The University of Kansas School of Music and Reach Out Kansas, Inc. present the world premiere of Kevin Walczyk’s Symphony No. 5 Freedom from Fear: Images from the Shoreline, a monumental work that crosses centuries and musical genres to speak to the courage of displaced people.
KU’s premier bands, the Wind Ensemble, conducted by Paul W. Popiel, and Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Dan Gailey, will perform the piece in concert at 3 p.m., Sunday, April 29 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In a rare fusion of wind and jazz ensembles, the four-movement piece flows among varied musical styles, including classical, Delta Blues, jazz improvisation, Syrian folk music and the voices of a soprano and boy soprano.
The Wind Ensemble has been described by the New York Times as “one of America’s most esteemed concert bands,” and made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2013. Since then, it has performed for President Obama and in 2017 was one of nine college ensembles selected to perform at the College Band Directors National Association biennial conference.
Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Dan Gailey, was named DownBeat magazine’s Best College Big Band in the Graduate Division in 2015 and received the Outstanding Performance Award in the same division in 2017. The group performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2016 and was one of six college bands to perform at the 2017 Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival.
A Pulitzer Prize- and Grawemeyer-nominated composer, Walczyk drew inspiration for Freedom from Fear from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address Four Freedoms, which identified freedom from fear as a fundamental human right.
The work’s four movements unify around images of displaced peoples on the shoreline, spanning from the Old Testament to today. Freedom from Fear references the biblical story of Jochebed relinquishing her infant son Moses; the 1943 Life magazine photograph of three World War II soldiers lying dead on a South Pacific beach during the Battle of Buna-Gona; Civil Rights era wade-ins on the segregated beaches of Biloxi, Mississippi; the 2015 photograph, Humanity Washed Ashore, of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found on a Turkish beach after his boat capsized; immigrants arriving at the Statue of Liberty; and Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, The New Colossus.
“This piece finds a universal truth among different countries and different societies throughout history,” Popiel said. “There’s an element of loss, sacrifice and separation that goes beyond immigration and into something deeper.”
When composing Freedom from Fear, Walczyk was struck by Life magazine’s explanation for publishing the photographs from the Battle of Buna-Gona, which were the first images of dead American servicemen in World War II to be published by the American media: “The reason is words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens…”
Walczyk aims for “Freedom from Fear” to similarly affect the audience.
“I want to give the audience an experience that will transcend the images and the writings about the images,” he said. ‘I want it to be an emotional experience.”
The piece was commissioned by Reach Out Kansas, Inc., which through legacy projects such as “Freedom from Fear” aims to create transformative works that will impact the world for generations. Washington, D.C.—where national policy is created and home to embassies from around the world—was selected as the site for the world premiere with the hopes to inspire more reasonable discussion.
“The primary objective is to raise the discourse to a higher level so that all sides can be heard in a meaningful manner and out of that comes more reasonable policy,” said Jim Zakoura, president of Reach Out Kansas, Inc. “The music is a vehicle that serves that end.”
Prior to the world premiere of “Freedom from Fear,” the afternoon performance will feature “Palos Nuevos: The Jazz/Flamenco Project” with the KU Jazz Ensemble I. Composed by Gailey and choreographed by Michelle Heffner Hayes, “Palos Nuevos” emulates the flamenco tradition of dialogue between dancer and musician and the practice of trading fours in jazz improvisations. The suite features Hayes, chair of the KU Department of Dance, performing the “baile” (dance); Steve Leisring, professor of trumpet, playing the ‘cante’ (voice); flamenco guitarist Beau Bledsoe as the “toque” (guitar); and Brandon Draper, KU music lecturer, performing on percussion. “Palos Nuevos,” is another legacy project of Reach Out Kansas, Inc.
“I hope people who come to this concert walk away with a musical appreciation for how different cultures can combine to create something new and exciting,” Gailey said. “And with an appreciation that music is a narrative and a mirror of what’s happening in our society.”
Tickets for the concert are $25 and are available at the Kennedy Center Box Office, by phone at (202) 467-4600 and at kennedy-center.org. More information on the “Freedom from Fear” project can be found at https://music.ku.edu/ku-kennedy-center.