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Famed composer Gunther Schuller among guest artists at music festival

Jupiter String Quartet
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L. Brian Stauffer

Artists-in-residence Jupiter String Quartet will open the 2013 Allerton Music Barn Festival with two guest artists.

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7/9/2013 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568; rhodes8@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In an effort to make a good thing even better, the perennially popular Allerton Music Barn Festival has been moved from its traditional Labor Day weekend slot to Sept. 19-22 (Thursday through Sunday). Jeffrey Magee, the director of the University of Illinois School of Music, said the shift is mainly an effort to avoid uncomfortable temperatures in the restored 19th-century Dutch hay barn, which is well-ventilated, though not air-conditioned.

Gunther Schuller
Renowned American composer Gunther Schuller will give a pre-concert talk Sept. 19 before the Jupiter String Quartet performs his Quintet for Horn and Strings with Illinois horn professor Bernhard Scully. | Photo by Bachrach

“We have always had good turnouts,” Magee said, “but we want to make sure this remains an audience-friendly event.”

The festival has attracted sold-out crowds since its inception in 2006, and this year’s lineup was selected partly in response to audience tastes. Like last year, the festival will open with the U. of I.’s artists-in-residence, the Jupiter String Quartet, in a concert they have named Jupiter Plus, with two pieces featuring guest artists.  Renowned American composer Gunther Schuller will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. before the quartet performs his Quintet for Horn and Strings with Illinois horn professor Bernhard Scully. Schuller, a former president of the New England Conservatory of Music, has composed more than 180 solo, orchestral, operatic and jazz works. He has won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, a lifetime achievement award from Down Beat Magazine and a Pulitzer Prize for composition. Scully is a former principal horn player for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and toured and recorded with the Canadian Brass.

Wuna Meng, the student winner of the Jupiter Quartet’s inaugural chamber music competition, will join the group for Franck’s Quintet for Piano and Strings. The recipient of the Charles Ross Fellowship at Illinois, Meng was the 2012 Krannert Center Debut Artist and a finalist for the 2011 Artist Presentation Society competition in St. Louis.

On Sept. 20 (Friday), the Illinois Concert Jazz Band, led by Chip McNeill, will observe the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman’s landmark 1938 Carnegie Hall concert – the first jazz performance ever hosted by the holiest of classical concert venues. Sitting in with the band will be clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who played tenor saxophone with Goodman’s band and has collaborated with a range of musicians, including Mel Torme, Madonna, Leon Redbone and Cedar Walton.

“They’ll be playing arrangements from that period, but it’s not going to be an exact re-creation,” Magee said.

The Concert Jazz Band will also play selections from their forthcoming CD of music by baritone sax legend Pepper Adams, who played with Goodman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Donald Byrd.

On Sept. 21 (Saturday), Illinois piano professor William Heiles will perform Bach’s English Suite No. 1 in A major, Schumann’s iconic “Kinderszenen” (“Scenes From Childhood”) and the showy “Carnaval” suite, with 20 short pieces depicting various composers and a few other characters. “It’s kind of a musical party for Schumann’s friends and heroes, imaginary and real,” Magee said.

The rousing response to last year’s Gilbert and Sullivan performance inspired Magee to close this year’s festival with “Of Thee I Sing,” George and Ira Gershwin’s spicy political romp and the first musical to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The book the musical was based on was written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, who collaborated on “Animal Crackers,” starring the Marx Brothers. (Kaufman also wrote “You Can’t Take It With You,” which won the 1937 Pulitzer, and the screenplay for the Marx Brothers movie “A Night at the Opera.”)

Magee described “Of Thee I Sing” as a “kind of zany and madcap” spoof of American presidential campaigns. “It’s George and Ira Gershwin, so of course it’s got great tunes, but it also feels a bit like Gilbert and Sullivan, which people loved last year,” he said. “They’re going to like this at least as much, if not more, because it’s that Gilbert and Sullivan tone and spirit applied to American politics.”

Theater instructor J.W. Morrissette will be the stage director and Aaron Kaplan will be the music director in this joint effort of the School of Music and the department of theatre.

The musical will be presented at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 (Sunday). All other festival performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. Beverages, including wine, will be available an hour before shows and at intermission. Audience members are welcome to bring picnic suppers to enjoy on the grounds outside the barn. Tickets are $27 for adults, $20 for students and senior citizens, and are available through the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts box office, online at www.krannertcenter.com/buytickets or by phone at 217-333-6280 or 800-KCPATIX.

For more information, visit the festival’s website, www.allertonmusicbarn.com. For updates, follow the festival on Twitter (@AllertonMusic) and Facebook.

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