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Article posted: 11/15/2013 1:14 PM

Northwest Festival Orchestra to celebrate Verdi, Wagner birthdays

By James Kane

In 1813, two composers were born, one in Germany, the other in Italy, who would transform opera and remain titans of the form 200 years later.

The bicentennial is sparking performances of the works of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner around the world this year, including in the Northwest suburbs.

The Northwest Festival Orchestra is planning a concert Sunday, Nov. 24, at Harper College to celebrate their contributions to the world of music and opera.

"This is an extremely ambitious undertaking," Dr. Verne Schwager, music director and resident conductor, said of the Verdi/Wagner 200th Birthday Bash!, which required obtaining soloists and a choir to perform with the orchestra. "Nothing like this have ever been attempted in the Northwest suburbs."

The concert will be at 4 p.m. in the college's Building J Theatre. The admission charge is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.

Among soloists with the orchestra for the event will be Susan Dennis, soprano, and Oscar Menoyo, tenor, who performed with the Elgin Opera.

The orchestra, vocalists and chorus will perform a selection of Verdi and Wagner opera excerpts from "Aida," "Rigoletto," "Lohengrin" and "Die Meistersinger."

Dennis has collaborated in the past with the Northwest Festival Orchestra.

"It is wonderful to have the Northwest Festival Orchestra perform works from both these incredible Romantic composers here in the Northwest suburbs," she said.

The music is challenging and rewarding, and it's an achievement to have a local orchestra capable of producing it, she said.

"The orchestral music is very complex and intricate. It requires the voice and orchestra to be in precise synchronization," she said. "The Chicago area has very talented classical singers in our midst. It is a pleasure to utilize these vocal gifts and share their talents with the public."

Among the pieces Dennis will be performing are "Caro Nome" from Verdi's "Rigoletto." Menoyo will sing the tenor aria "Celeste Aida," from Verdi's "Aida" and the festival chorus will sing "Triumphal March," she said. The festival chorus will sing "Treulich geführt," or "Bridal Chorus" from Wagner's "Lohengrin," and the final scene "Festwiese" from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger."

"The general public should have access to the grandeur and majesty of this music and it should be shared with the general public," Dennis said.

The Northwest Festival Orchestra is comprised of the Chicago area's younger professional musicians who share a common affection for making and sharing fine music, said Schwager, the son of two musicians who began conducting when he was 11 years old.

The symphonic ensemble's programs are devoted to both classical music from the last 300 years and contemporary repertoire spanning the orchestral spectrum.

The musicians are paid, although the orchestra operates on a small budget for the kind of programming it attempts to execute, Schwager said. For the most part, the orchestra is made up of "wonderfully talented young musicians with no current employment. ... We are not a training orchestra; we are an orchestra that is trained."

For more information, email festorch@aol.com

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