Natural world inspires lineup of Elgin Symphony season opening concert

Chicago Tribune. Jen Banowetz, writer

Nature has been the catalyst for some grand musical works.

In the spirit of this, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra will open the season with its “Pines of Rome” concert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 and 3 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.

“This concert is largely inspired by nature, particularly with two pieces: (Ottorino) Respighi’s ‘Pines of Rome’ and a new work by Jared Miller, an American/Canadian composer who received a Juno award nomination for the piece that we are going to perform called ‘Under Sea, Above Sky,’” said guest conductor Tania Miller.

Completed in 1924, “Pines of Rome” is a four-movement symphonic poem that paints a musical picture of pine trees in four different places around Rome at various times of day.

“For me it captures the unique perspective that we get when we are immersed with nature,” Miller said. “There are beautiful solos in a distant trumpet or a clarinet that connect us to the soulful experience of being alone with nature; however, there is also the joy of being outside, as the bustling first movement shows us and the buildup of gratitude, majesty and awe that is created by the last movement as we acknowledge the grandness and vastness of the natural world and how small we are inside of it.”

Written almost a century after “Pines of Rome,” Jared Miller’s “Under Sea, Above Sky” was nominated for a Juno Award in 2020 for Classical Composition of the Year.

“I programmed Jared Miller’s work — a new work to me that I haven’t conducted before and am looking forward to presenting in Elgin — because of my desire to connect to the ‘Pines of Rome,’ and the importance of issues we are facing as humans on this beautiful planet to save it, to take care of the environment, and to cherish the nature that protects and supports life,” Miller explained.

“Under Sea, Above Sky” certainly is a timely piece.

“Jared wrote this beautiful work — with the eerie sounds of whales singing performed by three percussionists, and the timpanist performing with chorales on timpani drums, using the pedals to create bending, ethereal sounds — in spring of 2019,” Miller said. “I can’t help but feel, now that we are in 2021 and have gone through the heat waves of this past summer, that the climate crisis and the cautionary tale that Jared wrote about are much more vivid and pressing.”

Fittingly, building on the concert’s Rome theme, the program opens with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” penned in 1880. Rounding out the program is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 1934 “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

“The Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody will be performed by the wonderful (guest) pianist Sara Davis Buechner, who I’ve had the privilege of conducting and working with many times,” Miller said. “The rhapsody is very well known in the repertoire and an audience favorite.”

Buechner has performed in every state and province of North America as well as toured Latin and South America, Europe, and Asia.

“Sara is an extraordinary artist and pianist; I love working with her,” Miller said. “Sara has virtuosic fluidity. She’s a consummate artist (with) exciting, dynamic interpretations.”

One of Miller’s favorite aspects of this concert is the music’s sheer energy and excitement.

“This concert will feel like a celebration — it will feel like we are back, and with an extraordinary bang, from the vibrant and dance-like excitement of the ‘Capriccio Italien;’ the beautiful theme of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Paganini Rhapsody’ in the virtuosic interpretation of the masterful Sara Buechner; an ethereal exploration of the importance of our natural world through Jared Miller; and finally, the grand finale, the eruption of joy, happiness to be performing and expressing music again, the celebration of being together and sharing music, which will be found in the final, rousing, building movement of ‘Pines of Rome.’”

Miller is the first of several guest conductors the Elgin Symphony Orchestra has lined up for the coming year. Since Andrew Gram stepped down as music director this summer, the orchestra has begun the hunt for his successor.

“It’s probably a two-year process,” said Marc Thayer, who took over the reins as the orchestra’s new CEO in July. “This year is a year of guest conductors and old favorites of the orchestra.”

Next year finalists will be returning to conduct as the field is narrowed down.


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