The end of January always marks the Annual Illinois Music Educators Conference, held in the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois. Having attended this conference's student concerts including the Jazz, Composition and Classical Honors Concerts, it has become a source of true pride and respect for the young musicians being educated in the fine art of music performance around the state. The level of playing is so high, and the directors for these advanced, and highly selective ensembles are invited to participate from around the country where they hold posts in music at different colleges and universities.
Every year ILMEA conducts auditions in October for entrance into the District regional ILMEA Festivals. Some of these districts include participants from over 60 high schools, so there are very tight limits on how many can be accepted into the chorus, orchestra, band, instrumental jazz ensembles and vocal jazz groups from each school. It is estimated that only the top ten to twenty percent of musicians who audition are accepted into the regional District ILMEA. At the District Festivals in November, more auditions are held to determine ranking or seating. From this audition, the ILMEA decides who to invite to become an All-State Musician- typically only the top 10-20 percent of the District participants!
As you can imagine, once you get to the All-State level, the ensembles are truly amazing- most of them sounding like advanced college level ensembles- not just high school students, most of whom, admittedly, are Juniors and Seniors.
This year's ILMEA Honors Concert featured the Honor Band led by Gary Green of University of Miami Frost School of Music, followed by the Honors Chorus led by Edith A. Copley of Northern Arizona University, and concluded with the Honors Orchestra led by Gary Lewis of the University of Colorado.
Opening with a quixotic and beautiful piece by Ryan George entitled Firefly, Professor Green led the Honors band through some fairly virtuosic part writing, and also achieved expressive phrasing and beautiful colors and sound with this large band ensemble. The Lux Arumque by Eric Whitacre which followed was extremely well-played with great attention to detail, and also incorporated an almost choral sound from these wind, brass and percussion players. The last piece, Give Us This Day, was an extended multi-movement piece- although this was not indicated in the program and might have been helpful for the audience to appreciate the structural aspects - had its best music in the beginning and end- with some exciting crescendos which produced goosebumps on this listeners arms. It dragged a bit in the middle, and in the large Carver Arena of the Peoria Civic Center, one sensed that a certain intimacy and quality of tone being produced was a bit lost or indiscernible.
The Honors Chorus which followed sang six songs with piano accompaniment. Of particular note was the piece Dubula by Stephen Hatfield- a testament about Apartheid in South Africa. A work for Female-only chorus, No Time by Susan Brumfield and an All-Male Chorus arrangement of O Susanna were performed with great verve and excitement. Enhanced by wonderful choral-swing-choir choreography, all of the choral works were performed with fabulous rhythmic energy, extremely fine articulation and vocal diction that was amazingly easy to comprehend- never a small feat. While the opening number- Ave Maria by Anton Bruckner could have used some more bass sound, overall the balance amongst the voices was excellent- possibly due to the wise intermingling of all the voice parts in the layout of the chorus.
Leonard Bernstein's rousing Overture to Candide was given a rather frenetic reading by the Honors Orchestra, with some fine playing by all the sections. Here again, the acoustic both helped and hurt- it amplified the sound of this already large symphonic orchestra, but much of the clarity and precision got lost on the listeners' ears. It was somewhat dependent on how far away one was sitting from the particular ensemble- due to the acoustics of a large arena, which was most definitely better suited for sporting events than for a classical music concert. The Orchestra, led so energetically and enthusiastically by Professor Gary Lewis, concluded their segment of the concert with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 Finale, a rather drawn-out movement, but one which offered the young high school students plenty of challenge and featured solos.
The entire concert concluded with an arrangement of The Battle Hymn of the Republic performed by all three ensembles, totaling approximately 700 music students by my estimation, simultaneously conducted by members of the ILMEA organization. How they managed to start together and end precisely together in such a large spread-out ice arena was a significant accomplishment, to say the least. Plus the fact that these young musicians learned and rehearsed this music in just two days! Wow!
A professional audio (CD) and video (DVD) recording of this concert is available by contacting MARKCUSTOM.COM and is highly recommended.