John Williams isn’t the only composer creating music to mark the presidency of Barack Obama.
On Sunday, Feb. 15, the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota will give the world premiere of “While We Breathe, We Hope (Fanfare for Obama),” a work by Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg that includes spoken text from the victory speech Obama gave in Chicago on election night. Penumbra Theatre founder Lou Bellamy will be the narrator.
“I completed it a few days after the inaugural, so I guess Williams beat me,” Heitzeg joked, referring to the work, “Air and Simple Gifts,” that was performed by a superstar quartet during the Jan. 20 event on the capitol steps.
Heitzeg’s piece was commissioned by violinist Young-Nam Kim, the founder of the Chamber Music Society and a professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music.
“I wanted to do something in honor of the time, to mark a new dawn,” Heitzeg said. “Despite all the economic trouble and other problems, this feels like a Renaissance. If anybody can make the difference, Obama can.”
The work is short, less than five minutes, and it’s scored for strings, piano and a percussionist who will perform on a variety of unusual instruments, including Hawaiian ‘LLi’ili stones that are sometimes used to accompany hula dancing.
“They’re water-worn smooth stones that are sometimes called stone castanets,” Heitzeg explained. “I wanted to include an instrument from the president’s birthplace.”
The concert also includes another work by Heitzeg, “The Legend of the Bluebonnet,” that he wrote in 1992 under a commission from WAMSO, the Minnesota Orchestra’s volunteer association. The work’s performance will involve musicians from the university’s New Music Ensemble.
But the concert isn’t an all-contemporary event. Also on the program is Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, featuring pianist Timothy Lovelace, plus a selection from one of Mozart’s divertimentos. The Sunday concert is at 4 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church of Columbia Heights.