A Year of Exceptional Performances and Fruitful Collaborations

University Chorus and University Symphony Orchestra

University Chorus and University Symphony Orchestra

The 2008-09 Performance Program season offered the variety, quality and inventive musicianship audiences and performers alike have come to expect from the Department of Music. This year presented many distinctive opportunities and gainful collaborations, including concerts and master classes with world-renowned musicians (such as Artists-in-Residence including eighth blackbird, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Pacifica Quartet), performances of works by graduate student composers, and collaborations with some of the world’s groundbreaking scholars and musicians. The fourteen university ensembles, chamber, and piano programs forged ahead in a thrilling year filled with myriad combinations of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental performances in a broad repertoire encompassing music from the Renaissance to today, European and non-Western, canonic as well as new or unknown works.

Annual staples of the fall calendar kicked off the season with momentum: first the fun-filled collaborative effort of the University Symphony (conducted by Barbara Schubert) and University Chorus and Motet Choir (James Kallembach, director) in the costumed Halloween concert, Legends of Fright; plus University Chorus’ presentation of Handel’s Messiah. Notably, the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and Motet Choir also honored Rev. Elizabeth J.L. Davenport with an interfaith musical celebration to install her as the new Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in November. The autumn quarter ended brilliantly with the University Symphony Orchestra’s realization of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major (“Emperor”). Inspired soloist April Mok, one of three 2008 Concerto Competition winners and graduate student in the Music Department, electrified audiences with her interpretation of this renowned work. Pieces by Hindemith and Corigliano were also featured.

Motet Choir performs at Symphony Center

Motet Choir performs at Symphony Center

Selections for the winter quarter calendar privileged performances of 20th-century composers, from Elliott Carter to Àstor Piazzolla – programmed not only by groups such as the New Music Ensemble, but by a variety of ensembles showcasing the significance and appeal of modern music. The Motet Choir and Rockefeller Chapel Choir performed the world premiere of Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme by Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström. In June, the choirs contributed an encore performance of the piece in addition to performances with Thomas Weisflog, organist and Wylie Crawford on carillon for the Albert Schweitzer Legacy: A Musical Gala, a concert honoring Schweitzer’s contributions as concert organist, philosopher-historian and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Emphasizing the continuities between modern composition and early music practices, the Motet Choir also performed From the New World: a contribution to the Echoes of Nations Festival at the Chicago Symphony Center. For that program, selections of Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria were juxtaposed with works of contemporary composers such as Juan Orrego-Salas and Eric Whitacre. Finally, no winter quarter could be complete without the theatrical stylings of the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company. This year featured the supernatural fairy tale Ruddigore, performed with the University Chamber Orchestra led by conductor David Cubek.

Edgar Meyer; Photo by Jimmy Lenner Jr.

Edgar Meyer; Photo by Jimmy Lenner Jr.

The busy spring symbolized the culmination of the efforts and programs developed throughout the academic year. The Middle East Music Ensemble, directed by Issa Boulos, ended their season with a concert of music from Tehran in April. The Early Music Ensemble, directed by Newberry Consort members David Douglass and Ellen Hargis, presented “Carnival in 16th and 17th-century Venice”. The Central Javanese Gamelan in conjunction with Friends of the Gamelan concluded its season with an eclectic program of traditional and contemporary slendro compositions. The spring quarter also provided graduate student composers with the opportunity to feature their compositions at Contempo’s Tomorrow’s Music Today concerts featuring works by student composers Alex Berezowsky, Andres Carrizo, Fusun Koksal and Steve Winfield. Director Mwata Bowden also underscored the abilities of graduating students in the final Jazz X-tet concert in June, Spring is Here! by focusing the concert on solos by them. Luminary classical bassist and composer Edgar Meyer joined the Music Department in April in a virtuosic tour de force performed with the University Symphony Orchestra, beginning with his own arrangement of Giovanni Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2 in B Minor for Contrabass and following it with another concerto of his own composition, Concerto No. 1 in D Major for Double Bass. Combined with a solo recital accompanied by pianist Amy Dorfman and a Master Class, Meyer’s performances marked a fruitful residency with the Music Department.

This May proved especially interesting for performances that highlighted the re-establishment of a past ensemble, the Women’s Chorale, directed by Elizabeth Swanson, and capped the twentieth season of the University Wind Ensemble, directed by Wayne Gordon. The final highpoint of the performance season was the annual Cathy Heifetz Memorial Concert. This year’s concert featured Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1, A Sea Symphony, performed with the University Symphony Orchestra, University Chorus, Motet Choir and the Grand Prairie Singers of Park Forest, Illinois with renowned soloists Kimberly Jones, soprano, and baritone Thomas Hall. The scope and power of the program coupled with the hard work and dedication of all performers involved proved a fitting tribute to honor the rich life of music student Cathy Heifetz (1949-76).

Many well-deserved thanks go out to all the Artists-in-Residence and performance instructors, for their performances as well as the private coaching opportunities they offer; to the directors and coordinators of the numerous ensembles we support; and most of all to the students and other members of the university community involved in the Performance Program.

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