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USC Symphony Orchestra highlights new music and North American premiere

Faculty soloists in the spotlight for October 15 concert

Outstanding USC School of Music faculty members – trumpeter James Ackley and double bassist Craig Butterfield – will be at center stage for the next USC Symphony Orchestra concert with two contemporary works.

The concert takes place Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center.

Ackley and the orchestra will give the North American premiere of Juan Carlos Valencia Ramos’ “Concierto para Trompeta y Orquesta” from 2011 while Butterfield will be soloist for “Nine Variants on Paganini” a 2002 work by Frank Proto.

The concert, which will be conducted by the orchestra’s assistant music director Neil Casey, will also include John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34.”

Associate professor Ackley was principal trumpet and soloist for the Bogota (Colombia) Philharmonic and taught at the National Conservatory of Music in Colombia. He is principal trumpeter with the Augusta Symphony and member of the Bala Brass Quintet. Ackley, who knows the composer of the concerto, taught Juan Fernando Avendaño, principal trumpet of the Colombian National Symphony, to whom the piece is dedicated.

“The USC Symphony had asked me to perform, but we hadn’t decided on a particular piece – then I got wind of this piece,” Ackley said. “It really uses the color of the orchestra and is full of Latin American sounds, folk melodies and jazz. I thought it would be a cool piece and the orchestra was very happy with it.”

Ramos works extensively as a trumpeter, arranger and director as well as a composer. The concerto taps into traditional Colombian music such as the pasillo and the currulao. Several passages ask for extreme technical prowess from the trumpeter, while others allow the performer to explore his expressiveness as he soars above the harmonies and countermelodies.

Butterfield is active in the classical and jazz fields and performs regularly as a solo artist working with electronics and exploring the possibilities of the instrument. He was a member of Maynard Ferguson’s big band during 2004 and 2005 and is half of the guitar/bass duo Dez Cordes.

“One of the big problems for double bassists is the lack of repertoire,” said Butterfield. “In the late 1700s and early 1800s a number of composers were writing for double bass, then there was nothing for a long time. Now a lot more contemporary composers are writing for us.”

Proto is one of the most prolific and respected composers for double bass and was a double bassist and composer-in-residence with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1966 to 1997. He has composed seven works for orchestra, 30 solo and chamber pieces and an opera and has performed with and composed for Dave Brubeck, Eddie Daniels, Duke Ellington, Cleo Laine, Gerry Mulligan, Doc Severinsen and Richard Stoltzman.

This will be the first time Casey has led a full concert by the orchestra, but he’s well known as conductor for opera at USC. He also leads the Armstrong Atlantic Youth Orchestra in Savannah, Ga., and the USC Campus Orchestra. He has been assistant conductor of the Augusta Symphony and music director of the Statesboro-Georgia Southern Symphony and guest conductor with the Savannah Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Knoxville Symphony, Spokane Symphony, Richmond Symphony, S.C. Philharmonic and the Charleston Symphony.

The concert will open with “The Chairman Dances” by John Adams who is best known for his operas “Nixon in China” (1987), “The Death of Klinghoffer” (1991) and “Doctor Atomic”andthe orchestral piece“Short Ride in a Fast Machine” and chamber piece “Shaker Loops.”He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 9/11 memorial work “On the Transmigration of Souls.”  

“The Chairman Dances” (1985) is meant to depict Madame Mao gatecrashing a presidential banquet and performing a seductive dance enticing Chairman Mao to descend from his portrait and dance a foxtrot with her.

The concert closes with “Capriccio Espagnol” from 1887 by Rimsky-Korsakov, one of his most popular works. The composer based the piece on sketches he had made for a virtuoso violin fantasy on Spanish themes and then expanded it to feature almost every instrument in the orchestra during the five-movement.

“This concert allows us to bring two great soloists to stage for newer works the orchestra hasn’t performed and the Capriccio with its emphasis on each instrument lets the students shine as well,” said Casey. “And ‘The Chairman Dances’ is just a wonderful and fun way to start any concert.”

Tickets are $30 for the general public, $25 for USC faculty and staff and seniors, and $8 for students.

  • Koger Box Office: corner of Greene and Park Streets, Columbia, SC 29201
    Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m
  • By phone: (803) 251-2222
    Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m
  • Online: www.capitoltickets.com. 
Please note that added fees apply.
  • At the venue: one hour prior to the 
performance.