Five Magical Performances By Iowa Classical Musicians Of Works By Iowa Composers

May 14, 2020

Even long-time Iowans might not realize how many composers our state has produced. Here are five videos of their music being played by other Iowans. 

Know of other videos we should share? Please email me! 

ChamberFest Dubuque performs 'Last Breath' by Tracey Ryan Rush


As she sat by her mother’s hospice bed, Tracey Ryan Rush noticed that the ceiling fan had a soothing, steady rhythm and that her mother was breathing on every fourth beat. That pattern became the core of a musical memorial to her mom, “Last Breath.” The piece also evokes her mother's favorite hymn tune, "Amazing Grace," which Rush was playing at the bedside as her mother took her final breath.

Rush is a violist, composer and educator from Dubuque, where she founded the Northeast Iowa School of Music. Her student Michael Gilbertson, who is now a Pulitzer-finalist composer, honors her work annually by leading ChamberFest Dubuque. The fest raises funds for music education in Iowa. Gilbertson and colleagues have for years given marvelous live preview concerts in Iowa Public Radio's studio in Cedar Falls, and were planning to do so this year, but the ChamberFest had to be canceled because of the pandemic. Here's hoping for many more in the future. The video, from the 2019 ChamberFest, features violinists Wesley Precourt and Hanah Stuart Precourt, violist Danielle Wiebe, cellist Bridget Pasker, and pianist David Fung.

Anthony Arnone plays 'Tales of Hemingway' by Michael Daugherty

Michael Daugherty grew up in a Cedar Rapids home filled with music of every kind. Before college he had performed in genres ranging from polka to choral to soul. His college education took him to New York, Paris and Yale, where he studied with serialists and also worked with Leonard Bernstein, who encouraged him to incorporate his love of popular culture into his art.

Since then, Daugherty has composed a body of masterpieces exploring such American icons as Elvis, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and William Randolph Hearst as well as Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks. One of Daugherty’s most stirring recent works was inspired by the fiction of Ernest Hemingway. Called “Tales of Hemingway,” it won two Grammy Awards, and the album it was part of also won a Grammy. Another work on the disc, "American Gothic," was written for Orchestra Iowa and first broadcast on Iowa Public Radio Classical.

"Tales of Hemingway" has become the most-performed cello concerto of our era. Nobody plays it more soulfully than a cellist down the road from Cedar Rapids, Anthony Arnone of the University of Iowa, here performing it in concert with the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra conducted by David E. Becker.

Luther College Nordic Choir performs 'Always Singing' by Dale Warland

Dale Warland, born in 1932 in Fort Dodge, told NPR that one of his earliest memories was the sound of train whistles “wafting over the cornfields at night.” He said he “remembers thinking how beautiful that three-note chord was.” That response is evidence an exceptional ear, and Warland grew up to become one of the world’s great choral conductors and composers.

His “Always Singing” sets a text based on Ronald Blythe’s “Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village," which seems to resonate with Warland's description of Fort Dodge. The text of Warland’s paraphrase reads: “There was such a lot of singing and this was my pleasure, too. The boys all sang in the fields, and at night we all sang. The chapels were full of singing. It was singing, singing all the time. I have had pleasure. I have had singing.” 

Katharine Goeldner sings 'Miranda's Isle' from 'Paradox' by Peter Ash

Katharine Goeldner grew up in Sigourney, graduated from the University of Iowa, and went on to a major career as a mezzo-soprano singing lead roles at the Metrpolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and Salzburg. She has always tried to give back to the state that educated her, and one result is her “Prairie Song Project.”Her idea was to commission and sing new works from Midwestern-native composers. One of them is Peter Ash, who was born in DeWitt, in 1961 and now leads the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. For the work, which he called “Paradox,” he set texts by Willa Cather and Shakespeare, including this one from “The Tempest.”

Red Cedar Chamber Music Plays 'Celebration' from Three Armenian Impressions by Michael Kimber


Michael Kimber moved to Iowa City in 2004 with his wife, musicologist Marian Wilson Kimber, whose research on Iowa's musical past was featured in this IPR story. Michael’s career as a violist had previously led him to Australia as a founding member of the Alexandria Quartet, then to a year of concertizing with the Kronos Quartet, and then to principal viola positions in Kansas City and elsewhere. As an educator, he’s taught at Coe College since 2005 and at the University of Iowa and at UNI. His viola etudes and methods are used internationally, as is an ergonomic viola chinrest he invented.

It seems only just that he was given the prestigious Founders Award in 2010 by the American Viola Society. That award was in recognition of his compositions, which are also performed worldwide. Here’s an excerpt from one of them, which he wrote for a unique Iowa institution, Red Cedar Chamber Music. Since 1997 Red Cedar has focused on performing in communities around Iowa. In 2016 founders Jan Boland and John Dowdall passed the baton to cellist Carey Bostian and violinist Miera Kim, who are joined in this performance by clarinetist Christine Bellomy, a member of Orchestra Iowa.