An internationally renowned trombonist is coming home to perform. Michael Powell, a graduate of Heights High School and Wichita State University, is a member of the revered American Brass Quintet, a chamber group that will perform with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra this week.
The quintet, in addition to Powell, features Kevin Cobb and Louis Hanzlik, trumpet; John Rojak, bass trombone; and David Wakefield, horn. In addition to touring internationally, the ABQ members are in residence at the Juilliard School and the Aspen Music Festival.
Powell has performed with this half-century-old chamber group for more than 30 years. He said his music teachers at Wichita public schools, along with his mother, helped spur his love of music. Powell’s mother, Marge Powell, will be in the audience.
“I’ve got her ticket,” Powell said. A high-school flutist and pianist, Marge Powell was integral in her son’s musical endeavors. “From the beginning, she was supportive,” he said.
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Powell, with the rest of his quintet, hopes to bring new works to new audiences. Because of this, they are excited to come to Wichita. This concert will feature Eric Ewazen’s “Shadowcatcher,” a work that the ABQ premiered. Ewazen, an award-winning composer, is also on the faculty at Juilliard.
“Eric’s music speaks to everyone. This piece is beautiful,” Powell said. “Eric did a lot of homework when he was writing ‘Shadowcatcher.’ He looked at collections of traditional Native American melodies.”
Photographs by Edward Curtis (1868-1952) will appear as the symphony and ABQ perform this inspired work.
“In the preface to his score, he (Ewazen) tells us that the source of his inspiration was the iconic images of Native Americans photographed by Edward Curtis,” said Daniel Hege, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s music director and conductor. “I thought showing the images while we play the music would be the perfect marriage of image and music.”
Curtis photographed thousands of images across the West during the early 20th century. The concert will be rounded out with John Barry’s “Dances with Wolves Suite” and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”). During the time that the Ninth Symphony was written, 1892-93, the noted Czech composer led the National Conservatory of Music in New York and vacationed in Spillville, an immigrant Czech community in Iowa.
“He was curious about the music of America and discovered that there was rich native material here that he was able to incorporate into his work,” Hege said. “His Ninth Symphony is a beautiful blend of Native American rhythms and (black) spirituals with his own individual musical language.”
This popular and beloved symphony also incorporates Dvorak’s Czech heritage. The New York Philharmonic premiered the piece in the fall of 1893 at Carnegie Hall.
“The work is one of the most beloved works in the entire orchestral canon,” Hege said. “It’s full of gorgeous melodies, infectious rhythms and high drama.”