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The end of the UIUC semester is crunch time for everybody, including the students who play in the UI Symphony Orchestra. At the beginning of the Tuesday, Dec. 7 concert, conductor William Eddins spoke briefly of the efforts to bring off a concert which joins the talents and work of the UI Oratorio Society and the UI Symphony. His remedy seemed to be “Relax and enjoy the music,” and so we did!

Two works by the greatly talented but short-lived (1893-1918) Lily Boulanger began the concert. First came her 1916 setting of Psalm 24 (“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it ...”). Boulanger’s setting involves a richly ornate and resounding hymn of praise, which drew enthusiastic singing from the Oratorio Society, and opulent playing from the UI Symphony’s brass and percussion sections. The singing by tenor Hector Camacho Salazar stood out in the brief solo.

The other Boulanger work, the 1914 “Old Buddhist Prayer,” begins with quiet reflective singing, and the Oratorio Society warmly expressed the text message of universal love for all mankind, including the curious phrase, “Aryans and non-Aryans.” Tenor Esteban Valentin-Martinez eloquently sang the solo part, and all joined in the celebratory ending. With clear gestures, conductor Eddins led a well unified performance of both works. The Oratorio Society singers wore masks, and that perhaps led to the French texts sounding blurred and hard to follow.

If fate cut Lily’s life short, it gave longevity to her older sister, Nadia, who died in 1979 at the age of 92. Aside from a lifetime of teaching music, Nadia tirelessly promoted the works of her sister, Lily.

The original announcement for this concert called for Jean Sibelius’ Second Symphony to end the program. In shortening the length of the concert, a work by a little-known composer, Paule Maurice (1910-1967), was performed instead of the Sibelius work. Maurice was a close friend of the famous French saxophone player Marcel Mule (1901-2001), and her 1963 work, “Tableaux de Province” (“Pictures of Province”), written for Mule, is a sort of virtuoso concertino for alto saxophone and orchestra (also for piano). The soloist in the Maurice work was Jack Thorpe, who has earned degrees in Georgia and Texas, and is now working toward a doctoral degree at UIUC, studying with Professor Debra Richtmeyer. The music of the Maurice piece is graceful and songful, and soloist Thorpe played the lyric sections with sweet tone, and he mastered the fast movements with assured aplomb. Graduate student conductor Nathan Sawyer, with a firm, precise beat, provided secure support for soloist Thorpe. The titles of the movements of the Maurice work were in the Provençal language. If they had been translated, we would have known that the finale, called “Lou Cabridan,” meant “The Bumblebee,” which it sounded like.

If the French text of the first part of the concert was hazy, the Latin text of Francis Poulenc’s 1960 “Gloria” was as clearly etched as a Roman inscription. According to Poulenc, he was inspired to write the “Gloria” while composing his late masterpiece, the opera “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”

The Oratorio Society singers excelled in the sparkling light-hearted passages, matched by alert and bright hued playing by the UI Symphony players. The soloist in the “Gloria” was Anika De Long, who is working for her master’s degree here at UIUC, studying with Professor Yvonne Redman. De Long’s plangent mezzo-soprano singing was outstanding throughout, but especially in the end, when her voice floated above the ensemble, as she repeated the words “Miserere nobis.” The end of the “Gloria” sparked hefty applause, as conductor Eddins knocked fists with singer De Long. Then there was a surge of applause as Oratorio Society conductor Andrew Megill came on stage to applaud the performance, and to join the others in receiving the enthusiastic reaction by us in the audience.

If you would like to enjoy this fine concert, “UI Symphony Orchestra and Oratorio Society” on YouTube. The concert was beautifully photographed, with closeups as well as distant shots.

John Frayne hosts ‘Classics of the Phonograph’ on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. He can be reached at frayne@illinois.edu.

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