ESO preps for season, searches for director

  • The Elgin Symphony Orchestra's 2012-13 Classics Series season will open in September.

    The Elgin Symphony Orchestra's 2012-13 Classics Series season will open in September. Courtesy of the ESO

Updated 2/2/2012 9:59 AM

One of the most hectic periods in the history of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra reaches its conclusion today with the announcement of the 2012-13 Classics Series season, which will open Sept. 8-9 at the Hemmens Cultural Center.

Last June, longtime music director Robert Hanson announced his resignation. The ESO then had to find several guest conductors for the current season -- and had little time to plan next season's schedule of concerts and roster of conductors.


The planning is all in anticipation of naming the orchestra's new music director, an announcement targeted for May 2013. A total of 13 conductors visiting Hemmens this season and next are under consideration.

"I think we have a fantastic array of potential music directors. According to everyone we know in the industry, it's an incredibly talented group," said ESO chief executive officer Dale J. Lonis.

The guest conductors engaged for Classics Series concerts next season on the ESO's list of candidates for music director are, in order of appearance: Dorian Wilson, Rafael Payare, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Donato Cabrera, Alistair Willis, Marcelo Lehninger and Andrew Grams. Among the "final 13," Solzhenitsyn and longtime ESO resident conductor Stephen Squires are conducting both this season and next season, Solzhenitsyn having led last fall's opening Classics Series concerts in September and Squires on the podium for the October 2011 Classics Series concerts, plus two Pops Series and the annual holiday concerts next season.

The remaining five conductors on the list who are conducting this season are Daniel Hege, Jose Luis Gomez, Tania Miller, Jaime Laredo and Victor Yampolsky.

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"We're having Solzhenitsyn back because we got him on short notice for this season's opening concert, but it was an all-Russian concert and the musicians and everyone here felt we'd like to have another look at him doing something that wasn't just Russian music," Lonis said.

Solzhenitsyn, principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor in America and Europe, came aboard last fall on less than two months' notice.

"The fact that we had such a short time to find guest conductors for the current season speaks a lot for the reputation of the orchestra, but also our good relationships with these people," Lonis said. "We had a couple of criteria for this season. First, we decided to go over our guest conductor list from the past 10 years. All guest conductors are rated by the orchestra after they've performed with us, and these were the highest-rated guest conductors of the past 10 years.

"The second criteria was that we wanted to choose people we thought would be interested in the position of music director. So, they had to be both highly rated and also about in the place in their careers that the Elgin Symphony would be a good fit for them."


The guest-conductor list for the 2012-13 season was put together by the ESO search committee, comprised of members of the orchestra, administrators and board members.

"We feel we're looking at a number of rising stars in the profession," Lonis said, "as well as some established people who have not necessarily been involved with American orchestras."

The 2012-13 season opens the weekend of Sept. 8-9 under Dorian Wilson, who has built an international career conducting several of Russia's major orchestras. Currently, he is permanent guest conductor of the St. Petersburg Symphony in Russia.

Wilson will be joined by pianist Joyce Yang for Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," and he will also conduct Sir Edward Elgar's "Enigma" Variations and "Rusty Air in Carolina" by Mason Bates, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead Composer in Residence.

Here are the remaining Elgin Symphony Classics Series concerts for 2012-13:

Oct. 6-7: Andres Franco (who has not applied for the ESO music directorship) will lead a program in celebration of Spanish Heritage Month, including Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico" and works by Silvestre Revueltas, Astor Piazzolla and Arturo Marquez.

Nov. 3-4: Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare will lead a concert featuring Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" overture, American composer Michael Daugherty's "Ghost Ranch" and Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

Jan. 11-13, 2013: Solzhenitsyn's return engagement will feature Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" with violin soloist Jennifer Frautschi, along with Igor Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto for small orchestra.

Feb. 9-10: Conductor Donato Cabrera, who joined the San Francisco Symphony staff in September 2009, and as resident conductor works closely with SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, will lead a choral-orchestral program including Brahms' "Song of Destiny" and Beethoven's "Choral Fantasia," the latter with pianist Alexander Schimpf. Cabrera will conclude with Franz Schubert's "Great C Major" Symphony.

March 8-10: Veteran conductor Alistair Willis will be joined by the instrumental trio Time for Three for American composer Jennifer Higdon's "Concerto 4-3." Willis will close the program with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

April 5-7: Brazilian native Marcelo Lehninger's Elgin Symphony debut will include Haydn's Symphony No. 88, Beethoven's Sixth ("Pastoral") Symphony and Carl Neilsen's Flute Concerto with soloist Amy Porter. Lehninger was appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by former music director James Levine and subsequently earned high praise for several substitute appearances for the ailing Levine, including an acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut in 2011.

May 4-5: The eighth and final Classics Series program of the season will have American conductor Andrew Grams on the podium, with ESO concertmaster Isabella Lippi the soloist in Ralph Vaughan Williams' pastoral tone poem "The Lark Ascending." Grams, who has conducted nearly every major American orchestra including the Chicago Symphony, will conclude his program with Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

Full details for the ESO's 2012-13 Pops Series concerts are still being finalized, with Squires scheduled to conduct two of the four programs, on Nov. 17-18, Jan. 26-27, along with the holiday concerts on Dec. 15-16. The remaining Pops Series programs will be conducted by Matthew Kraemer (Oct. 19-21) and Stuart Chafetz (March 23-24).

The Friday Schaumburg Series will include Classics Series concerts on Jan. 11, March 8 and April 7, along with the Pops Series program on Oct. 19.

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