Polished Lake Forest Symphony, improved Evanston Symphony Orchestra perform
Updated: October 23, 2012 1:58PM
Two area orchestras played over the weekend, the fully professional Lake Forest Symphony and the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, which was established as a volunteer organization and is determined to remain a community ensemble.
Lake Forest Symphony
A pair of concerts, the second in the Lake Forest Symphony’s current season, was presented Friday and Saturday evenings in the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts at the College of Lake County in Grayslake. Titled “Virtuosic Trumpet,” the program included the area premiere of the Concerto No. 1 for Trumpet by James Stephenson, a resident of Lake Forest.
For this piece the symphony’s music director and conductor Alan Heatherington ceded the baton to Stephenson, so the composer could conduct his own piece. Soloist was Jeffrey Work, principal trumpet of the Oregon Symphony, and Stephenson’s friend from the days when they both playing trumpet at Interlochen summer music amp in Michigan.
“I wrote the second movement to show off his terrific technique,” Stephenson told the audience Friday night prior to the performance.
It certainly did, but not until after the first movement explored the gentle lyricism that the trumpet can deliver, when given the right music.
The music opened in a lovely mist, with the symphony’s French horn players emerging as partners to the soloist. Work’s playing was graceful and honey-filled, but also bright, cutting like a laser through the soft but dense flood of music from the orchestra.
Stephenson’s concerto was tender and clear, quixotic at times, yet solid, packed with colors and deft shading. It was decidedly fresh and contemporary, but not the least bit alienating. As promised, the second movement was a dazzler, challenging the trumpeter to show his skill. At one point accompaniment seemed to almost fade away and Work had time for a mini-cadenza.
This 21st century concerto was bracketed by two 19th century pieces: Rimsky-Korskov’s Overture on Russian Themes, which included a Russian folk tune “Glory,” which Tchaikovsky also used in his “1812 Overture” two years later; and Symphony No. 4 by Brahms.
Conducted by Heatherington, the Lake Forest Symphony and especially its strings glided through the overture’s filagreed melodies, which were slow and stately, subtle yet also strong.
The Brahms Fourth is one of the best known symphonies in the standard classical repertoire. The musicians of the Lake Forest Symphony gave it a polished and powerful performance, propelling it to a monumental finale.
Evanston Symphony Orchestra
It is impossible to overemphasize the improvement that Maestro Larry Eckerling has made in the Evanston Symphony Orchestra since he took over as music director a decade ago.
With such advances, of course, come heightened expectations, but the opening concert of the ESO’s 67th season fulfilled them admirably.
The program was titled Viennese Masterworks because each composition had its premiere in Vienna. Held Sunday afternoon Oct. 21 at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern University’s Arts Campus, the program opened with a fine performance of the Overture to Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” The composer’s music is nothing if not transparent, but Eckerling’s ensemble delivered it skillfully, from the initial three majestic chords to the finale when they gracefully return.
The soloist in Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 for piano and orchestra was Matthew Hale. He is not only known as violinist Rachel Barton Pine’s principal accompanist, but also as a teacher at the Music Institute of Chicago and an international soloist in his own right.
His approach to the concerto was a thoughtful one. He was not afraid to linger over the sweet sounding passages, allowing space between the notes and phrases, giving us time to appreciate Beethoven’s melodies before moving on. He has a secure technique, which allowed him to whip through the trills and bombast that the composer demands.
Eckerling and his musicians were sensitive collaborators, but also more than equal the Beethoven’s wild Rondo which concluded the concerto.
Brahms’ Second Symphony ended the concert.
After a rough opening, the orchestra pulled together and began to demonstrate the dexterity of its woodwinds and the shining texture of its brass. The piece becomes quite melancholy in the second movement, and it was then the strings explored their transporting power. Throughout, concertmaster Julian Arron ably demonstrated why he is in the first chair.