Music comes home

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During the mid-1800s, the Texas Hill Country produced talented men and women, particularly in the fields of ranching, industry, cattle, and the military.

Yet many still don’t know it was also the birthplace of a classical music composer who became a contemporary of the European masters.

This person had the tongue twisted name of Frank Valentin Van der Stucken. He was born on Main Street in Fredericksburg in 1858.

This weekend, the community will celebrate its native son by having one of his pieces performed in the town of his birth for the first time by a full symphony orchestra. Conducting will be Fagner Rocha, who is in his second year at Angelo State University as Professor of Music.

“He was striving for great things in music,” Rocha said of Van der Stucken, who returned to Belgium with his family when he was eight. “He wasn’t super famous, but his friends were trying to help. They gave him personal advice to come back to America and get involved in the music scene here.”

Van der Stucken’s “friends” included Edvard Grieg, Franz Lizt, Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi, and Max Bruck, according to Dr. Larry Wolz, Professor Emeritus at Hardin Simmons University and Van der Stucken scholar. Wolz, who is working on a biography of the composer, will appear at this event and lead the audience in singing Van der Stucken’s finale “Pax Triumphans.”

For this concert, the entire Angelo State University symphony will join the Fredericksburg Community Orchestra to perform a program that includes Van der Stucken’s “Idyll.”

Rocha describes it as a short orchestral piece that reminds him of Wagner’s musical style, whom Van der Stucken admired.

“It is more like what the romantic composers did — a symphonic poem for orchestra,” Rocha said. “It features big orchestrations with very long melodies. He writes extended harmonies in places and uses the full orchestra, with lots of passages for brass, woodwinds, and strings. It is a passionate piece.”

Part of the challenge was finding orchestrations for the musicians. It seems Van der Stucken was very picky about the way he wanted his works to sound.

“He put so many details into his music, it is very hard to read,” Rocha said.

So after obtaining the original score, Rocha commissioned Brazilian composer and arranger Luann Vega to transcribe the work for his students. It is faithful to the original instrumentation, with the exception of the English horn part, which they handed over to the brass.

The concert should present a delight to the ear.

“The audience will hear a full brass section, full percussion, and a sea of strings,” Rocha said. “These days we listen to music on computers, so sometimes people have never experienced the power of live music. A symphony orchestra is the perfect means to deliver those emotions and those feelings. It’s going to be phenomenal.”

An important aspect of the collaboration is not only the musical outreach, but also the educational exchange. The students — who are mostly music majors, but also include musicians studying computer science, engineering, and nursing — will be staying with host families.

“Part of being a professional musician is that when you travel you have to stay with families you don’t know,” said Rocha, who himself is a native of Brazil. “It is good and fun to meet those people, and also to play for different audiences, and to see that people appreciate music everywhere.”

That is something Van der Stucken learned. He took his peers’ advice and returned to America, where he became the founding conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and served as a bridge between European and American composers.

He was responsible for introducing American audiences to the works of Europeans such as Tchaikovsky and Brahms, and similarly premiered works by American composers in Europe.

“That is probably his biggest legacy,” Rocha said. “Opening doors for American music in Europe, and bringing European works to America.

This Saturday, audiences in Central Texas can hear something Van der Stucken never heard — his piece played by a full symphony in his hometown.

 

Details:

Fredericksburg Community Orchestra (FCO) and Angelo State Symphony Orchestra present the 28th Annual Van der Stucken Music Festival on Saturday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m., at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, 1800 N. Llano St., Fredericksburg.

The program also includes performances by Mezzo-soprano September Van der Stoel and the Arion Maennerchor.

Suggested $10 donation at the door.

 

Phil Houseal is a writer and owner of Full House PR, www.fullhouseproductions.net.

Contact him at phil@fullhouseproductions.net.