BY DOROTHY ANDRIES
CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
Pioneer Press 11/06/2003
The Evanston Symphony Orchestra opens its 58th season at 3 p.m. Sunday at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall with three magnificent classical works -- Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger," Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Grieg's Piano Concerto. The soloist will be Graham Scott, the new chair of the keyboard and guitar department at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
The program was selected by the ESO's new music director, Larry Eckerling of Glenview, who was appointed last June and will be on the podium. "You want to start the season with a bang," Eckerling said, when reached by phone the week before the concert, "so I chose a program from the point of view of the audience, but also I had the orchestra very much in mind."
The format is what Eckerling fondly called a "sandwich" concert: overture, concerto and symphony. "It's traditional," he admitted, "but the works, especially the Wagner and Beethoven, contained elements that I thought were important to stress as I start my tenure with the orchestra."
Those elements include a balance of sonorities within a particular section and the rhythmical aspects of music.
"I want the players to listen, not just to me, but to each other," he continued, and then added, "Not surprisingly, the less you conduct, the more the players are forced to listen."
He won't exactly replicate the minuscule wrist motions of the late Fritz Reiner, but he's not going to be flapping his arms around on the podium either. "Reiner was onto something," he said with considerable admiration.
The Grieg Piano Concerto perfectly balances the heavy Germanic sound of Wagner and Beethoven, he added. "Grieg is not as weighty," he said. "It has a lightness that will work well between the two other composers."
Eckerling came to the ESO post from a similar position with the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra. He has been music director of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra and was assistant conductor of the Omaha Symphony. In addition to guest conducting the Evanston Symphony, he has appeared on the podium with the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra and the Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra.
He holds both graduate and undergraduate degrees in music and conducting from Indiana University and was part of a conductors' training institute with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts.
Eckerling was chosen by unanimous vote of both the ESO board members and the musicians in the orchestra. For the past 14 years he commuted back and forth from Minnesota to conduct in St. Cloud, so he is delighted to hold a permanent post closer to his Glenview home.
But it has been the players, not the proximity, that have fired his enthusiasm. "We've been rehearsing weekly ever since the last Tuesday in September and, by far, the orchestra members' greatest strength is that they practice," he said, "They organize sectional rehearsals on weekends. They really care and it's paying off.
Eckerling is particularly pleased with the piano soloist, who recently relocated to Chicago from the United Kingdom. "This is the perfect opportunity for audiences to get to know him," he said.
"People should come to this concert," he continued, "because they'll hear great music in a fine concert hall, played by a group of dedicated people who really want to bring music to life. We invite everyone to join us in our new era."
Subsequent concerts by the ESO will be performed Jan. 18, March 28 and May 16. For ticket information, call (847) 864-8804.
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