Chicago-based composer James Stephenson had his “Fanfare for Democracy” premiered at one of the world’s most famous stages, and it will have its Iowa debut this summer by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.
After “Fanfare for Democracy” premiered on Jan. 20, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, Stephenson said he had the crazy idea to ask an orchestra from each state to co-commission an orchestral version.
“With the help of many colleagues, musicians, and others, 51 orchestras (each state + Washington, D.C.) agreed to sign on, with most to make their state’s presentation sometime during the 2021-22 season,” he wrote on his website.
The fanfare was originally performed by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, conducted by Col. Jason K. Fettig.
“I was so very honored and humbled to be a part of such a historic event, and am excited to see it reach thousands of more people throughout the country,” Stephenson (who has a connection with the QCSO) wrote.
The fanfare will be on the program at the Quad City Bank & Trust Riverfront Pops (featuring music of Elton John) on Aug. 20, 2022 at LeClaire Park, Davenport.
“He was pitching the project, asking us if we would be part of it,” QCSO Brian Baxter said Friday, noting Stephenson has had two commissioned works previously done here. Of the Fanfare, “It’s a really nice piece; it was well done for the occasion,” Baxter said.
“I thought it was a really innovative idea to say, ‘why don’t I turn it into an orchestral piece, and get every state to participate?’ ” he said. In Illinois, the Elgin Symphony is doing the work.
Stephenson said he was originally inspired to write the patriotic piece on Nov. 7, 2020 when reflecting on the election and the democratic process. More details of that Saturday afternoon inspiration can be found here.
“CitySpeaks” spoken in 2019
“CitySpeaks,” a multimedia tone poem by Stephenson, had its world premiere by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in April 2019.
He had previously penned a work in 2015 for the QCSO’s 100th season — and partnered with many locals to create “CitySpeaks” — 25 minutes of music that reflects the QC area’s five main cities.
“I’m always looking to do things that are different from what I’ve already done,” Stephenson said in March 2019, noting this was the first time he wrote something specifically depicting a city. “I like the idea; it’s fun to just focus on the area. It was only intimidating afterward. While I was in the process, it was exciting, trying to do all I could to glean what I could studying the area.”
The project was coordinated by Marc Zyla, the QCSO’s director of education and community engagement and its principal horn player.
Stephenson was asked to produce a piece inspired by the QC’s past and present, incorporating visuals and spoken word. Public workshops were held to gather ideas, and Stephenson included poetry written by students in the Midwest Writing Center’s Young Emerging Writers program, as well as veteran Davenport poet Dick Stahl (who died in 2020).
The poetry — including selections from United Township High School alum Adrian Cole and Alleman High School graduate Erin Hantz — was read during the concert by AlteasethePoet, then a 20-year-old from Rock Island, and photos of historic and contemporary QC scenes were displayed in the concert hall.
“CitySpeaks” also folds in a recording of “Davenport Blues” by legendary jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931), a native of Davenport, and principal trumpet Matthew Onstad performed on Bix’s 1927 Bach cornet, which is in the Putnam Museum’s collection.
Because it is considered by the Putnam a “Smithsonian National Treasure,” since the museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the cornet was carried to and from the orchestra venues by a security guard.
To see the inaugural performance of “Fanfare for Democracy,” click HERE.