not only am I excited for us to be sharing the stage with the Sinfonietta, but collaborating with an organisation that promotes diversity, inclusion, and both racial and cultural equity in the arts, especially in this day and age.”
For the NIU steelband program, this as yet another opportunity to push the artistic boundaries of steelpan while also bringing the music and culture of steelpan to new audiences wherever they may be. “The NIU Steelband is committed to highlighting the many musical possibilities of the steelpan, and to paying homage to T&T,” said Professor Liam Teague. “Performing with an orchestra of this caliber effectively helps us to spread the word, and we are always happy to perform in front of audiences who may not have been exposed to the instrument.”
The Chicago Sinfonietta is known through the United States for their artistly and willingness to takes risks. This includes consistently programming eclectic styles of music by diverse composers, something the orchestra has done for decades. They premiered the Jan Bach concerto for pan solo and orchestra written especially for Liam Teague and which he has gone on to feature all over the world. “For me, personally, things have come full circle, as I premiered the Jan Bach Steelpan Concerto with the Chicago Sinfonietta under the baton of its founder, the late Dr Paul Freeman, in the early 1990s. This is still the main piece that I perform with orchestras around the world; a few of my students have participated and won NIU’s Concerto Competition with it, and, many years ago, I also won the St Louis Symphony’s Volunteer Associations’ Young Artists Concerto Competition, playing this concerto.”
Professor Teague notes, “We are especially excited about performing the late Jit Samaroo’s arrangement of Pan in A Minor. Gary Gibson had written the string orchestration on a commission from the National Sinfonia of T&T. The work was premiered at Queen’s Hall with Liam Teague and the then National Steelband in 2010 with Jit Samaroo in attendance. Amrit Samaroo, Jit’s son, leader of Supernovas Steel Orchestra and himself a talented arranger and composer, will be in the audience in Chicago for this new performance.
Sadly, these concerts will not be webcast. Regardless, they show the Northern Illinois Steelband exploring the cutting edge of steelpan.
Dr Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota. Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge and a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas.