Music director Andrew Grams believes the Elgin Symphony Orchestra's 2014-15 season -- to be announced at this weekend's concerts at Schaumburg's Prairie Center and Elgin's Hemmens Cultural Center -- will provide a beacon of light for his direction of the orchestra heading into his second year at the helm.
The ESO's 65th season will open the weekend of Sept. 13 and 14 with the main work of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, along with pieces by Carl Maria Von Weber and Richard Wagner. The season will conclude May 2 and 3, 2015, with another Beethoven landmark, the Ninth ("Choral") Symphony, but using Gustav Mahler's seldom-performed orchestration.
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What: Andrew Grams will conduct his third and final concerts of the season this weekend. Michael Ludwig is the guest violinist. In addition, the ESO will announce the concerts for next season.
When and where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, at Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin
Tickets: $25-$60; (847) 888-4000 or www.elginsymphony.org
Of the nine concert weekends next season, Grams will be on the podium for seven, as compared with his three appearances this season. The 2014-15 season is also the first in which he had the main artistic input; the announcement of his appointment last June meant he was only able to make a handful of changes to this year's repertoire.
"The main thing that I wanted to do next season was to highlight the relationship between the orchestra and myself, more so than like traditional concerts in which a guest soloist takes the spotlight," Grams said. "Take the first concert, for example: It's just going to be me and the orchestra. This is the relationship that is the most important, and I wanted to highlight that throughout the season. Where are we going to go musically together?
"And the other thing I wanted to do was to give the public a certain idea of my own personal musical tastes. Everything on next season's concerts are favorites of mine, and even the pieces on the two concerts that I'm not conducting are pieces that I absolutely love and adore and wish that I could do, but the schedule doesn't work that way."
Next season will continue a Beethoven-Gustav Mahler connection that Grams hinted at with the Mahler First Symphony with which he opened his inaugural season in October. Next year the ESO will play not only the Beethoven Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, but also will perform the string-orchestra arrangement of Beethoven's Opus 135 String Quartet (March 27-29, 2015). Grams will open the Beethoven Ninth concert with the ESO's first performances of Mahler's 1888 symphonic poem "Totenfeier," which five years later Mahler adopted as the opening movement of his "Resurrection" Symphony.
"'Totenfeier' is not performed that often, and another great connection there with Beethoven is that Mahler later used it as the first movement of his first great choral symphony," Grams said.
Other traditional classical concerts will include a program Oct. 10-12 conducted by ESO resident conductor Stephen Squires, with Haydn's C Major Cello Concerto featuring the orchestra's principal cellist Matthew Agnew as soloist. Other works on that concert are Ottorino Respighi's "The Birds" for string orchestra, and Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5.
Guest conductor Michael Christie will lead the orchestra for the Feb. 7 and 8, 2015, concerts, which will include Brahms' Second Symphony and Marjan Mozetich's Bassoon Concerto, with soloist Michael Sweeney.
Grams will conduct concerts Jan. 9-11, 2015 -- featuring guest soloist Philippe Quint playing Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto -- with the program also including "Sarka" from Bedrich Smetana's cycle of tone poems "My Country." The concert will conclude with the ESO's first performances of Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D Minor.
"When I found out the orchestra had never done Dvorak 7, I felt we had to do that," Grams said. "It's a great piece; I love it. I would have to say I actually prefer the Seventh to the Ninth ('New World') Symphony."
Grams' March 7 and 8, 2015, concerts will include Tchaikovsky's "The Tempest" and "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture," along with Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with soloist Natasha Paremski.
Instead of a separate pops series, Grams has integrated those two concerts -- which he will conduct -- into the main subscription series.
One of the programs (Nov. 15 and 16) will feature seven shorter pieces by such American composers as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers. The second program, titled "A Salute to the Oscars," will take place Feb. 20-22, 2015, and will include music by Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and others.
"What we're looking to do is present the old Arthur Fiedler-Boston Pops type programs, where the orchestra is still the main attraction," Grams said. "You can still have some guest artists, but I would like to stay away from having the orchestra serving only as a backup to another act. This is going to be the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and if we're going to have lighter classics or so-called 'popular programs,' I want the ESO -- the orchestra itself -- to be the main draw. The whole idea of 'we're not doing pops,' that's not the case. I'm a big advocate of saying that good music is good music, regardless of the genre."
To those subscribers used to attending the ESO's pops series, those two programs will be sold as a separate ticket package as well as part of the nine-concert Grand Series 1. The Grand Series 2 package will include the other seven traditional classic series concerts and the Grand Series 3 will be the two light-classical (former "pops series") programs.
More about the 2014-15 season, along with subscription information, is available at elginsymphony.org. Current subscribers can make their season renewals beginning at this weekend's concerts; tickets for potential new subscribers will be announced in March. All concerts are at the Hemmens Cultural Center, except Friday concerts at the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts in October, February and March and at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre in January.