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Inaugural U. of I. summer festival to feature diverse blend of music

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
217-333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu

musicians inside barn
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Chris Brown
The inaugural Allerton Music Barn Festival will take place Aug. 31 through Sept. 3. Allerton Park, the 1,500-acre former estate of art collector and philanthropist Robert Allerton, is 25 miles southwest of the university campus at 515 Old Timber Road, near Monticello, Ill.

Released 6/27/2007

REPORTERS, EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: A media preview party, which will include a festival overview by organizers along with a music and menu sampler, will begin at 4 p.m. on July 12 at the Allerton Music Barn. R.S.V.P to marketing coordinator Laura Bynum by July 6.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Tanglewood, Spoleto, Aspen … Allerton.

If University of Illinois School of Music director Karl Kramer’s vision becomes reality, the Allerton Music Barn Festival – to take place for the first time Aug. 31 through Sept. 3 at a pastoral site in Central Illinois – could find its own niche on the nation’s cultural map alongside some of the most reputable and best-known summer music festivals.

In the meantime, the pilot version of the School of Music’s Labor Day weekend festival is expected to draw audiences from throughout the Midwest with its eclectic mix of music and culinary accompaniments.

The setting for the festival is the U. of I.’s Allerton Park and Retreat Center – voted one of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois” earlier this year by citizens participating in an Illinois Board of Tourism poll. The 1,500-acre former estate of art collector and philanthropist Robert Allerton is 25 miles southwest of the university campus at 515 Old Timber Road, near Monticello, Ill. It includes a palatial Georgian-style home, formal gardens, statuary and woodlands with miles of hiking trails.

The concert venue is a restored 19th-century Dutch hay barn located near the southeast edge of the park.

exterior of barn
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Chris Brown
A restored 19th-century Dutch hay barn located near the southeast edge of the park is the festival venue.

“Ever since I saw the barn five years ago while wandering around the grounds during an orientation for new faculty at Allerton, I was convinced I could turn it into a concert hall,” Kramer said. “When I stumbled on the barn it was literally filled with junk – old farm implements and concrete statues … and 50 years of pigeon guano.”

The guano was removed through a cleaning process Kramer described as “a baking-soda blasting.” Additional modifications made as part of the structure’s renovation and remodeling process included removing the central spiral staircase and replacing it with sturdy stairs and railings; adding updated electrical service and lighting; and replacing the roof.

Concert seating, which Kramer described as “just like the seats in Carnegie Hall … not attached, but really nice and comfortable,” will be added this summer. The seating will accommodate about 150 guests.

Plans also call for the installation of an elevator in the future to increase accessibility to the second-floor performance space.

This year’s festival will feature four days of programming highlighting a wide selection of musical genres, from American classical and Latin jazz to Balinese gamelan and zydeco. Performers include the 14-piece Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble; Allerton Festival Chamber Orchestra, comprising faculty musicians from the U. of I. School of Music, including members of the Pacifica Quartet; Balinese Wayan Kulit Gamelan Musicians & Puppetry, an ensemble of leading American and Balinese gamelan musicians directed by Gusti Sudarta; and Big Grove Zydeco, a local band with Creole, blues, Cajun and country roots led by U. of I. ethnomusicology professor Tom Turino.

The diversity of music is by no means coincidental.

“The U. of I. School of Music has three main types of music it is known for: Western classical, jazz and ethnic,” Kramer said. They’re the three types of music we’re doing at the festival.”

Admission to the festival, which will range in price from $47 to $51 per day, with a $226 season-pass option, will include a pre-event meal prepared by K-Spear Culinary Arts. The menus – different each day – have been created by Rhonda Killian-Sinkosky, the owner and executive chef of Montgomery’s restaurant in Monticello, to complement each specific musical program.

For example, the menu accompanying the Aug. 31 concert by the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble will feature a Havana market salad; white bean soup with spicy chorizo and kale; roasted pork medallions served with yucca, rice and beans, and tostones (green plantains); and home-made flan (a Cuban custard) with guava reduction. Beverages available for purchase with the meal will include wine and sangria.

Musical programs, menus, directions, information regarding lodging and other events and activities available at the park and the community of Monticello are available at the festival Web site.

trio
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Chris Brown
This year’s festival will feature four days of programming highlighting a wide selection of musical genres, from American classical and Latin jazz to Balinese gamelan and zydeco.
Admission to the festival, which will range in price from $47 to $51 per day, with a $226 season-pass option, will include a pre-event meal prepared by K-Spear Culinary Arts

Tickets are available for purchase online at the festival Web site or through the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts ticket office and Web site, 217-333-6280. Tickets must be purchased in advance; they will not be available at Allerton, though pre-purchased tickets may be picked up at the Music Barn’s “will call” window the day of the performances.

As the festival evolves, Kramer said he hopes to expand it to include an institute or school, similar to those associated with the Tanglewood and Spoleto festivals, he said.

“It would mostly be geared toward college-aged students, and I’m hoping to be able to tie it to the Burgos festival,” he said, referring to the Burgos Summer Chamber Music Festival, which the UI music school initiated in 2006 in conjunction with governmental agencies in Spain’s Castilla y Léon region. “We would start in Champaign, then take participants to Spain for the second half.”

The Burgos festival focuses on classical chamber music for wind and brass. A jazz chamber component may be added next year, Kramer said.

The target date for linking an educational institute to the Allerton festival is summer 2009.

“We want to get a couple of years under our belts first,” Kramer said. “There’s interest among the faculty to extend the number of concerts, so they would be spread over four to five weekends.”

In order to duplicate the success of similar, remote-site music festivals with an educational component, Kramer said community involvement is key.

“An important aspect here is the cooperation from the town of Monticello. We’re trying to pull them in,” he said. “One characteristic of all of the best-known summer music festivals is that they’re more than the music. There’s this unique ambiance of being in a cool town.

“The hope is that by having a festival near Monticello, we’d spur economic development there.”