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Beethoven and Brahms in the spotlight | art functions

click to enlarge Beethoven and Brahms are in the limelight

Ludwig van Beethoven played the Piano Concerto No. 4 in 1808, his last public appearance as a soloist.

Maestro Vince Lee stepped into the role of guest conductor for the Illinois Symphony Orchestra last Friday, November 18, with an enjoyable and occasionally rousing concert at the UIS Performing Arts Center. Former ISO music director Ken Lam has left for a position at the Juilliard School in China. Lee is currently the full-time conducting baton for the Ocean City Pops of New Jersey and began conducting professionally at the age of 13.

The mood of the evening was immediately set with a spirited version by Jacques Ibert Homage to Mozart, first presented in 1956 in honor of the great composer’s 200th birthday. The five-minute rondo provided the ISO’s musicians with a superb warm-up and a captivating burst of energy for the audience, with the intricacies of Ibert’s Gallic-tinged evocations of the Austrian master’s effervescent style almost whizzing by before they could fully register.

This set the stage for the arrival of renowned guest pianist Zee Zee (Zhang Zhuo), whose delicate yet powerful presence and breathtaking virtuosity propelled Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major to dizzying heights. (First performed in 1808, the piece was Beethoven’s last public appearance as a soloist.) It was a delight to see Maestro Lee striking the balance between Zee Zee’s almost overwhelmingly beautiful playing and the rigorous demands of the composition, making this an ideal showcase for soloist, orchestra and conductor alike and finally gets the audience on their feet to a long standing ovation.

After the intermission, the evening culminated with a sublime performance of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. When this symphony was first performed in 1876, Brahms had delayed giving the work for years, fearing to disappoint the expectations raised by Robert Schumann’s praise of the young, then unproven composer. No such hesitation was evident in the orchestra’s performance on Friday, which moved confidently through the diverse moods of the symphony’s movements, which ranged from brooding to powerful to transcendent, and again earned a standing ovation.

On the horizon, December promises to be a busy month for ISO, with the second appearance of the season from conductor Rei Hatoda, who will lead an evening of Mozart on December 2nd, followed by the ever-anticipated Holiday Pops in the Heartland concert on December 16th, which will feature a variety of seasonally appropriate music, from Handel’s Messiah to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to the score of Home Alone by John Williams. The 2023-2024 season is looking for the new Permanent Music Director of the ISO.

Scott Faingold is Director of Student Media at the University of Illinois Springfield and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Activator Magazine. He can be reached via [email protected].

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