John Frayne | Three is convincing at the UI Symphony concert | The music
Three pieces, three composers, three conductors, one orchestra: that was the program for the concert of the UI Symphony Orchestra at the Foellinger Great Hall on March 11. Works performed at this concert were previously announced for the February 9 concert, but due to COVID-19 and weather issues, these performances had to be postponed.
The first work on the program was “Overture to a Drama” by 14-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The title is something of a tease. Like many other overtures titled around 1900, this is not the overture to a known drama or opera.
I had never heard this piece before in a concert hall. Given Korngold’s well-known marks in his other orchestral works and particularly in his film scores, this ‘opening’ turned out to be what I expected; he was full of dynamic, soaring melodies, dramatic contrasts and, even at 14, a sure hand at handling a large orchestra à la Richard Strauss. David Štech, a doctoral student at UIUC, conducted the student-performers of the UI Symphony Orchestra with assured professionalism. Mr. Štech, active in the New York area, has conducted many orchestras in various countries.
From an unknown piece by Korngold, the concert continues with a piece that will be among the most famous American classical music of the 20th century (in the Classic FM survey, it ranks 13th). I mean, Aaron Copland’s ballet “Appalachian Spring,” written for Martha Graham, and first performed in 1944. The orchestral suite, first heard in 1945, was performed on this program. This piece is one of those that are overexposed on the radio, but it is underexposed on the concert stage. When heard with full attention at a concert, its beauties shine with a particular freshness, from the pellucid calm of the opening clarinet solo, through thrilling episodes, to the famous series of variations on Shaker’s tune, “‘Tis a gift to be Easy.” Along with the woodwind solos, the strings stood out in the more complex contrapuntal sections, and all went well under the assured guidance of Nathan Sawyer, a graduate student at the UIUC School of Music. He is currently director of the UI Symphony Orchestra.
The program ended with one of Leonard Bernstein’s most popular concert pieces, “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’.” (In the classic FM charts cited above, the song “America” from “West Side Story” tops the list.) This musical was Bernstein’s greatest Broadway triumph, and it has become even better known. in the famous 1961 film. And now a new cinematic version fills the cinemas.
In this compilation of segments for Jerome Robbin’s choreography, Bernstein’s music reflects his intense interest in American popular culture, and the “Mambo” section shows the composer’s immersion in the racial mixes of New York cultures. In “Mambo”, as elsewhere, the percussionists were particularly impressive. William Eddins, director and conductor of the UI Symphony Orchestra, conducted this music as in the born way. He went all out in the loud, razor-sharp sections, and he brought out the healing melody “Somewhere” in high relief, which offered a dark but hopeful ending to this piece and this concert. . Loud applause greeted the efforts of the players and conductors.
At 7:30 p.m. on April 20 at FGH, the conductors of the UI Chamber Orchestra will be William Eddins and graduate student conductor David Štech, and the works to be performed will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture, the Concerto in Eb by Igor Stravinsky. Dumbarton Oaks”, and Eddins will perform as soloist in Wolfgang Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466.
On April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the FGH, the UI Symphony Orchestra, Oratorio Society, and chamber singers, conducted by Andrew Megill, will perform Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem,” with soloists Courtenay Budd, soprano, and Nathan Gunn, baritone. Also on the program is the world premiere of a work, whose title will be announced, by UIUC composition professor Reynold Tharp.
John Frayne hosts “Classics of the Phonograph” on Saturdays on WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at UI. He can be contacted at [email protected]