New American work finds favor in mixed outing for Illinois Philharmonic

Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 8:26 am

By Gerald Fisher

Ilya Kaler performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Saturday night with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Frankfort.

One of the largest regional orchestras in the Chicago area, the Illinois Philharmonic, based at the Lincoln-Way Performing Arts Center in south suburban Frankfort, has remained solvent in tough times and appears to be picking up speed with the addition of an internationally experienced young conductor and an eclectic approach to programming.

The new music director, David Danzmayr, offered up a pair of grand old standards spiced with a short piece written as recently as 2011 at Saturday evening’s concert. Opening the program was the Divertimento for Small Orchestra by Lee Actor, an American composer who employs traditional language and tonality to craft dynamic and richly scored works that, judging from the enthusiastic response, connect with audiences immediately.

The ten-minute work is scored for an ensemble made up of winds, brass, timpani and strings, and from the lobby, where this latecomer listened, the Divertimento sounded agreeably tonal and transparent in texture. It built up to a brilliant climax which brought many of the audience to their feet with vigorous applause. Hopefully the enthusiastic reaction will encourage the orchestra to include other accessible contemporary works on future programs.

Next up was the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the redoubtable Ilya Kaler, who could play this work in his sleep. Perhaps a bit of calculation went into programming this barnburner right after the unknown modern work, but it did bring out the numbers and it was rapturously received.

To this listener, however, a better experience was had from Kaler’s performance just two years ago with Alan Heatherington’s Lake Forest Symphony. In comparison to that outing there was some rough going in Saturday’s traversal. Early on there were warnings of approximate tonality in the strings, but all was swept aside when Kaler made his entrance with his usual robust resonance dominating. The hall, a high school auditorium, is not generous to the sound of strings and even Kaler’s tone sounded bleached out by the dry acoustic.

Overall, the piece sounded underrehearsed with smudged passagework by Kaler and missed entrances, but there was undoubted emotional commitment and bravado which brought this inflammable audience to its feet with sustained applause, even after just the first movement.

The rest of the performance was much of the same, with rough spots mixed with lyrical grace. The contributions of flute and clarinet were notable, and Danzmayr supported the soloist in a good balance. The vigorous finale was satisfying if not exactly together at all times.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 92, the Oxford, comprised the last half of the program. Beginning with the suave opening, the peripatetic conductor’s way with this music showed a clarity and briskness that revealed his Austrian roots even though here too there were intonation flaws aplenty.

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