Originally Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2014, 12:11 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 16, 2014, 12:15 pm

Augie composer to premiere two major works

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Photo:
Mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang perform tonight at Augustana College, Rock Island.
Photo:
Composer Jacob Bancks, an Augustana College assistant professor, will write a commissioned piece for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, performed next March.

Jacob Bancks is one busy guy.

The 31-year-old Augustana College assistant professor of music will have the world premiere of his latest song cycle, "Southern Harmony," tonight at Wallenberg Hall on campus. He is putting the finishing touches on his latest symphonic work, "Rock Island Line," to be premiered by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in March.

Dr. Bancks (who teaches composition and music theory) is in the midst of writing for a trio of Eastman School graduates, another piece for the U.S. Marine Band, a large work for Augustana women's chorus, orchestra and faculty soloists, and a piece for Augie colleague Randall Hall for the 2015 International Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France.

His latest collaboration with his wife Kara, an Augustana clarinetist and private teacher, is their fourth child, due in June. Their other kids are 4, 3, and 1. Dr. Bancks also serves as music director for St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Davenport.

Ms. Bancks will play on Ned Rorem's "Ariel" songs in tonight's program -- part of a modern music concert which Dr. Bancks is especially excited to hear. In addition to his own work and Mr. Rorem, the Chicago-based mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang will perform Alban Berg, Charles Ives, and William Bolcom.

Of tonight's six song cycles (all written from 1900 on), he noted: "Even if you hate the music, you'll love the concert, because the performers are just the best. Come to hear the best."

Ms. Bentley has appeared in leading operatic roles (Carmen, Rosina, Despina, and both Rossini and Massenet Cinderellas) from Anchorage to New York. She also teaches voice at Concordia University and the DePaul University School of Music, as well as the graduate Art Song Seminar at North Park University.

Mr. Huang has performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia, often as a collaborator, performing with instrumentalists of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and singers with the Lyric Opera. He also serves on the faculties of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and Concordia University-Chicago.

Dr. Bancks -- a composition major at Wheaton College outside Chicago, where he studied with Augusta Read Thomas, a former Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence -- earned a master's in composition from the Eastman School of Music in New York and Ph.D in composition from the University of Chicago.

In 2007, Dr. Bancks' "Among the Leaves" was performed in Carnegie Hall by mezzo Kate Lindsey and the New York Youth Symphony and a New York Times review called it "invitingly lyrical" and "colorfully orchestrated."

For tonight's free program, Ms. Bentley asked him to write something "delightful, sparkling, with a side of reverent," he said. "I wanted to write something really suited to her. She can pull it off really well. She is a fantastic actress -- she's so dramatic, flexible and so generous."

"Southern Harmony" is a 10-song cycle, based on the Southern American style of singing known as "shape note," which is "rather distinct in its sound, with open fourths and fifths," Dr. Bancks said, noting the texts are from the 18th and 19th centuries.

"Even though they're in English, they sound like the're in a foreign language," he said. "It's just a way of talking, just a very stark and powerful way. They're really beautiful gems."

Ms. Bentley and Mr. Huang are offering master classes today and tomorrow to Augie voice and composition students.

The concert tonight is 8 p.m. at Wallenberg Hall, 3520 7th Ave., Rock Island.

Dr. Bancks' work for the QCSO (the third "B" alongside Beethoven and Brahms on March 8-9) is an audience-friendly one, 10 minutes long, incorporating Quad-Cities life and history.

"I'm excited about it; it's a bridge-building piece," he said of paying homage to the famous song from which he titled it, "Rock Island Line." It also literally reflects a local bridge, the Arsenal Bridge from Rock Island to Davenport -- which has the rushing river below and train tracks above.

"You have that transit energy in the piece," Dr. Bancks said of the area's key role in many kinds of transportation (land, rail and water). His program note says: "My aim was not so much to paint pictures or narrate stories; rather, my hope has been to express in sound the motion, energy, and exuberance of roads, rails, and rivers, especially including those whose time of greatness is in the past."

In "Rock Island Line," Dr. Bancks also playfully recalls Davenport native Bix Beiderbecke, he said.

Over its 99-year history, the QCSO has done 10 world premieres -- and the last one, "Coyote Dances" by William Campbell, of St. Ambrose University, in March 2012, was an arrangement of a 2005 work first written for wind ensemble.

To see a recent video of Dr. Bancks, visit augustana.edu/x58646.xml. To learn more about his works, visit jbancks.com/home.