WHEELING -- Drawing upon the Mountain State's motto, American composer Kenneth Fuchs has written "Forever Free, Fanfare-Overture for West Virginia" to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the 35th state's formation.
The Wheeling Symphony commissioned Fuchs, a professor of composition at the University of Connecticut, to write a piece for the state's 150th anniversary. The orchestra will perform the world premiere of "Forever Free" during a free sesquicentennial concert at Heritage Port in Wheeling Thursday, June 20, which is West Virginia Day.
Fuchs said the project is one of two special commissions that he has received in the past year.
"I have been fortunate to receive a number of commissions to compose music, and several of these commissions are for special occasions," the composer said. "I had two such commissions during the last year - 'Forever Free' for the West Virginia sesquicentennial and a work titled 'From the Field to the Sky,' a celebration fanfare for brass and percussion, which was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band of Flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. That work is dedicated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at the base, and it was premiered at a concert honoring military veterans on Nov. 3, 2012."
The Wheeling Symphony's sesquicentennial concert also will feature performances by three West Virginia natives: mandolin player Johnny Staats, Grammy-winning singer Kathy Mattea and "America's Got Talent" winner Landau Eugene Murphy.
Wheeling's statehood sesquicentennial celebration will include an afternoon and evening of free public concerts. Several opening bands will perform at Heritage Port from 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, June 20. The Wheeling Symphony concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. and conclude with fireworks at 10 p.m.
During the festivities at Heritage Port, West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman of Wheeling will read his sesquicentennial poem at approximately 7:45 p.m. The Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee and the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. commissioned Harshman to write a sesquicentennial poem.
The Wheeling Symphony's commissioning of "Forever Free" was made possible by support from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Commission on the Arts, West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Commission, Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., city of Wheeling, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Holloway, John and Dr. Gail Looney and Lea Ridenhour.
Wheeling Symphony Music Director Andre Raphel lauded Fuchs' composition as "a brilliant new celebratory work." The conductor said, "The world premiere of this work is much anticipated given Mr. Fuchs' gift for melody and commission of the piece by the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. We can't wait to bring this new work to life."
In addition to the excitement generated by the premiere of "Forever Free," Wheeling Symphony Executive Director Bruce Wheeler said, "The concert will be a celebration of West Virginia artists with Kathy Mattea, Landau Eugene Murphy and Johnny Staats performing their well-known hits."
Raphel said, "Fuchs has composed music which captures the spirit of the citizens of West Virginia. In 'Forever Free,' Ken deftly weaves elements of the state's musical heritage with sections of ceremonial fanfare. It is inspiring music, apropos to the occasion and memorable in character."
The music director observed, "By creating 'Forever Free' as a fanfare-overture for orchestra, Kenneth Fuchs has added to an important area of the concert repertoire with a short celebratory opener. Since the piece will also be transcribed for symphonic band, it will make the work accessible for performance by high school and college bands throughout the state - thus ensuring that this commissioned work will have a performance life long beyond 2013."
Fuchs, in turn, said Raphel suggested that he "compose a work incorporating indigenous elements of the state's musical heritage, capturing in musical sound the robust spirit of West Virginia citizens and the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the year-long commemoration of the state's 150th anniversary."
"Forever Free" is cast in one movement in three sections. The composer explained that the title is inspired by the state motto, "montani semper liberi," which translates to "mountaineers forever free."
In a program note for the piece, Fuchs stated, "The work is unified at the outset and closing by a ceremonial fanfare theme characterized by an upward-aspiring scalar figure based on state song, 'West Virginia Hills.' An arching lyrical theme accompanied by a militaristic snare drum and timpani cadence emerges from the majestic opening measures, elaborating further on characteristic melodic details of the state song. All of these elements are then deployed in various instrumental combinations, providing the basis for musical development and culminating in a buoyant fugato based on the melody of 'West Virginia Hills.'"
Fuchs said he composed "Forever Free" in Mansfield Center, Conn., from December through February.
The composer said, "I am indebted to Maestro Andre Raphel for his encouragement and advice during the composition of this work, and to the administrative staff of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra for organizing its sponsorship."
Fuchs has composed music for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles.
With Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, he created three chamber musicals, "The Great Nebula in Orion," "A Betrothal" and "Brontosaurus," presented by Circle Repertory Company in New York City.
His music has been performed in the United States, Europe, China and Japan.
The Adrian (Mich.) Symphony Orchestra appointed Fuchs as composer in residence for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The orchestra performed world premieres of five works, including "Divinum Mysterium," a concerto composed for Paul Silverthorne, principal violist of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Marin Alsop selected Fuchs as one of 10 composers in residence for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in August 2007. Alsop conducted the world premiere of the original orchestral version of Fuchs' "United Artists."
In 2008, the U.S. Air Force Academy Band commissioned a band version of "United Artists." The work has been played by high school and college bands throughout the United States and in China.
The London Symphony Orchestra has recorded two discs of Fuchs' music.
The first, released in August 2005, was nominated for two Grammy Awards. The second disc, which features music for horn, was released in January 2008.
Fuchs received a Bachelor of Music degree in composition, cum laude, from the University of Miami and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the Juilliard School in New York City.