News Column

Colleagues, friends, students honor Rowell in 80th birthday concert

October 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 22--Lewis Rowell's distinguished career in music centered on teaching and scholarship, with many of his professional years spent at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. Students acknowledged him for his profound knowledge of music theory and musicology. Experts acknowledged him for his research and thought, which led him to write books considered significant to the field, such as "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music" and "Music and Musical Thought in Early India."

But the good Professor Rowell studied trombone and voice as an undergraduate a long while ago, and he tried his hand at composition, this after studying with none less than the influential Alan Hovhaness at the Eastman School. Those studies, he says, "lit a spark that has sputtered on and off during the many years when I gave priority to research and publication but which has encouraged me during my retirement years."

So Lewis Rowell professes in program notes he wrote for Sunday afternoon's concert in Auer Hall, one celebrating his 80th birthday. The concert consisted of works, all his. They were composed between 1956 and just months ago. Colleagues, friends and students performed as he, his wife, Unni, and many more friends and colleagues watched and listened.

What one heard, as the honored musician put it, was "admittedly mid-20th century music." That seemed so, even with his most recent piece, the 2013-conceived Variations on Themes by Alban Berg and Gustav Mahler, in which he cleverly fondled and manipulated well-known passages by two of his "favorite" early 20th century composers. The music was scored for piano (Angela Park) and three woodwinds: oboe (Jeremy Curtis), bassoon (Christina Feigel), and bass clarinet (faculty colleague Howard Klug). The parenthesized players treated the music with obvious respect.

Organ department chair Janette Fishell took to the organ loft twice, first for a performance of "Tombeau," a tribute once more to the genius of Berg, along with Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie. She ended the concert with a full-scale test of the organ, the 1966-composed Recitative and Variations on an Ayre by Jeremiah Clarke, built expansively and colorfully on music by that 17th century English composer. Fishell, as she usually does, gave it her all.

Rowell had planned to participate actively in the concert at the piano, but health issues caused him to turn those duties over to Julian Hook, a fellow music theorist and now chair of that department in the Jacobs School. Hook was an excellent substitute. He also happens to be a skilled pianist; as grad student here he won the piano concerto competition. On Sunday, Hook first teamed with Annette Johansson, a mezzo-soprano for whom Rowell in 1956 wrote his "Songs of Autumn" while the two were fellow students at Eastman. Here, amazingly, Annette Johansson was 57 years later, singing her "Songs of Autumn" once again, with the composer looking on, a smile on his face.

Hook then teamed with two former Rowell colleagues, now also retired, violist Allen Winold and cellist Helga Winold, for a performance of "Three Elegies," written in 2012 "in memoriam" to Stravinsky, Witold Lutoslawski and Olivier Messiaen. The music captured musical flavors of those composers. The performance, in turn, transmitted those flavors and, thereby, Lewis Rowell's admiration for the remembered.

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