Acclaimed cellist and Weber State University music professor Viktor Uzur organized the annual Bonneville Chamber Music Festival to give Weber faculty and students an opportunity to demonstrate their creative talent.
An estimated 150 audience members, including Weber State President Brad Mortensen, arrived at the Browning Center for an evening featuring winds, pianos and cellos. However, this was not a typical classical music concert.
The music ranged from contemplative to melancholy. The musicians encouraged the audience to participate, including singing along to a rendition of “What Would You Do with a Drunken Sailor” that ended in applause and laughter.
The musical pieces emotionally moved the audience and gave them a chance to see what Weber State musicians are capable of presenting, which is what Uzur intended.
“The purpose of the music festival is to bring the community together, including guest artists and school faculty,” Uzur said, addressing the audience.
Uzur organized “I Am the Folklore” to exhibit a uniquely American style of musical storytelling. The concert began with the compositions of Brazilian artist Heitor Villa-Lobos and included soulful collaborations between WSU’s Shijun Wang and Uzur on piano and cello, respectively.
Dr. Jennifer Erickson, another WSU faculty member, accompanied Wang and Uzur with her soprano voice talent.
Daniel Jonas, professor of jazz at WSU, presented a new take on two popular American folk songs, providing the centerpiece of the concert. For Jonas, it began at a barbecue with Uzur.
“Dr. Uzur and I have worked closely on some other things,” Jonas said. “He has always had an open mind towards an idea of jazz.”
Jonas gained inspiration from a book of American folk songs that he purchased from a local thrift store for a dollar.
“In a conversation at a barbecue,” Jonas said, “I randomly kicked around the idea of arranging folk songs in a jazz context. He asked if I would be interested in arranging anything for a cello choir.”
Jonas took Uzur’s invitation as an opportunity to push himself to try something new. Jonas decided to rearrange and modernize the harmonies of the folk songs “Shenandoah” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” Adding a surprising jazz-flavored twist, Jonas allowed for sections of cello improvisation within the arrangements of the two pieces.
It was not easy.
“It’s hard to create a space for improvisation to occur that does not take away from the song, but rather contributes to it,” Jonas said. “Jazz is the ultimate expressive music in that you can play whatever you want, whenever you want. What matters is the intention and emotion behind it. It is a complete freedom of expression. I hope my music communicates with the audience on an emotional level.”
The resulting arrangements of “Shenandoah” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” provided a refreshing take on the classic American folk music.
Performing on a flugelhorn with a chorus of four cellos, Jonas transformed “Shenandoah” from a song evocative of the American Midwest into a blues-infused song.
“I come to the music festival every year,” said Cara Richardson, a music education major. “It is such a good mix of local and non-local musical talent. Listening to Dr. Uzur play was a spiritual experience. It is unfair to pick one, but my favorite piece of music for tonight was ‘Shenandoah.’”