A celebration of life: Jakub Rostik

Kristen Grimmer

The Washburn Symphony Orchestra programs a series of concerts each semester for the community and university to enjoy. However, one concert this semester will carry special meaning for all involved.

Norman Gamboa, director of the Washburn University orchestra, has dedicated this particular concert to former Washburn student Jakub Rostik. Gamboa said he picks themes when he selects pieces for the orchestra to play throughout the year and this entire concert is centered on Rostik’s life and his dedication to music.

All of the pieces selected to play have some tie to the Czech Republic, Rostik’s home country.

The Oct. 16 concert has been appropriately named A Celebration of Life in the light of the tragedy. As if to do just what the title suggests, Clara Zhang, the soloist for this concert, will be joining the orchestra for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15.

“What better way to follow with that idea than to show a graduate of Washburn University who is successful in her music career after leaving the university,” said Gamboa.

This concert will also include guest conductor Thomas Taylor Dickey, a doctoral candidate from the University of Georgia.

Gamboa, who is in his sixth season at Washburn University as the director of music and conductor for the Washburn Symphony Orchestra and the Washburn String Orchestra, first met Rostik right after he had arrived in the United States. Rostik played trumpet and also participated in orchestra.

In early summer 2009 Rostik, who was studying music while attending Washburn, died in a car accident. Rostik was 23 years old when he was killed by a moving car in Concordia, Mo. on May 31, 2009.

“Rostik and I both had a lot in common because when we first arrived in this country we both spoke zero English,” said Gamboa. Rostik lived with Gamboa for two months when he first came to Topeka until a host family had been arranged for him and because of this they were able to establish a strong professor/student relationship.

Gamboa is a tall man with short black hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. Originally from Costa Rica, he speaks with a Hispanic accent. He understood what it was like for Rostik, and the challenges he faced with the language barrier and making a new life for himself.

“Jakub was the most dedicated student we had in the department,” said Gamboa. “He was probably the most humble, honest and authentic person I’ve ever met.”.

Gamboa remembers how Rostik lived an uncomplicated life and how he could relate to anyone. “If anyone needed help, he would try to do what he could for them and I always admired him for that,” said Gamboa.

Austin Abernathy, a cellist who studied music along with Rostik, said he was one of the most hard-working people he knew.

“Jakub knew his music and he was always the first one to orchestra rehearsal in the morning,” said Abernathy.

Gamboa has planned to let the Topeka community experience the music for the Celebration of Life concert first, but then the other three pieces have been scheduled to go on tour.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13 and Wednesday, Oct. 14 the Washburn Symphony Orchestra will be performing at Garden City Community College and Fort Hays State University respectively.

This tour is a sequel to the one the orchestra embarked upon three years ago.

“Garden City actually requested that we come again,” said Gamboa. He is happy to see that the orchestra has started to outgrow just the community and is now reaching out at the state-wide level. “It’s great publicity for the orchestra and really helps to recruit new music students for Washburn,” he said.

The last tour included only 23 orchestra members. Gamboa is excited this time because he’s taking all 59 members of the Washburn Symphony Orchestra, along with guest conductor Dickey and French horn soloist Curt Vellenga.

“What a lot of people don’t realize or see is that a group like this is as far away as you can get from a typical classroom setting,” said Gamboa. “The logistics for this trip are so enormous that in order to make sure things go well I’ve asked the guest conductor to go with us.”

Instead of the Beethoven piano concerto, Gamboa has programmed the Concerto for Horn in D Major, K 412, by Mozart. Vellenga, who has been at Washburn University as the French horn instructor for four years now, has chosen to play a reconstructed version of the second movement from this piece since it was originally finished by Mozart’s student rather than the master himself.

Vellenga said he is excited to play Mozart and to have a chance to do something exciting with the orchestra and the music it will be playing.

The Washburn Symphony Orchestra will perform a Celebration of Life at White Concert Hall Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. It will also be at Garden City Community College on Oct. 13 and Fort Hays State University on Oct. 14.