UI Symphony to showcase refined talent at Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s home

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

The University of Illinois Symphony, the top ensemble in the School of Music orchestra program, will play in Orchestra Hall in Chicago. Orchestra Hall, which houses the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is one of the most well-known performance venues in Chicago.

The Nov. 19 performance, which will feature Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, with music professor Ian Hobson playing the piano solo, and Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112 by Shostakovich, will coincide with the National Association of Schools of Music annual meeting to be held in Chicago.

Karl Kramer, director of the School of Music, said that this performance will be a good way to showcase the strides the string program has made since the music department started working to revamp it four years ago.

Kramer said that new professors have helped change the program, which “is attracting more and better students.”

Don Schleicher, director of the University of Illinois Symphony and chair of the orchestra division, said that the pieces the ensemble plans to play provide strong contrast.

“It’s a nice pairing,” he said. “They’re completely different.”

He described the Brahms piece as an “Olympian majesty,” while he said the Shostakovich symphony has a lot of Russian influence.

“It’s very emotional, very dramatic,” Schleicher said of the symphony, adding that he chose the piece because this year marks the 100th anniversary of Shostakovich’s birth.

Kramer said that the decision to play at Orchestra Hall has as much to do with the students as it does with promoting the school’s reputation.

Schleicher said that the caliber of the musicians will ensure the concert’s success.

“Each year, we have a winning team,” Schleicher said. “But this year we have another notch of great spirit.”

The University of Illinois Symphony plays eight to nine concerts per year, with three weeks to prepare for each concert. The group practices three times per week for two hours. The 90-member ensemble is comprised of mostly music majors and graduate students.

Patrick Mangan is one of only two or three non-music majors in the symphony. Mangan, senior in Engineering, plays viola in the group.

“We’ve only been preparing for three weeks,” he said. “But we’ve been working intensely.”

He said that while the ensemble has the same amount of time to prepare for this concert as any other concert, there is a difference in the concentration level.

“We all know it’s going to be a bigger deal, so we’re taking it more seriously,” said Mangan, a Chicago-area native who said his family plans to attend the Orchestra Hall performance. “The whole orchestra is kind of nervous.”

Mangan said that the group is anxious about more than the venue. He expects that many members of the National Association of Schools of Music will be in the audience. “We’re going to have a pretty critical crowd,” he said.

In addition to the Orchestra Hall concert, the ensemble will play at York and Neuqua Valley High Schools in the Chicago suburbs and the Merit School of Music, a performing arts school in Chicago.

Schleicher encouraged students to come see the orchestra concert on campus or in Chicago.

“The orchestra belongs to the University just like the football team or the basketball team,” Schleicher said. If the orchestra were an athletic team, he said, “I think we’d win the NCAA title each year.”

The Orchestra Hall performance will be at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19. Tickets cost $15 to $40. The group also will hold a preview concert at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the Krannert Center. Tickets cost $8 for general admission, $2 for students and $6 for senior citizens.