Contemporary Music Festival

Newton Strandberg wrote music about alley cats, the moon’s surface and Egyptian rulers. Or at least, that was what you might think from reading his titles. Strandberg, professor emeritus of music at Sam Houston State University, died last week in a Houston hospital. He will be honored with a performance of four of his works Thursday and Friday during the 39th Annual Contemporary Music Festival–A Tribute to Newton Strandberg. Strandberg once explained the process he used to select a title for “Amenhotep III,” a 29-minute piece he completed in 1971. He named his composition after an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled 1,400 years before Christ and about whom he knew very little. He said that about the time he finished the piece, he read a Life magazine article that said Amenhotep III was one of the Egyptian pharaohs most interested in technology. “They were quite amazing with their pyramids,” Strandberg said. “I didn’t know anything about him, but I liked the name.” Strandberg came to SHSU in 1967 after having teaching at Samford University in Alabama, and Denison University in Ohio. He earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University. In 1983 was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from North Park College in Chicago. Standberg taught and wrote music at SHSU for 30 years. After retirement, he found his works were not fading away, but instead being played in prestigious musical performance venues. They were being recorded by impressive orchestras and ensembles throughout the world. His “Legend of Emmeline Labiche” opens the Contemporary Music Festival 2 p.m. Thursday in Recital Hall. It was released on an Opus One compact disc. The Warsaw Philharmonic recorded his “Fiesta” for orchestra. In recent years his music has been performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, in Boston’s Symphony Hall and in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Recordings made in Krakow, Poland and Prague have yet to be released. The SHSU Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Carol Smith will perform “Legend of Emmeline Labiche.” Strandberg also wrote for many formats, including chorus, piano, organ, solo voice, mixed chamber ensembles and kinetic theater. Also on Thursday afternoon’s program will be Strandberg’s “Children’s Prayers,” performed by soprano Mary Kay Lake. The festival’s second session at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Recital Hall will feature Strandberg’s “Fragments,” performed by pianist Jay Whatley. During the 7:30 p.m. Friday concert in Killinger Auditorium, his “Three Short Pieces” will be performed by the SHSU Wind Ensemble, conducted by Matthew McInturf. Also on this year’s festival program are works by SHSU composer Phillip Schroeder and the late Fisher Tull. The festival will conclude on Friday with a lecture/concert by Rod Cannon. with the SHSU Jazz Ensemble and SHSU Jazz Combo.Cannon’s presentation on contemporary jazz techniques will feature music by Richard Rodgers, Michael Tomaro, David Wolpe, Bill Holman, David Bandman, Jeremy Wells and Paul Peacock. All festival sessions are open to the public with no admission fee.

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