By Jay Harvey
The task of building a thematically cohesive program is all part of the musical adventure Charles P. Conrad enjoys as director of the Indiana Wind Symphony. Before a note is sounded, public performances by the all-volunteer concert band are designed to help sell themselves.
“We’re always thinking what would be a good theme and what would work musically,” Conrad said in a phone interview. “Not every piece has to fit the theme, and some are tangential to it. If you try too hard, all of a sudden a program doesn’t work.” He’s been crafting themes and preparing music for the ensemble’s concerts since founding it in 1997.
“Summon the Heroes,” the concert Conrad will conduct at the Palladium on Nov. 15, is built around a piece of the same title that film composer John Williams wrote for the U.S. Marine Band. It was conceived for the centennial of modern Olympic Games in Atlanta. The 1996 work was recently released for general performance, so Conrad snatched it up for the Indiana Wind Symphony.
Different kinds of heroes are part of this concert’s focus. Mark Camphouse’s “Movement for Rosa” honors Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of the bus in 1955 started one of the triggering actions of the civil rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The composer conducted the IWS in a performance of the work about 10 years ago.
Great music for orchestra has been transcribed for band, and one such piece in particular fits this month’s theme. Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture “works extremely well in band transcriptions,” Conrad said. “The themes are in the winds and the piece is based on melodies that don’t get too hard.” The work is the most frequently performed piece of incidental music the German composer wrote to accompany a play about a 16th–century Dutch nobleman who opposed Spanish repression of his homeland.
The heroic theme is also carried out by the “Colonel Bogey March,” which became familiar to a wide public as whistled by British soldier-captives in the 1957 World War II movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Besides selecting an attractive theme, guest artists who are known in the area are a proven draw to Indiana Wind Symphony concerts. Kelleen Strutz is a concert pianist living in the area who tours as accompanist for Indianapolis operatic soprano Angela Brown. The Butler alumna will appear as soloist in the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.
A deliberate contrast with all the heroics will be lent by Miho Sasaki’s “Ruach,” a work dedicated by the Indianapolis pianist-composer to Robert Grechesky upon his retirement last spring as Butler’s director of bands. Conrad has high praise for the work, whose title is Hebrew for spirit or breath. “So often these atmospheric pieces get to a certain point and don’t know where to go next,” he said. “This one isn’t like that. And the second thing I like about it is that it doesn’t make it uncomfortable for the instrumentalists and get into the instruments’ extreme registers.”
Conrad believes in keeping the comfort level within view for his players, and that goal extends to the concert hall. The Indiana Wind Symphony feels right at home as one of the Center for the Performing Arts’ local resident companies.
“We love playing in the Palladium,” Conrad said. “The acoustics are excellent, and the staff is just wonderful. Before we became a resident ensemble there, we played all over.”
Nothing worked quite so well for the IWS before it found a home at the Center for the Performing Arts when it opened four years ago. Conrad praises the lighting, the sound, and the adaptability of the staff in responding to the band’s needs.
“If you decide at the dress rehearsals you want risers set up, they will do it,” he said. “From the CEO down to the parking-lot attendants, everyone is committed to great performances.”
What: “Summon the Heroes”
Who: Indiana Wind Symphony conducted by Charles Conrad, with piano soloist Kelleen Strutz.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15.
Where: Palladium, the Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets: $20, $27, $40 ($5, students); www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org