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Bicknell presents symphony by late Pittsburg resident

H. John Hartmann, a Pittsburg resident that died on Dec 1, 2020, left behind a completed orchestral symphony titled “Genesis: A Symphonic Arche” that has yet to be performed. His widow, Mickey Xu, has teamed up with Dr. Mungia, Pittsburg State’s director of orchestras and a friend of John’s, to keep Hartmann’s work alive.

The symphonic work that took Hartmann 42 years to complete can be heard for the first time ever at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13, in the Bicknell Family Center of the Arts.

“John would grow vegetables, so in the spring, summer, and early fall he would deliver bags and bags of green, red, and yellow peppers to me,” Munguia said. “He was a very nice, gentle person, and his music reflects that.”

Because Hartmann, in his later years, developed a condition that prevented him from speaking, Munguia has never heard Hartmann’s voice despite their years of friendship. This performance is an opportunity for everybody, including Hartmann’s close friends and family, to hear him loud and clear.

Pulling off this symphonic debut will take lots of skill from everybody involved. Munguia is tasked with conducting an hour and a half symphony that he has never heard before.

“We have a program that can read music and play it with electronic sounds, but that’s not the real music,” Munguia said. “There isn’t a YouTube video for me to listen to. My job is before the first rehearsal, I need to know the piece thoroughly before I get in front of the orchestra.” 

The orchestra players will perform the entirety of “Genesis: A Symphonic Arche,” with only a couple of run-throughs. The symphony will be performed by a professional ensemble that Xu has commissioned Dr. Munguia to hire and conduct.

“It’s an event that I am hiring an outside orchestra for,” Munguia said. The rehearsals will happen the day of the performance, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I have hired a lot of PSU’s faculty and graduate students because of the high level of skill required for this piece.”

Hartmann worked on the full orchestra symphony for 42 years.

“Though John couldn’t speak, he never lost his voice. He expressed himself beautifully through writing both music and essays,” Xu said.

This sentiment was repeated by Munguia.

“John was a very prolific composer,” said Mungia. “The beauty of this piece is that he uses the choir as an instrument, the choir voice is written within the orchestra which creates beautiful textures and tones, the colors are different.”

Hartmann and Mungia became friends through the tight-knit music community of Pittsburg and the Catholic Church. Many local music groups are lending a hand in making John Hartmann’s symphony come to life.

“The symphony calls for handbells and a female choir,” Munguia said. “We are putting together a group of female vocalists that include people from the local Treble Clef Club as well as the Catholic Church.”

Bringing people together was one of the main motivators for Hartmann while writing this symphony. 

“It’s all about being unified under the Higher One, whoever the Higher One is to you,” said Xu. “All there seems to be is politics and disagreement now. Hopefully, John’s work will allow everybody to realize that there is a bigger picture, and that we are one.”

The spiritual theme of this symphony is prevalent through its title and the subtitles of its 11 sections: “In the Beginning,” “Fire,” “Air,” “Festivity,” “The Great Battle in the Heavens,” “Water,” “Earth,” “Spinning Wheel,” “Recapitulation,” “Transfiguration,” and “New Dawn.”

“Hartmann’s wish, like every other composer, hopes his piece will be respected and performed by other orchestras all over the world after it’s premiere at Pittsburg State on Nov. 13,” Munguia said.

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