Danzmayr leads Illinois Philharmonic in dramatic farewell concert

Mon May 09, 2016 at 11:55 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

David Danzmayr conducted the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Sibelius's Symphony No.1 Friday night in Frankfort.
David Danzmayr conducted his final concert with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night in Frankfort.

David Danzmayr is clearly a musician on a career fast track and it was unlikely the charismatic conductor would stay long at the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. And so it proved, with the talented young Austrian leading his final concert as music director of the southwest suburban orchestra Saturday at the Lincoln-Way North Center for the Performing Arts in Frankfort.

Due to his musical gifts and the sheer force of his podium personality, Danzmayr often seemed to push his players to the limits of their capabilities and beyond. His four-year tenure had some remarkable nights–not least a first-class Enigma Variations and an extraordinary Sibelius First Symphony, which proved as atmospheric as it was thrilling. The world premiere of Joshua Roman’s cello concerto Awakening last fall–an IPO commission–was another highlight.

Yet most impressive was Danzmayr’s firm commitment to American music. In his first three seasons, the conductor programmed a homegrown work on every concert of the IPO’s short schedule. That’s a telling legacy–especially when Chicago’s largest music organizations continue to treat American music like the Zika virus.

Unfortunately, Danzmayr was not able to make the personnel moves necessary to upgrade the IPO roster in order to take the ensemble to the next level. Hopefully, his yet-to-be-named successor (see below) will have better luck.

In his final season, Danzmayr has included a 21st-century work on each program, and Saturday’s concert opened with Wolfgang Zamastil’s Passacaglia, the fourth installment in his Archive series. In his amusing program note Zamastil said that he doesn’t like program notes but invited readers to email him if they disagree with his view or would “simply like to talk.” He does state that there is some Piazzolla influence in his Passacaglia and the work is “like a well-known living room with many rooms.”

Despite Zamastil’s offhand comments, Passacaglia is a striking and individual work, with the composer packing a lot into eight minutes. The music begins in hushed tension with barely audible string harmonics punctuated by pointed chords in brass and winds. Lyrical fragments drift by and coalesce with the edgy counterpoint contrasted with a violin solo and surprisingly warm passage for string quartet, before closing in the same quiet tension in which it opened. Zamastil’s Passacaglia maintains a compelling atmosphere of mystery and foreboding, and Danzmayr led the IPO in an effective and concentrated performance.

Lindsay Deutsch
Lindsay Deutsch

Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires may not be the most profound work ever written, but in the hands of violinist Lindsay Deutsch, Piazzolla’s tango riff on Vivaldi (played here in its concertante version) proved an enjoyable solo centerpiece.

Clad in a vernal, backless dress, the violinist brought just the right light and effervescent touch to this Argentinian music. Deutsch leaned into the jaunty, tango-inflected rhythms of the outer movements, threw off the passing Vivaldi cribs with wit and droll humor, struck sparks in the bravura cadenza, and brought melting tenderness to the nocturnal languor of “Summer.” Danzmayer led the IPO strings in mostly polished support with principal cellist Emily Lewis Mantell contributing a rapt cello solo in ‘Spring.”

The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 that concluded the evening and Danzmayr’s tenure was characteristic of his best IPO work, with skillful balancing, firm dramatic cut and unbridled excitement in the closing section.

It was clear that the orchestra players wanted to bid farewell to their popular music director with a strong showing and the inspired performance largely succeeded. While there were a few passing slips and some untidy ensemble from the usually reliable IPO violins, brass and winds rose to the occasion. The opening blast of the brass “fate” theme was gleaming and powerful and woodwind playing was largely solid and often poetic.

Before the concert, the 2016 Ruth D. and Ken M. Davee Excellence in Arts Award was presented to Thomas Zoells. In his acceptance speech, the founder and executive director of PianoForte Chicago and the PianoForte Foundation spoke of the need for early musical education and for exposing children to classical music events at a young age.

The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2016-17 season will be conducted by each of the five finalists for IPO music director. They are Holly Mathieson (October 15), Alastair Willis (November 19), Stilian Kirov (January 21, 2017), Darko Butorac (February 25) and Sean Newhouse (April 8). For program details, go to ipomusic.org.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Danzmayr leads Illinois Philharmonic in dramatic farewell concert”

  1. Posted May 09, 2016 at 3:44 pm by Richard Moutvic

    Having been able to attend only one rehearsal for this last performance of Maestro David Danzmayr, and missing the concert due to family matters, I want to thank David for what he has done for the IPO over the last four seasons. The growth and beauty of the orchestra is a fitting tribute to his leadership, and his interest in bringing classical music to the youth of our area has been deeply appreciated.

    It is with warm regards and great anticipation that I wish David all the best in his future endeavors. I hope he will grace us with a visit in the future as a guest conductor of the IPO.

  2. Posted May 11, 2016 at 1:35 pm by Mike Preddy

    Congratulations to Lindsay and to Concerts Alive!

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