Sinfonia's next concert to feature world-class pianist, premiere

Sinfonia's next concert to feature world-class pianist, premiere

URBANA – Pianist Menahem Pressler will perform as guest artist at the Sinfonia da Camera concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday that will explore the theme "Classics and Contemporaries." The concert at Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts also will feature the world premiere of a piece by Stephen Taylor.

Pressler, a professor at Indiana University, has performed throughout the years with Sinfonia as both a soloist and as a member of the Beaux Arts Trio. On Saturday, he will perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, a work so compelling that Mozart's pet starling learned to sing the theme.

Taylor's piece, "The Machine Awakes for soprano and chamber orchestra," will feature soprano Amy van Roekel. The work is inspired by University of Illinois writer-in-residence Richard Powers' "Galatea 2.2," a novel exploring artificial intelligence and the relationship between the master and his creation.

The Sinfonia concert will open with Gioacchino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" Overture, a work performed in past Sinfonia seasons, and end with Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D.759, called "The Unfinished Symphony" as only the first and second movements exist.

Pressler, founding member and pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, which recently retired, has established himself among the world's most distinguished and honored musicians, with a career that spans more than five decades.

His career was launched after he won first prize in 1946 at the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco. This was followed by his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Eugene Ormandy.

Since then, Pressler's extensive tours of North America and Europe have included performances with the orchestras of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco, London, Paris, Brussels, Oslo, Helsinki and many others. In 2007, he was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

In 2005, Pressler received two additional awards of international merit: the German president's Deutsche Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) First Class, Germany's highest cultural honor; and France's highest cultural honor, the Commandeur in the Order of Arts and Letters award.

Pressler has received honorary doctorates from the University of Nebraska and the North Carolina School of the Arts, five Grammy nominations, a lifetime achievement award from Gramophone magazine, Chamber Music America's Distinguished Service Award, and the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters. He has was awarded the German Critics "Ehrenurkunde" award and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Van Roekel has been praised by The Washington Post as a "lovely singer and accomplished actress" with "limpid tone and agile high notes." She has sung roles with Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Central City Opera, Chautauqua Opera, the Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia and Metro Lyric Opera in New Jersey.

In recent years, she has been on the roster of American Opera Projects in New York City and is frequently called on to premiere new works.

In 2008, she was involved in "Seance on a Wet Afternoon," a new opera by Grammy and Academy Award-winner Stephen Schwartz; "Opera After Hours," a compilation of several short operas woven together by acclaimed director Christopher Alden at New York City's Zipper Factory Theater; and the world première of "Oresteia," a multimedia opera by Iannis Xenakis performed in ancient Greek at the Miller Theatre in New York City.

Taylor, as associate professor of composition in the UI School of Music, composes music that explores boundaries between art and science. His first orchestra commission, "Unapproachable Light," inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Testament, was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 1996 in Carnegie Hall.

He is also active as a conductor with the UI New Music Ensemble, and as a theorist, he writes and lectures on interactive music, Gyorgy Ligeti, Bjork and Radiohead.

Tickets to the concert are $33 for adults, $32 for senior citizens, $12 for students and $8 for youths.

Call 333-6280 for information.