John Frayne: Audience shows love to UI Symphony, guests
On Sunday afternoon, the concert by the University of Illinois Symphony, conducted by Donald Schleicher, had an interesting structure. It began and ended with music depictions of the great legendary lover of Seville, Don Juan, who first appeared in a drama by Tirso de Molina, published in 1630.
The concert began with the Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," and the program ended with Richard Strauss' 1889 tone poem "Don Juan."
The Mozart overture was conducted by Matthew Sheppard, who is pursuing his doctorate in conducting with Schleicher.
Sheppard led a dynamic and exciting interpretation, and the orchestra drove at a lively clip to this piece's climax, imitating the Don's drive to self-destruction.
The second work on the program was the famous Concerto for Violin by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The soloist, Sung Hee Shin, is from Korea, where she has won many prizes.
After arriving in this country in 2010, she earned a master's degree at the Eastman School, and she now studies with UI violin Professor Stefan Milenkovich.
From her opening entry in this concerto, Shin played Tchaikovsky's famous melodies with a lush, full string tone. The more dramatic virtuosic passages she attacked with fearless vigor, and she and the orchestra with Schleicher in firm command engaged in most exciting volleys back and forth.
Shin's left-hand runs on the violin bridge were a joy to watch. Her playing of the first movement cadenza was brilliant, and after the movement's thrilling finish, many in the audience applauded, and a few stood.
Tchaikovsky's music begs for such a response. Shin evoked much pathos while playing the melancholic strains of the concerto's middle movement, and in the racing finale, she and the orchestra built up to a most exciting climactic finish.
Amid cheers, and loud applause, most stood in appreciation of Shin's impressive performance.
There were detailed notes by Alan Schwab in the program bulletin on the Tchaikovsky concerto, but nothing on the next piece — except the name of the composer, Derek Bermel, the title, "A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace," and names of the movements, in Hungarian.
I looked up the composer and the work before the concert and learned the inspiration of this piece. Bermel had read up on the thoughts and feeling of the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok as he came in exile to New York in 1940. Bermel imagined how strange and overwhelming New York must have seemed to Bartok.
The Hungarian title of the first movement translates as "Americanized," and it is an explosive collage of various musical styles, beginning with what sounded like an Eastern European folkdance.
With copious percussive sounds, and detached musical fragments, I thought I heard some klezmer passages, as well as characteristic Latin rhythms.
The conductor of this piece was Filippo Ciabatti, a young man from Italy who is study-ing with Schleicher in the university's DMA program.
Ciabatti conducted the Bermel work with precise beat that held together the UI Symphony through some complex passages in which many threads were going in many directions.
The Bermel work calms down considerably in the middle movement, entitled "Night Music." In this section concertmaster Erika Zelada played well an evocative violin solo.
The third movement of the Bermel work, entitled "Goes," has many lovely atmospheric moments and exotic timbres as it settles down to an elegiac conclusion.
Bermel's evocation of the composer Bartok suggests that at last he had settled into New York, where he, albeit a sick man, was able to write one of his masterpieces, his Concerto for Orchestra.
Schleicher came back to the podium for the Strauss piece, the work that began the composer's march to world fame. The orchestra under Schleicher created mighty surges of sound, expressing the amorous exploits and disillusionments of the Great Lover. The horns blazed forth the mighty triumphal theme of Don Juan, victorious in love, just before his bitter end.
During the hefty applause at the work's end, Schleicher called for bows from the players of the oboe and violin solos. Schleicher then called for bows from various sections. The brass, as one might expect in a Strauss work, got lively applause.
The next concert by the UI Symphony is scheduled for Nov. 14. Guest artists Jerry Siena and Elliot Chasanov will be heard in Igor Stravinsky's "In Memoriam Dylan Thomas." There will be also a Rossini Overture ("The Silken Ladder"), William Bolcom's Double Quartet, and Mozart's Symphony No. 29.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.