The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Andrew Sewell — who scored big with Beethoven and Britten this past weekend — is one of five finalists to lead the Illinois Symphony and Chamber Orchestras in Springfield and Bloomington.

February 27, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Andrew Sewell (below), the music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra since 2000, is among five finalists to lead the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and its Chamber Orchestra that perform nine concerts a season in Springfield and Bloomington.

Sewell, fresh off two acclaimed performances of Beethoven and Britten in Madison and Baraboo this past weekend, told The Ear that the would continue to live in Madison and head the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) plus commute by car for the 4-1/2 hour drive to Springfield.

“Madison is a great place to live and has treated us very well,” said Sewell, who lives her with his wife Mary. Sewell, a native of New Zealand, is a naturalized American citizen. He recently left the Wichita Symphony in Kansas after 10 years at its helm and he has guest conducted in Green Bay as well as Hong Kong and many other places.

Sewell said that, should he get the post with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra (below), the need for guest conductors to occasionally fill in for him Madison will depend on the concert schedule.

While he doesn’t intend to do that very often, he added, should it happen it would benefit both musicians and audiences to hear guest conductors.

Sewell was among 30 original names invited to apply for the Illinois post. Then 27 applied and they were narrowed down through interviews about a dozen and then five finalists were chosen to conduct performances. Sewell will return to Springfield at the end of March to conduct a program of Berlioz’ “Le Corsaire” Overture, Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1. In late January, he conducted Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” and contemporary composer Michael Daughtery’s “Strut.”

The final choice will probably be announced sometime in late May, Sewell speculated, after all the finalists have conducted performances.

Started by the WPA during FDR’s “New Deal,” the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, is the second largest symphony in Illinois, coming in after the famed world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which snagged Riccardo Muti as its current music director, based in Chicago and Ravinia. But the Illinois Symphony also performs at Grant Park concert shell (below), designed by Frank Gehry, in downtown Centennial Park.

According to Sewell, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s season has nine regular concerts – five symphony concerts and four chamber orchestra concerts plus a holiday concert and an educational outreach concert — but nothing comparable to the six weekly Concerts on the Square that Sewell programs and conducts each summer in Madison.

Here is a link to the home site of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra:

Will Sewell get the post?

Well, of course The Ear is rooting for The Home Boy.

But I also think that Sewell would be a shoo-in if the board of directors of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra heard how much the WCO has improved in tightness and accuracy under his tenure; if they knew how well he puts together original programs of tried-and-true classics with overlooked or lesser known works; and if they understood what great up-and-coming and affordable but supremely talented soloists he manages to find and book.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the WCO concert this past weekend, but a colleague whose judgment I trust did. Here is the review by Mike Muckian for Brava magazine and his blog “Culturosity”:

Here is a link to a rave review by Bill Wineke for Channel and WISC-TV:

Here is a link to a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times and  77 Square:

And here is a link to background story about Sewell and the plans and process to find a conductor for the Illinois ensemble.

Do you have any comments to leave for Andrew Sewell or for the directors of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra to read?

The Ear wants to hear.

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