With one hand in the classical realm and one hand in pop music, Wheeling pianist and composer Nathan Strasser is a perfect person to play George Gershwin's genre-bending masterpiece, "Rhapsody in Blue," with the Wheeling Symphony this week.
The Wheeling native is the featured guest artist for the orchestra's pops concert, dubbed "Rhapsody' n Brew," at the Capitol Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21. Strasser, 27, will perform as soloist in "Rhapsody in Blue," as accompanist for Pittsburgh Opera resident artists and as soloist for a Gershwin prelude.
Daniel Meyer, music director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and Erie Philharmonic, returns as guest conductor. Pittsburgh Opera resident artists Jasmine Muhammad and Kyle Oliver are set to sing music of Gershwin.
Wheeling pianist and composer Nathan Strasser will perform with the Wheeling Symphony this week. Looking on are sponsors, from left, Dixie and David Ellwood and Carol and George Couch.
Tickets for the concert are available through WesBanco Arena and the Wheeling Symphony box office. For more information, call 304-232-6191 or visit http://wheelingsymphony.
A pre-concert dinner and beer-tasting event at 6 p.m. in the Capitol Theatre Ballroom is on tap for the "Brew" part of the evening. There is an additional charge for the beer tasting and reservations are necessary.
Expressing the impetus for the concert, Bruce Wheeler, executive director of the Wheeling Symphony, said, "We wanted really to blur the lines between our pops concerts and Masterworks concerts, and put together a show that did both of that."
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is "a piece that kind of bridges both pops and classical music," Wheeler noted. "Nathan is out there being a composer, and Gershwin was an American composer."
Currently living in Los Angeles, Strasser is enrolled in a highly-competitive, one-year film scoring program at the University of Southern California's prestigious film school.
Interviewed during a visit home, he said his final project is writing a score for a 65-piece orchestra of Los Angeles musicians.
"We have projects like this every week" that entail writing music for movie scenes of four to 35 minutes, he said. "We (also) do student films."
Strasser scored two student films in the fall semester. "They premiered in December. It went pretty well," he said.
In preparation for writing cinematic music, "they'll give us the scene. They are scenes from movies that our faculty has scored," he explained. Students in the course are permitted to look up the rest of the film for context.
"We have done scenes for class," said Strasser, who finds it interesting "to see all the different interpretations, to see how 20 people can interpret a scene differently." Some of the graduate students take a pop music approach to film scoring, while others favor the John Williams style of sweeping musical scores, he observed.
In the field of international film music, composers often create pieces of music that are "fit for the concert hall as well as the movie," he said. "In America, it's more important to serve the film than write a great piece of music. The number one priority is to do what the film needs."
Strasser observed, "In the older films, the music was always a lot higher in the mix ... There is an idea of a big theme in your film. I still love theme in the movie. I hope it sort of comes back."
While some scores feature "big" music, other films utilize scores that are more organic to the production. "The cool thing is (when) you watch a movie and don't notice the music," he said. "You don't realize how much a film changes when it doesn't have music."
Upon completion of USC's Scoring for Motion Pictures Program, about half of the class members become assistants for established composers, while the other half begin writing for small independent films, Strasser said.
As for his own goals, Strasser said, "I'd love to be the main composer. I'd like to get things in film festivals and work my way up from there."
The son of Robert and Cathy Strasser of Wheeling, he said, "I plan to stay in California for a while, to see what happens and network and see where it takes me."
Before entering the USC graduate program, Strasser built a reputation locally and in Nashville as a pianist, studio musician, songwriter, arranger and church musician.
"I'm hoping to do a lot of playing out there (in Los Angeles) eventually. I'd love to do work in studios and film work," he said.
Presently, he attends classes five days a week, does recording on Saturday and has a church job on Sunday. His film scoring course concludes in May.