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Premiere of piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Ward marks dedication of Life Sciences Complex

October 13, 2008

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

Rob Enslin

As part of the Nov. 7 dedication of Syracuse University’s Life Sciences Complex, the University’s award-winning brass ensemble will premiere a special piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Ward. Aptly titled “In Praise of Science,” the short, celebratory work is adapted from a 19th-century poem by Anne Lynch Botta. It was commissioned expressly for the dedication by The College of Arts and Sciences and features soprano Laura Enslin and the 35-piece Syracuse University Brass Ensemble (SUBE), directed by James T. Spencer.

“I am truly glad to be part of this event,” says Ward, who was reading Carl Sagan’s “Varieties of Scientific Experience” (Penguin, 2007) when he got the call about the commission. “In a way, we’re all products of science, so maybe this new building will change the way people view the world.” The 91-year-old resident of Durham, N.C., has also been working on a book about science and society since finishing his soon-to-be-published autobiography. Ward accepts only about two musical commissions a year.

Spencer, who doubles as a chemistry professor in The College of Arts and Sciences, is especially thrilled about the premiere. “Ward really did his homework. The interplay between Laura’s voice and the brass ensemble is superb. He really captured the nuances of all the instruments.” Spencer says that additional performances will be given throughout the year: “We’ll certainly get a lot of mileage out of the piece.”

In conjunction with the premiere, Ward will visit campus and participate in an open dress rehearsal of his piece Wednesday, Nov. 5, from 7:30–9:30 p.m. in The Milton Atrium of the Life Sciences Complex and in a lecture-recital of his music the following day from 2–3:30 p.m. on the stage of Hendricks Chapel. Both events, as well as the Nov. 7 dedication at 3:30 p.m. in The Milton Atrium, are free and open to the public.

Regarded as one of the United States’ leading postwar composers, Ward is responsible for eight operas, seven symphonies and dozens of art songs and choral pieces. His most popular work—and, arguably, his greatest—was the 1961 opera “The Crucible,” which used the Salem witch trials to illustrate and denounce the red-baiting tactics of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Commissioned by the New York City Opera, the work won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Critics Circle Citation the following year and quickly entered the operatic canon. Evidence of the opera’s enduring popularity can be found in the Dicapo Opera Theatre’s current revival, which is being televised in 46 countries in November. Ward’s distinctly American, neo-Romantic style also abounds in his Second Symphony, which gained massive popularity after World War II, when Eugene Ormandy made it part of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s regular touring program.

In addition to composing, Ward has served as chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts; held leadership positions at the Third Street Music School Settlement, Galaxy Music Corp. and High Gate Press; and taught at The Juilliard School and Duke and Columbia universities. He earned degrees at the Eastman School of Music and Juilliard, and spent a summer at the Tanglewood Music Center studying under the venerable Aaron Copland.

Housed in The College of Arts and Sciences, the award-winning SU Brass Ensemble is composed of students, faculty and staff from SU and SUNY Upstate Medical University, as well as members of the surrounding community. Enslin, who is organizing Ward’s lecture-recital, is a member of SU’s musical theater faculty and has recently sung with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Rochester Opera Factory.

Details about the life sciences dedication are available on the Web at http://thecollege.syr.edu.

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