Published on: September 22, 2015
When I first came to Peoria, someone asked me: “How will you measure your success here?” My answer was difficult in coming. I wasn’t sure what aspect of success I should address: cultural growth, audience enthusiasm, or financial support. Finally, I said: “I will know we are on the right path to success, when people are discussing concerts weeks after they have occurred. Then I will know our music is honestly touching people – and enthusiasm for what we do is long-lasting.”
So, when we started my sixth season as PSO Music Director, I have to admit that these words were on my mind – and they caused both great anticipation and a little trepidation. Coming off of our wonderful Mahler 7 season finale from 2014-2015, I was highly confident in the orchestra’s ability but wondering: “How do we top that?” The ’15-’16 Season opening program featured three fantastic works with great audience appeal. The connection to Mardi Gras gave the evening the right mix of celebration and mystery. Plus two Americans (one an Illinois native) and a Russian master provided a good recipe for programming success.
Edward Joseph Collins: Mardi Gras
John Corigliano: Red Violin Chaconne w/ Charles Yang as solo violinist
Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka
Plus, the PSO was kicking off its Resident Artist Week (RAW) initiative. Bringing back my good friend Charles Yang for a week of violin wizardry and out-of-the-box outreach was the natural choice for the first project. His residency in 2013 was a smash success and proved his uncanny ability to connect with patrons of all ages – both on and off the stage. During the week, Charles had face-to-face contact with about eight thousand people in schools, hospitals, senior living centers, and on the courthouse square. He appeared on numerous radio and television shows. His Soundbites program was rebroadcast on WTVP. He even appeared on the PSO’s Street Party on Water Street in front of Kelleher’s. About five hundred people saw Charles collaborate with the local Latin Jazz band The Brazillionaires. It was a successful week of partnerships and collaborations – just what we wanted RAW to be. By the time of the concert, Charles was a member of our community.All was made possible through the generosity of Dr. Carl Soderstrom, the Ruby K. Worner Trust, Heights Finance, and PNC. I am always grateful for their generous support, not just on behalf of the PSO, but also for what it does for Peoria.
As we opened with a loud cymbal crash, the energy and excitement of Edward Collins’ gem of a tone poem caught the audience by surprise and swept them up in the romance, lure,and mystery of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I knew it was going to be a great evening. Then, time itself beckoned through a centuries-long virtuosic journey, as the masterful collaboration between the PSO and Charles brought to life Corigliano’s haunting concerto. Following the standing ovation, Charles played, AND SUNG, the 1964 classic House of the Rising Sun to round out the connection to New Orleans. The audience exploded in cheers and applause.
For the second half, Stravinsky’s depiction of a pre-Lenten fair in St Petersburg produced a vibrant world of musical color and imagination. The PSO played his ballet suite with passion, poise, and precision, and the extended standing ovation was well deserved.
Several weeks later, I walked into a local coffee house and two older gentleman waived hello and bid me come over. “I really loved your season opener,” one of them said. Thinking he was referring to our soloist, I responded: “Thanks! Wasn’t Charles great?!” “He sure was,” the other gentleman replied … “but we were just discussing how the Stravinsky piece Petrushka was so evocative. That music really makes me want to experience the entire ballet!”
George Stelluto, Music Director of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra