Czech / U.S. International Exchange
Starched Shirt Cuffs
project of Czech-Inspired Music on two continents. October, 2004.
the fall of 2004, a month-long series of concerts celebrated the centennial
of Antonin Dvorak's death. Conceived by Red Cedar Chamber music directors/artists
Jan Boland and John Dowdall, the project covered two countries (the USA
and The Czech Republic), five cities (New York, Washington D.C., Cedar
Rapids, Prague and Brno), and three small Iowa towns (Spillville, Ainsworth
do we call this project From Starched Shirt Cuffs? Because Antonin
Dvorak had a habit of going for long morning walks along the Turkey River
in Spillville, Iowa in the summer of 1893. When inspired by musical ideas,
he found himself frequently without his notebook. So he simply penned
his musical ideas on his starched shirt fronts or shirt cuffs. This account
comes from the diary of his laundry lady, left with the task of washing
out the ink!
This project was three years in the making. Throw into the mix The Red
Cedar Trio, members of the Prague-based Quartetto Telemann, fifteen Iowa
composers, Spillville, Iowa,
and the centennial celebration of Antonin Dvorak -- and From Starched
Shirt Cuffs was born!
are members of Quartetto Telemann from Prague: Vladimir Petr (flute),
David Prosak (oboe) and David Holy (guitar) -- along with Iowa-based Red
Cedar Trio members Jan Boland (flute), David Miller (viola) and John Dowdall
(guitar). In the first photo, the musicians are pictured along the Cedar
River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the site of their first collaboration. In
the second photo, the musicians are pictured at the National Museum in
Prague, where they played their final concert together.
This innovative program featured the premiere of Spillville Variations
on a Theme by Dvorak, a collaborative commission by 15 Iowa composers. Additional music by Czech composers, and American music inspired by the
Czech tradition (the music of Jerry M. Owen was important to this project)
rounded out the concert repertoire.
Strong partnerships with Prague-based National Museum, the Iowa-based
National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library, the American Embassy of
the Czech Republic, and Red Cedar Chamber Music made this project a great
ABOUT THE SPILLVILLE VARIATIONS GROUP COMMISSION:
Spillville Variations on a Theme by Dvorak was the centerpiece of
the project. The
composers, all Iowans or with strong Iowa connections,
each wrote a one-minute variation on a musical theme by Antonin Dvorak.
Why Dvorak? Antonin Dvorak lived and worked in Spillville, Iowa for three
months in 1893. The first work he created in Iowa was his famous American
Quartet. Red Cedar's flutist, Jan Boland, selected the music from
the opening one minute of his Scherzo movement of the Quartet
as the subject of this composition; she arranged the one-minute selection
for flute, viola and guitar.
John Dowdall (Red Cedar's Artistic Director and guitarist) and Jan Boland
(Executive Director and flutist) selected professional composers with
strong Iowa connections to each write a one-minute variation. In partnership
with the Iowa Composer's Forum, a student competition was held. Wouldn't
it be a potentially life-altering experience for a composer (under the
age of 18) to be invited to participate as a composer in this project
and have his/her work performed and recorded alongside that of professional
composers? The competition yielded not one, but two talented young musicians
who were both invited to participate (Gullickson and Gilbertson, listed
work was recorded in 2005 on a disc titled Czech-Inspired and
released by Fleur-de-Son Classics. The project is, as described in a September,
2006 Gramophone review, "almost dazzling in its simplicity."
The reviewer added, " Even allowing that this project could work
in any town with a decent musical pedigree, this project has obviously
struck a rich compositional vein." In 2010, the complete set of variations
was featured on National Public Radio on a program called Classical
Guitar Alive. Red Cedar Chamber Music was invited to perform the
work at the convention of the National Flute Association in Nashville in
2009, two additional Iowa composers were invited to add more brief variations
to the project. Andrew Earle Simpson wrote "Joyful, Steady Grove"
and Joshua Reznicow wrote "American Sketch".
Lead sponsors are GreatAmerica Leasing, CRST International, the Iowa Department
of Cultural Affairs, Victor & Max Naxera, William Whipple, and the
National Endowment for the Arts.
"Spillville Variations is a group-commissioning project almost dazzling in its simplicity. This project has obviously struck a rich compositional vein. The composers gathered here rise to the occasion and do justice to both their honoree [Dvorak] and their performers. One could hardly imagine, in fact, a collection that keeps its ensemble close while putting them through such a full range of maneuvres. From the respective canon and fugue of Peter Hamlin and Peter Bloesch to the dance inspirations of Lyle Dockendorff’s ‘Spillville Waltz’ and Lucas Gullickson’s ‘Facing West’, these miniatures balance distinctive gravitas with a certain lightness of touch. From the modernist heights of Harvey Sollberger’s ‘Dvorak and the Scarlet Tanager/his ‘damn bird’’ to the bluesy depths of Pat Smith’s ‘Spillville Blue’, no reference is too esoteric to evoke or too low to riff on. From beginning to end, this collection teases the ear but delivers the kind of musical pay-off that all light music should strive for." Ken Smith, Gramophone, London (2006)
variations are profound, some lyrical, some will rhythmically knock your
socks off, and one will make you laugh out loud!"
There were a myriad of educational events surrounding this series of concerts,
plus two Rural Outreach concerts. For example, the concert was taken to
Spillville, IA -- where Dvorak lived and composed in the summer of 1893
-- for a Rural Outreach concert in the beautiful Czech church where he
himself played the organ. The schedule is below.
• September 16, 2004. (Thursday) Learn at Lunch series at the National
Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (free).
• September 16, 2004. (Thursday) Sounds like Success. Four Oaks
Bridge after-school program.
• September 22 (Wednesday) 10 a.m. Morning in Czech Village at Sykora
• September 22 (Wednesday): 12 noon. Mid-week in the Café
at the Cedar Rapids Library.
• September 23 (Thursday) 9:15-12 noon. Spillville Variations for
Coolidge Elem School.
• September 24 (Thursday) 8 a.m.-12 noon. Spillville Variations
for Linn Mar Junior High School 7th graders.
• September 30 (Thursday) 8 p.m. Rural Outreach Concert. Ainsworth
Opera House, Ainsworth, IA.
• October 1 (Friday) 7 p.m. Rural Outreach Concert. St. Wenceslaus
Church, Spillville, Iowa.
• October 2 (Saturday) 8 p.m. From Starched Shirt Cuffs: Dvorak
in Iowa. Concert Series main event at the National Czech & Slovak
Museum & Library
• October 3 (Sunday) 7 p.m. From Starched Shirt Cuffs: Dvorak in
Iowa. A different program from Oct 2nd. Concert Series main event at the
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
• October 4 (Monday) 4 p.m. Event for Catholic University, Washington
D.C. With composer Andrew Earle Simpson.
• October 5 (Tuesday) 7:30 p.m. From Starched Shirt Cuffs. Concert
at the Czech Embassy in Washington D.C.
• October 7 (Thursday) From Starched Shirt Cuffs. Concert at Hunter
College, New York. Sponsored by the Czech Center of New York. Tickets
• October 10 (Sunday) 5 p.m. Concert at Chapel of Mirrors, Baroque
Concert Hall, Prague
• October 12 (Tuesday) 7 p.m. Concert “On the Steps”
series at the National Museum in Prague.
• October 14 (Thursday) 7 p.m. Concert in Brno, The Czech Republic,
at the Janacek Academy of Music and Theater.
Jerry Owen, lead composer
Robert Lindsey Nassif
Andrew Earle Simpson
Variations Composers Statements and Bios
CD Track 1: Jan Boland (Setting of the theme)
Jan Boland is flutist and Executive Director of Red Cedar Chamber Music. Her scholarly works and editions are published by University of California Press/Berkeley, Indiana University Press, ALRY Publications and Falls House Press. She records exclusively for Fleur de Son Classics. Her doctorate is from the University of Iowa.
CD Track 2: Jonathan Chenette (Variation #1, Reconfiguration)
Jonathan Chenette teaches composition at Grinnell College in
Iowa. His compositions have appeared on the ISCM World Music Days in Amsterdam
and on a national radio broadcast by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Several
of his scores are published by Boosey & Hawkes and Theodore Presser.
Statement: Jonathan Chenette's variation reweaves elements
of the theme in a spirit of whimsy and free exploration. The innocent
guitar figure from the final measure of the theme becomes the flute's
main idea, and the composer heightens some of the modal and rhythmic quirks
while retaining the form and most of the ideas from Dvorak's original.
CD Track 3: Peter Hamlin (Variation #2)
Peter Hamlin has been a radio feature reporter in San Diego, a classical
music radio host/producer and television host in Iowa, and a professor
of composition, theory and electronic music at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
He has written a wide variety of music for orchestra, band, chamber ensembles,
choir, and solo voice, and he has also written numerous works for young
audiences, an opera, and computer music. He received his Ph.D. in composition
from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Joseph Schwantner
and Samuel Adler, and he received his M.M. in composition at the University
of Northern Iowa studying with Peter Michaelides.
Statement: My variation is made up almost entirely of
canons, passages in which a melody is repeated several times in sequence
(such as in the familiar round "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"). I
got the idea from a wonderful repetitive section in the theme and found
that other ideas in the piece can be treated canonically as well.
CD Track 4: Robert Lindsey Nassif (Variation #3, Solitude)
Robert Lindsey Nassif was named winner of the Richard Rodgers, AT&T,
& Music Publishers Assoc. Awards. His Broadway and Off-Broadway scores
include Hollywood Arms by Carol Burnett and Opal. He composed scores for
Eliot Ness in Cleveland and Flight of the Lawnchair Man, and dance music
for Sondheim’s musical Bounce performed at the Kennedy Center.
Statement: Dvorak came to Iowa to find peace. Instead,
he found inspiration, or perhaps inspiration found him. In the stillness
and solitude of the countryside, Dvorak heard new music. My variation
is a freeform fantasy in minor mode based on an brief but obsessive and
insistent musical figure from his string quartet.
CD Track 5: Michael Gilbertson: (Variation #4)
Michael Gilbertson began studying piano at age 5 with his mother. Now
a 10th grader in Dubuque, Iowa, he is a pianist, violinist, violist and
composer. His music has been premiered and commissioned by ensembles such
as the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, The JuBELLation Ringers, The Cleveland
Institute of Music, and the Dubuque Chorale. His was named First Place
Winner in the Iowa Composers Forum Student Competition. In 2003, Michael
was invited to attend a week of study at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Michael studies composition with Tracey Rush.
Statement: This variation utilizes a motive from a previous
work. This motive, combined with the theme's relationship of pitches rather
than rhythm, is the basis for this variation.
CD Track 6: Lyle Dockendorff (Variation #5, Spillville Waltz)
Woodwind specialist Lyle Dockendorff has lived, taught and performed
in Arizona and Alaska. He now resides in Portland, Oregon. Maintaining
an active woodwind studio and composing/arranging/performing as bassoonist
with the woodwind ensemble Trio Trachee.
Statement: I pictured Dvorak on a leisurely walk and
imagined what he may have heard as a variation on his own theme.
CD Track 7: Tracey Rush: (Variation #6, Side Trip to Postville)
Tracey Rush is founder and Executive Director of the Northeast Iowa School
of Music in Dubuque, Iowa. She has received over 20 commissions. Her “Angels
in the Snow" for choir, children’s choir and orchestra, was
commissioned by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and has been performed
by the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Naples Philharmonic, She received her
BS in Music Education from Bob Jones University where she studied with
Dwight Gustafson. She is also the owner of Fountain Park Music Publishing
and also lists two works with Wendel Music of New York City.
Statement: If Dvorak visited Spillville today, he probably
would have taken a Sunday drive to nearby Postville. Being the champion
of folk music that he is, perhaps Dvorak would have been influenced by
Postville’s community of Hasidic Jews and his quartet may have turned
out more like this!
CD Track 8: Lucas Gullickson: (Variation #7, Facing West)
Eighteen-year-old Luke Gullickson, a native of Cedar Rapids, IA, has been
recognized on the state level as a pianist, and as a composer has been
acknowledged regionally in contests including the MTNA Composition Competition.
He is currently studying music at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington,
Statement: My variation is a product simply of thinking
of the main motives in 4/4 meter and playing with the resulting rhythms.
I also tried to diversify the harmonic palate slightly, but the senses
of rhythm and interplay are the main focus of the variation.
CD Track 9: Michael Daugherty: (Variation # 8, Crystal)
Daugherty grew up playing the keyboard in jazz, rock and funk bands. He
studied at North Texas State University at the Manhattan School of Music,
and at Yale University (DMA 1986). He is Professor of Composition at the
University of Michigan. His work Snap! -- Blue Like an Orange
won a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award in 1989.
Statement: My variation is titled Crystal. While
in Iowa, I imagine Dvorak gazing into a crystal ball and longing for his
CD Track 10: Donald Chamberlain (Variation #9)
Donald J. Chamberlain is a composer and guitarist living in Mt. Vernon,
Statement: As Beethoven shows us in the Diabelli
Variations, many aspects of a theme are fair game for variation.
In my contribution, I chose to focus on meter and texture.
CD Track 11: Peter Bloesch (Variation #10, Fugue)
Peter Bloesch was trained in classical music from a young age, including
studies in composition, cello and piano. In 1990 he moved to Los Angeles
to study film scoring and became active in the Hollywood music scene.
In 1994, he returned to his native Iowa where he continues to write music
for films, as well as concert pieces for orchestras and chamber ensembles.
Statement: Two fugal techniques, stretto and inversion,
went into this fairly strict fugue (a la Baroque). However, the variation
still has many "Hollywood" elements and harmonies. I really
enjoy trying to fuse together a sense of strict "fugality" with
a sense of playfulness, harmonic freedom, and Hollywood drama. I think
it's an attempt, psychologically, to try to reconcile my two "worlds"
into a cohesive whole --- my pre-Hollywood strictly classical upbringing
and my "pull-out-all-the-stops" Hollywood training.
CD Track 12: Dan Knight: (Variation #11, Images)
Dan Knight is a protégé of jazz pianist Billy Taylor and
classical pianist Tillie Maither (a student of Paderewski). Steinway Artist
Dan Knight has been called "one of the finest solo pianists in the
world." His works extend the boundaries of style in a fusion of "classical"
form, jazz, and free improvisation.
Statement: This piece is like a quiet intimate conversation between the
closest of friends.
CD Track 13: Harvey Sollberger:
(Variation # 12, Dvorak and the Scarlet Tanager / his 'damn bird')
Harvey Sollberger, award-winning composer, conductor & flutist, is
on the faculty of the University of CA, San Diego and Director of the
La Jolla Symphony. He is a leader of ensembles including the Manhattan
School of Music Contemporary Ensemble, the Indiana New Music Ensemble
and UCSD's Sonor.
Statement: Dvorak's fascination with nature, and especially
the new and strange birdcalls he encountered in Spillville were the motivation
for my variation. On another level I feel especially close - in an almost
mystical way - to Dvorak's Turkey River sojourn. Just a year before Dvorak's
visit, my 20-year-old grandfather, Fritz Dennler, emigrated from Switzerland
to Elgin, Iowa, a few miles downstream from Spillville. In a way I can't
explain, his and Dvorak's being "neighbors" brings Dvorak closer
to me: Dvorak is MY neighbor.
CD Track 14: Pat Smith: (Variation #13, Spillville Blue)
Pat Smith is a guitar player living in Santa Clara, CA. He has played
in many styles over his thirty years in music and is currently the guitarist
in the Brazilian band Nossa Bossa. He also played with the Penguin Jazz
Quartet, recording two CDs which included several of his jazz tunes. He
always wonders why he has to speak of himself in the third person in bios.
He is a graduate of Cornell College in Mt Vernon, IA.
Statement: I love Jazz and Blues, so I used a B minor
blues form for my variation.
CD Track 15: Jerry M. Owen: (Double Variation # 14 & 15)
Jerry M. Owen (b.1944) was composer-in-residence (2002-05) with Red Cedar
Music and is Professor at Coe College. His flute/guitar music includes
Hidden Tango (Presser), Meshquanowat (Acoma Music),
viola Trio Concertante over Czech Folk Songs and Gypsy Inspirations
Statement: The first of the Owen variations changes the
mood of the folk-like
original to a martial setting with the texture of an energetic fanfare.
The second is a capstone variation intended to summarize those that have
come before, rather like the end of an operatic act or the end of the
Andrew Earle Simpson (Variation 2009 American Sketch _ not recorded)
Andrew Earle Simpson (b. 1967) was composer-in-residence (2005-2008) with Red Cedar Chamber Music and is Professor of Music at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Statement: This variation, with the
performance direction Joyful, Steady Groove,
subjects Dvo?ák’s material to a surging,
folk-rock-based treatment. Very rhythmically vital,
the movement progresses as a small perpetual-motion
piece. Building to a climactic arrival with vocal-like
pitch bends, the music dissolves quietly until a final
Joshua Reznicow (Variation 2009 Joyful Steady Groove _ not recorded)
Joshua Reznicow (b.1975) is Director of Orchestral Activities for the Linn-Mar Community School District in Marion, IA and adjunct faculty at Coe College. He is a member of the Iowa Composers Forum.
Starched Shirt Cuffs concerts October, 2005
“Great ideas brought a great gathering of music.”
“How fortunate we are! This concert is outstanding.”
“I don’t normally attend chamber music programs.
However, this one may change my attitude!
The music was fresh, good-humored and enjoyable.”