Twilight of an Empire Review- The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music’s Memorial Day Concerts

"Twilight of an Empire" concert at The Jay Pritzker Pavillion, Millennium Park, Chicago, Sunday, May 27, 2018
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On May 26, 2018, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Evanston, on the Northwestern campus, Conductor Victor Yampolsky led the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, members of the University Chorale and Chicago’s beloved Apollo Chorus along with vocalists Bahareh Poureslami, soprano; Scott Ramsay, tenor; and Keven Keys, baritone, in a concert entitled TWILIGHT OF AN EMPIRE.

This concert was also performed at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park on Sunday, May 27, 2018. The program featured the works of two distinctly different Russian composers whose music exemplified the end of the Romantic era and the dawn of the next musical epoch.

It was gratifying to recognize in the audience Henry Bienen, President Emeritus of Northwestern University, and his wife, Leigh Buchanan Bienen, for whom the Northwestern University School of Music was renamed in 2008 as well as Morton O. Shapiro, who succeeded Bienen as President an December, 2008.

Director of Orchestras, Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, Victor Yampolsky, conducting, “Twilight of an Empire”

Prokofiev described his 2-movement Symphony No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 40, 1925, as a work of “iron and steel.” The piece has been defined as filled with “avante-garde aggression;” the composer himself worried about its complexity and effect on audiences.

Yampolsky’s tight control helped bring the substance of the work closer to some of the composer’s more lyrical later works, but still the famous “earthquake” first movement wrought emotional demands with its raw power and intensity. The second movement’s main theme and 6 variations had the desired pensive and romantic touches and was played as slightly less intensely projected. The climaxes were driven home with robust energy throughout, and the release at the end of the piece successfully unwound the tension.

Rachmaninoff’sThe Bells, 1913, was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name, set to Konstantin Balmont’s Russian adaptation. Although originally written in Russian, The Bells was performed this evening in English. The 2 chorale groups were grouped together on the balcony behind and to either side of the beautifully constructed Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, while the fine soloists were gathered in front, near the conductor.

The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra strings; “Twilight of an Empire” concert

Yampolsky handled the joint effort with confidence- indeed, with seeming nonchalance- as he crafted a complex and in-depth performance of The Bells that was comprised of passion and surrounded the listener with a musical glow. The soloists were in fine voice, the choruses strong and passionate, the Orchestra at a consistent measured pace.

The movements of the piece interpolate somber tones with more joyful “ringing” sounds. One can easily delineate the flutes, the percussion, the trumpet peals amid the strings, and the wind instruments amid the brass. While the work encompasses an enormous dramatic range, the soloists singing likewise contained elements of gravity and finality, with the massed voices behind them exuberant and compelling.

This was a concert conceived with ambition, performed with energy and received with much enthusiasm. The audience love the performance and showed it with repeated bursts of applause.

The Northwestern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Victor Yampolsky, with the University Chorale, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, and soloists Bahareh Poureslami, Scott Ramsey and Keven Keys performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells”, in Millennium Park

All photos by Todd Rosenberg

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