Time to Meet ESO’s Finalist Conductors

As it searches for its new music director, Elgin Symphony Orchestra is planning seven special concerts this season, each led by a prospective new leader.

The 73rd season of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO) focuses not only on the present, but also the future.

The 2022-23 schedule has a dual purpose of entertaining the audience now as well as setting up the orchestra for years to come. And patrons will play a big part in that.

In an effort to name the orchestra’s next music director, seven finalist conductors will each lead a concert this season. The two-year search to replace former director Andrew Grams formally started last season.

Eric Gaston-Falk, vice president of artistic planning and operations for ESO, has been working with each guest conductor to put together a mix of classics and new pieces for each concert.

“It’s a very collaborative process,” Gaston-Falk says. “All of our guest conductors had excellent and deeply compelling ideas about their respective programs. The conductors had lots of great suggestions, and I contributed a few as well. In the end, we want to present a type of program these conductors might bring to the orchestra if they were chosen as the next music director.”

Gaston-Falk says one of the keys is getting the right mix of music for each lineup.

“We want to be sure to showcase the fantastic quality of the orchestra, playing music the audience will enjoy, including many familiar favorites,” he says. Those include “Enigma Variations,” Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 and Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture.”
But Gaston-Falk also has found an appreciation for the variety these guest conductors have suggested.

“One of the things I like about my job is learning new works,” Gatston-Falk says. “I really like the variety on the season. All of the programs have something slightly different, which I think the audience will very much enjoy.”

If there is a difference to this season versus the past, the most apparent difference is that there are fewer pops concerts. But Gaston-Falk says there still is time to add a few more.

“There are a few more groups we’re confirming that fall into the pops category,” he adds.
One of those concerts is a one-night event on Dec. 30. It’s called Latin Fire, and it features conductor Enrico Lopez-Yanez with featured guests Monica Abrego and Jose Sibaja.

“It will be a high-energy concert of Latin America orchestral hits and should be a really fun event,” Gaston-Falk says.

The season begins Oct. 8 and 9 with guest conductor Andres Lopera and violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins. Together with the orchestra, they perform Dvořák’s “Carnival Overture,” Wynton Marsalis’ “Violin Concerto,” and Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” Lopera is in his third season as associate conductor of the Columbus Symphony in Ohio.

On Nov. 5 and 6, John Devlin leads the ESO in Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave),” Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” Clarice Assad’s “Impressions,” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy-Overture).” European guitar virtuoso Ana Vidovic is the guest performer. Devlin currently leads the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra in West Virginia and, at age 35, is one of the nation’s youngest music directors of a professional symphony orchestra.

On Dec 9, 10 and 11, the ESO features classic holiday concerts in a reprisal of its beloved December tradition.

Then, kicking off the new year on January 7 and 8, the orchestra welcomes guest conductor Andrew Crust and violinist Stella Chen for performances of Jocelyn Morlock’s “Oiseaux bleus et sauvages,” Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, and Brahms’ “Violin Concerto.” Crust is the associate conductor of the Vancouver Symphony and in his second season as music director of the Lima Symphony in Ohio.

On Feb. 4 and 5, Albert Cano Smit, the 2020 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Prize winner from The Juilliard School, is the featured guest with conductor Kyle Ritenauer, the New-York based founder and artistic director of the Uptown Philharmonic. The program includes Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish.”

March 4 and 5 feature cellist Thomas Mesa performing Dvořák’s “Cello Concerto,” under the direction of Lee Mills. Other pieces will include Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” Juan David Osorio’s “El Paraíso segun María (The Paradise According to Mary),” and Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2.” Mills is currently the associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony and previously served as resident conductor of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.

April 1 and 2, see Alex Amsell conducting with violinist Blake Pouliot featured in pieces including Carlos Simon’s “Fate Now Conquers,” Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Amsel is the assistant conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony.

Closing out the season on May 6 and 7, guest conductor Chad Goodman is joined by pianist Drew Petersen to perform Coleridge-Taylor’s “Ballade in A Minor,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Goodman is currently conducting fellow for the New World Symphony in Florida and founder and artistic director of the Elevate Ensemble.

Following each concert this season, the audience will be surveyed on its thoughts about the guest conductor.

“There are a lot of factors involved in choosing a new music director,” Gaston-Falk says. “We obviously want to see how the conductor works with the orchestra, but we also want to see the chemistry between the conductor and the audience.”

There’s already plenty of chemistry between the audience and the symphony. “They are top-notch musicians in the region,” Gaston-Falk says.

Most of the musicians come from the Chicago area, including some who have performed for the Chicago Symphony and the Rockford Symphony.

“All of our musicians play in a lot of different groups in the region,” Gaston-Falk says. “The quality of our players is something we are very proud of.”

The majority of this season’s concerts are scheduled at the Hemmens Cultural Center in downtown Elgin, however, a few have alternate venues, including the Dec. 9 holiday show, which is scheduled at Raue Center for the Arts in downtown Crystal Lake. Most concerts start at 7:30 p.m.

Hemmens holds 1,200 people, and tickets for this season are already on sale at ElginSymphony.org, by phone at (847) 888-4000, or at the ESO office, located at 20 DuPage Ct., in downtown Elgin. The office is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased individually or through season packages. Gaston-Falk says attendance is typically strong, but generally a few tickets are still available the day of the show.

Subscribers to three or more shows receive a 20% discount through the ESO’s “Build Your Own Subscription” program.

And this year, ESO is offering a new ticket deal, starting at $20 per person, $10 for students and free to youth 17 and under if they are attending with a paid adult.

“And there is plenty of free parking around the Hemmens,” Gaston-Falk says.