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U. of I. Symphony to play in Orchestra Hall, home of Chicago Symphony

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


view from above of the U. of I. Symphony Orchestra
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy U. of I. School of Music
The U. of I. Symphony Orchestra will take the stage at Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony on Nov. 19.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When University of Illinois School of Music director Karl Kramer learned that the National Association of Schools of Music was holding its annual meeting in Chicago this fall, it was music to his ears.

“Once every six or seven years, the association meets in Chicago,” Kramer said. “But they don’t have music at the convention – on purpose, because they don’t want to appear to favor one school over the other.”

Yet Kramer knew that Chicago would provide an extraordinary opportunity to showcase the talents of the U. of I. School of Music for a captive audience, as well as for alumni, friends and other supporters. So the music school director booked one of its best ensembles – the U. of I. Symphony Orchestra – to play in what is arguably the best venue in the nation’s third-largest city.

At 8 p.m. on Nov. 19, the symphony, conducted by Donald Schleicher, will perform in Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On the first half of the program is Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, with U. of I. music professor Ian Hobson at the piano; the second half will showcase the orchestra in a performance of Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112, by Shostakovich.

“We have been rebuilding our string program since I came here (in 2002),” Kramer said. “That’s been a priority. So this is our opportunity to say, ‘We’re back … and ready to show off what we’ve got.’

“And what we’ve got is a great program. The student performers are outstanding, and the instruction is top drawer.”

Noteworthy among more recent additions to the U. of I. string faculty, he said, is the Pacifica Quartet. In residence at the music school since 2003, Pacifica is regarded as one of the most vibrant and innovative quartets performing and commissioning new music.

Kramer said that while the symphony concert will appeal to a broad, general audience, he expects it will be of special interest to one particular cross-section of NASM members with ties to the U. of I.

“Three years ago we (NASM) did a study of all directors and deans in the organization,” Kramer said. “Of 683 members, 68 were Illinois (School of Music) graduates. That’s 10 percent of the leadership at U.S. schools of music. And that’s far and above all others – and virtually unheard of.”

U. of I. Symphony conductor and music director Schleicher, who also is the chair of the music school’s orchestra division, said the opportunity for his students to perform at Orchestra Hall is “on one hand, a feather in our cap. On the other hand, the pressure for us to perform at our best will be  intense because we will be playing for people who know the difference. These are people for whom we want to put our very best foot forward.”

Schleicher is convinced the 90-member ensemble is well up to the task.

“This is the most experienced orchestra of the three on campus,” he said, noting that its members include a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, most of whom are music majors.

“It is a proud team that combines professional level artistry with youthful energy and great spirit.”

While Schleicher, who also conducts the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, said the opportunity to play Orchestra Hall is undeniably “an honor and a privilege,” he said that U. of I. student musicians are no strangers to performing in a prime venue.

“Our hall here – the Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts – is terrific as well.”

Still, he said, “playing at Orchestra Hall will be like going to the Final Four.”

Tickets for the Orchestra Hall concert range in price from $15 to $40 and are available by calling the Chicago Symphony Orchestra ticket office at 312-294-3000 or online.

A preview concert – on the home court – will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Krannert Center on Nov. 15. Tickets cost $8 (senior citizens, $6; students, $2)  and are available through the center’s ticket office, 217-333-6280;