Hasselmo honored with orchestra’s ‘showpiece’

by Michelle Kibiger

A sea of black tuxedos, dresses, music stands and even sunglasses greeted University President Nils Hasselmo last night at the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
More than 200 musicians in nine groups, and 300 audience members met at the hall to honor Hasselmo for his eighth and last annual President’s Concert. And the musicians had a few surprises for Hasselmo, including special orchestral and jazz arrangements. The lyrics from the jazz piece highlighted Hasselmo’s accomplishments as the 13th president of the University and were sung by Vern Sutton, director of the School of Music.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Hasselmo said. “I guess with Vern, anything’s possible.”
From traditional symphonic and band ensembles to jazz singers and ensembles to opera quintets, the University brought out its best musicians to honor the president.
Even though the concert is held each year to honor the University’s president, the music school also views these events as ways for the musicians to sharpen their skills.
“The majority of the students in the school of music are going to be performing music for the rest of their lives,” said Eric Becher, assistant music professor and organizer of the concert. “It’s an opportunity to showcase as many groups as we can.”
Keith Clark, who directs the University orchestra, which played the special piece for Hasselmo called “Jubilee! (A Fast Dance for Nils),” said the music was special for the president and for the student performers.
“It’s a showpiece for orchestra, and it particularly shows off many of the fine players we have in the school of music,” he said. “It will put many of their talents on display.”
Clark said he had the president’s final concert in mind when he arranged the piece. “This is a celebration piece, celebrating his work at the University,” Clark said.
“It’s a big event in the life of the president, and I think that music should always accompany big events.”
Each piece in the concert flowed to the next, although each group was composed of different instruments. Becher said he worked hard to make the concert a cohesive unit that still exhibited the richness of the music school environment.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle that you put together with different sounds, different locations and different settings, but you have to make sure that the pieces make sense,” Becher said.
A nontraditional concert, the president’s show allows different ensembles to play in different areas of the hall, like the brass choirs that played from the back and both balconies, creating their own surround sound.
“It’s a quick-moving concert that changes location and style and emotion really fast,” Becher said.
Emotions ran high throughout the concert with the animated direction of the conductors and the swaying motions of the musicians as they felt the sweet melodies they were playing — the kind of melodies that left people with goosebumps as they exited the hall.
Some of the most popular parts of the concert were the jazz groups, led by director Ron McCurdy, who tapped his toes, clapped his hands and snapped his fingers to the rhythm of the music.
And the audience, which included several music students from Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul, clapped their hands and tapped their toes right along with McCurdy and Hasselmo.
“Nothing has been more fun than to attend the President’s Concert,” Hasselmo said.
The president brought a surprise of his own to the event. He gave Sutton the first-ever President’s Award for his 29 years of service to the University’s School of Music. The award was accompanied by a $1,000 gift.
Hasselmo said he always looks forward to the music school concerts. Although he is leaving his post soon, he said he will continue to attend the events.
“I will look forward to the president’s concerts in the future,” he said. “I just won’t have the sense of ownership that I had over them in the past.”
“Those have been the highlight of the season for me.”
He said that past programs have exhibited quite a sampling of music school talent.
“I want to express my deep appreciation to the faculty and students of the music school for adding so much to our lives.”