UI Wind Symphony travels to Carnegie Hall in February

Troy Stanger

By Angela Loiacono

Carnegie Hall, which dates back to 1891, sits on the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. The confines of this historic building have seen the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. The walls have heard the landmark musical pieces of George Gershwin and the world-renowned voice of Frank Sinatra. Some of the world’s most talented and accomplished musicians have taken the stage there, and on Feb. 17, the University of Illinois Wind Symphony will become an addition to the long list of prestigious performers.

For the first time in University history and under the direction of Professor James F. Keene, 62 students from the University’s School of Music will perform a two-hour concert at what has been called the world’s most renowned performance venue.

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“(Carnegie Hall) is the number one concert hall in the world,” said Keene, who has taught at the University for 21 years. “It represents the pinnacle. It is a potential life-changing experience.”

The band contains both undergraduate and graduate students. It is also the highest-ranking ensemble among the University’s 1- band organizations. Keene argues that the University has been one of the top ten music schools in the United States, and that the outstanding faculty attracts gifted students.

As part of the inaugural event for Choice Music Event’s “University Honors” series of concerts, the band secured the famous venue. In an effort to feature the nation’s most outstanding university bands, choirs and orchestras, Choice Music Events invited the band to perform in Carnegie Hall.

“A world-class performance venue is only worthwhile if it plays host to a world-class ensemble,” said Jon Locke, president of Choice Music Events, in a letter to Keene. “Our selection committee could not think of a more qualified group to perform at Carnegie Hall.”

The ensemble has performed a great deal in the past and toured various locations. It has also made several live recordings, the last of which was done in Orchestra Hall at the Symphony Center in Chicago.

For many of the members of the band, performing at the 2,804-seat Isaac Auditorium in Carnegie Hall is a distinguished honor.

“Carnegie Hall, to a musician, is the most reputable thing you can think of as a performance venue,” said Michael Holmes, graduate student and saxophone player in the band. “I think the most exciting thing is to look down the list of all the people who have performed there. You are surrounded by all these great musicians.”

Holmes has plans to earn his doctorate of musical arts and is in his second semester as a member of the band. He believes the Wind Symphony is one of the leading bands in the country and that Keene is skilled in forcing the members to play with gusto.

The band will be leaving Champaign Feb. 13 and returning Feb. 19. They will first travel to a suburb of Chicago to perform at Glenbrook North High School before departing for New York. Once they arrive in the Big Apple, the band will play at various high schools in New York and New Jersey before their culmination performance at Carnegie Hall.

“All of us are very excited,” Holmes said. “By the end of the week, we will be ready to perform there.”

In preparation for the trip, the band will tack on some extra rehearsal time to their three day-a-week rehearsal schedule that has been in place all year.

“It’s a very different kind of focus during rehearsals now,” said Jennifer Nelson, the only piccolo player in the band. “A lot of times (Keene) will say ‘Imagine it in the hall’ and once you hear something like that it reminds you of what you are going for.”

Nelson, dressed appropriately in a New York City t-shirt, began playing the flute in the fifth grade. As she became more serious about music, she joined the Chicago Youth Symphony and is now studying flute performance with the hopes of graduate school to follow.

The band, which will have women dressed in all black and men in tuxedos, is comprised of 14 different musical instruments.

The repertoire, which will, in part, consist of pieces by Percy Grainger and John Corigliano, will conclude with a piece entitled “Illini Fantasy.” This piece will be a rhapsody of all the University songs and will end with “Illinois Loyalty,” the University’s fight song. “Illinois Loyalty” is the first official college fight song and will be celebrating 100 years of existence this March.

“Performing at Carnegie Hall is a really special experience,” Keene said. “For many of these people, it will be a first. But I can tell you, for some of our people it won’t be the last time they will ever play in New York or at Carnegie Hall.”