KINGSTON, R.I. — October 31, 2017 — The University of Rhode Island’s 125th Anniversary musical celebrations will wrap up with a concert by the University’s Symphony Orchestra and Choir Saturday, Nov. 4, from 8 to 10 p.m.
To be held at the URI Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Road, the concert will feature the world premiere of a composition by Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Gibbs, titled Oratorio Universalis. For soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra, the piece was commissioned by the College of Arts and Sciences for the anniversary celebration. The performance will feature the URI Concert Choir prepared by Professor Mark Conley, chair of the URI Faculty Senate and the Department of Music and director of Choral Activities, and the URI Symphony Orchestra conducted by Professor Ann Danis, director of Orchestral Activities, with special guest soprano performance by Lucy Fitz Gibbon.
The work was composed during the summer and fall of 2016. The choice of the texts and development of musical materials have a complex history. In 1967, Gibbs created “Symposium” for soprano soloist, chorus and wind ensemble, which was performed for the 75th anniversary of URI. The three sections of “Oratorio Universalis” may be seen as a continuation of “Symposium’s” exploration of humanity’s thirst for knowledge. Gibbs wished to create a philosophical connection to those champions of education who wrote at or before the time when land grant colleges were established. These writers recognized that a democratic society could not survive without an emphasis on education for all of its citizens. Texts are by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Susan B. Anthony, Alfred North Whitehead and A.E. Housman.
“The work is dedicated to Winifred Brownell, retired dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Gibbs. “The 30-minute oratorio is a celebration of higher education with texts taken from the period when the idea for land grant colleges was still fresh in the minds of Americans. I dedicated this to Dean Brownell, who was a champion of the humanities and the arts. She was an indispensable supporter of music, art, theater, and indeed all of the humanities. Her hand was behind so much good work at the University of Rhode Island. It was Dean Brownell, and Professors Conley and Danis who asked me to write the piece.”
Following her more than 20 years as a professor of Communication Studies, Brownell served as interim dean for three years and associate dean for five years. She was appointed dean in 1999, and championed the arts at URI throughout her career.
Gibbs was a member of the URI faculty from 1965 until 2001, when he retired at the age of 61 to fully devote himself to composition projects. For 52 years Geoffrey Gibbs has been associated with URI where he taught music composition, theory, music history, and electronic music from 1965 to 2001. He received four Rhode Island State Council on the Arts individual artist grants, and his many compositions were performed throughout America and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. For 15 years he was associated with and directed the Rhode Island Composers Forum which put on numerous concerts of new music supported by RISCA and the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Tickets for the performance on Nov. 4 are: general admission, $12; student and senior citizen tickets, $7; and children under 11 free.
The Gibbs score is the second piece commissioned to mark the 125th Anniversary of the University’s founding in 1892.
In the spring, URI’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble, directed by Professor Gene Pollart, performed a world premiere of a work composed by URI alumnus Zach Friedland, On the Greens of Blue and White, commissioned by the College of Arts and Sciences. Before he graduated from URI in 2013, he composed HIgh Altitudes, Think Big We Do, which was performed during commencement that year and has been played at each commencement since.