Kirov, Illinois Philharmonic close season with dynamic Tchaikovsky

Sun Apr 15, 2018 at 10:49 am

By Tim Sawyier

Stilian Kirov conducted the Illinois Phlharmonic Orchestra in music of Mahler and Bernstein Saturday night in Palos Heights. Photo: Chuck Moses
Stilian Kirov conducted the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s season finale Saturday night in Palos Heights. Photo: Chuck Moses

The 2017-2018 season has been one of positive changes for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. They have found a stable home venue at Trinity Christian College’s Ozinga Chapel in Palos Heights, and a new music director in Stilian Kirov, appointed after a yearlong search.

On Saturday night the IPO closed its 40th season, with Kirov leading a scintillating performance of a Tchaikovsky warhorse.

As Kirov commented in his opening remarks, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 is one of the composer’s most personal works, and in the ensuing performance the Bulgarian-born conductor demonstrated his own deep engagement with the work’s emotional contours.

Kirov took a spacious approach to the opening movement’s introduction, which created a darkly brooding point of departure for the narrative trajectory toward light and eventual  triumph. The Allegro con anima had an almost dancelike quality, and the IPO brass delivered impressive force where called for.

IPO principal horn Lee Shirer sang the second movement’s horn solo with a burnished tone, and Kirov led the ensuing episodes with an organic ebb and flow, the 33-year-old conductor evincing a deep affinity for this repertoire. Here as throughout principal clarinet Trevor O’Riordan’s solo contributions were a highlight. The Waltz was gracious and light on its feet, with the IPO strings gamely articulating its scherzando passages.

In the finale Kirov again took an expansive view of the stately introduction, which made for a compelling contrast with the orchestral pyrotechnics that followed. The conductor expertly calibrated the balance of Tchaikovsky’s dense contrapuntal textures, though occasionally the overall sonority became somewhat ragged. Conductors seem to struggle with accepting that Tchaikovsky made no indication to change tempo in the Fifth Symphony’s closing measures;  like many, Kirov made the dubious choice to pull the tempo back considerably on the punctuating final notes, which certainly provided emphasis, but not necessarily of the right kind.

Given the high-octane Tchaikovsky the IPO provided, it is easy to imagine that the symphony received most of the orchestra’s limited rehearsal time. Indeed, the first half seemed like a sleepy prelude by comparison.

Dvorak’s Czech Suite received an indifferent reading, with Kirov adopting all-purpose, middle-of-the-road tempi to soporific effect. While he periodically indicated elegant gestures and dynamic changes, the orchestra did not respond as nimbly as it did in the Tchaikovsky, again perhaps a function of how rehearsal time was prioritized.

The world premiere of Iranian-American composer Gity Razaz’s Arizona Dreams opened the concert. Originally written in 2016, Razaz revised the work this year for the IPO. Most of the piece is in a comely, tonal idiom, creating a Copland-esque sense of open space. The pitch in the upper strings was rough going in a central agitato section, but the front desk players delivered some admirable solo turns throughout. The piece is a harmless enough curtain-riser, but made no indelible impression.

At intermission the Leo Michuda IPO Award for Lifetime Service was award to Marilynn Tannebaum. The eponymous award was founded in 2015 and given for demonstrated excellence in leadership, fundraising, and the “Application of Extraordinary Efforts” to the IPO and its community at large. Judging by the praise and ovations she received, Tannebaum was a most deserving recipient.

For information on the IPO’s 2018-19 season, go to 

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Kirov, Illinois Philharmonic close season with dynamic Tchaikovsky”

  1. Posted Apr 16, 2018 at 9:54 am by Montie L Buckle

    This was a thrilling performance. This is much, much more than a ‘community’ orchestra. The quality of the performers and the outstanding performances are a not to be missed event. Maestro Kirov is taking the orchestra and the audience to new heights. Well done IPO!!!

  2. Posted Apr 20, 2018 at 12:08 pm by Howard K

    Incredible performance! The second movement horn solo was of a caliber on par with any of the world’s top orchestra horn principals. I am wishing it was publicly available so it can be shared— is there any chance this performance was professionally recorded and can be made public in some way?

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