The Illinois Symphony Orchestra closed out its 2018-2019 season with “Nature’s Beauty,” a soaring and varied concert at Sangamon Auditorium on Saturday, May 4. ISO executive director Trevor Orthmann, in his opening remarks, accurately described the program as encompassing both “some of the most beautiful and most bombastic” music.
The evening’s music started with the upbeat and intricate five-minute “D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring Morning)” by Lili Boulanger, an underappreciated French composer who died at the age of 24. The piece acted as something of a prelude or warm-up, a shot of energy before the more challenging and ambitious work to come.
The guest violinist, renowned virtuoso Rachel Barton Pine, joined the orchestra for Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (1881). The piece was written at the request of contemporary Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate – “a piece of Scottish music written by a German for a Spaniard,” in the words of Pine – and the ISO’s performance was rollicking and spirited with jaunty and authoritative work from Pine, largely in conjunction with the prominently featured harp of Julia Kay Jamieson.
When Pine returned to perform an encore medley of authentic Scottish fiddle music, she brought along another violinist from the wings – her seven-year-old daughter, Sylvia. (Pine made her professional debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 10). Rachel appeared proud and pleased while the look of concentration on Sylvia’s face belied a gradual build to a joyful crescendo. The surprise mother-daughter fiddle duo managed to be both adorable and formidable, bringing the traditional jigs and reels to life. It was a treat the audience devoured happily.
After intermission, the elder Pine rejoined the orchestra for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” which proved to be an almost overwhelmingly delicate and gorgeous setting for the soloist to shine outside of the mode of Scottish folk melodies. The ending of the piece, which featured Pine playing unaccompanied, left the audience breathless.
Perhaps the only way to follow up such heart-stopping beauty is with a counterpoint of raw frenzy, and the evening came to a close with the wild and woolly “Pini de Roma (Pines of Rome)” (1924) by Respighi, which gave the members of the ISO a chance to cut loose. The bass section in particular seemed to be having a great time with the driving rhythms of the piece, which also featured various percussive elements and recordings of actual birdsong. At one point, the always ebullient ISO music director seemed almost to be jitterbugging while conducting the various simultaneous pieces. A well-deserved standing ovation followed, the entire program setting a high bar looking toward an exciting 2019-2020 season.
Scott Faingold is director of student media at University of Illinois Springfield, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine Activator and lead vocalist for post-punk band Epsom. He can be reached at email@example.com.