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Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra


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When composer and pianist Ilya Levinson emigrated to Chicago from his native Moscow, he was a nearly penniless "political refugee" with a minimal command of English. He'd been a star student at the Moscow Conservatory, but was convinced that if he had joined the composers' union--the only way a Soviet composer's work could be published or performed--he'd have been at the mercy of an anti-Semitic bureaucracy that had been suppressing Russian Jewish culture since before World War II. So after arriving in Chicago in the spring of 1988, Levinson lived among his relatives in the city's Jewish community and made his living in part by playing klezmer, a traditional European Jewish music discouraged in his homeland but thriving in the States. In the fall of that year he trekked to the University of Chicago to show his student scores to composer Ralph Shapey--and nine years later collected a PhD. In Moscow, though Levinson had been exposed to modernism's 12-tone techniques, he'd never used them; his early style was heavily influenced by the more conservative output of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. But under the tutelage of Shapey, Shulamit Ran, and John Eaton his timidity evaporated. I've heard a handful of Levinson's 20 or so major works, and each forgoes the sleight of hand employed by so many eager young composers in favor of a confident polish. His Skein, for soprano, cello, and piano, stood out in a 1992 Contemporary Chamber Players concert both for its austerity and for the passion it wrung from a dry, sardonic poetic text. I also admire the deftness with which he's cobbled together disparate genres for Adventures, first performed by the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. And Levinson displays a playful side in his latest piece, Klezmer Rhapsody, a buoyant medley of folk tunes written for the outstanding Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra. Though the Lincolnwood is technically semiprofessional, conductor and founder Philip Simmons often coaxes performances from the ensemble that can stand up next to the pros'. This "A World in a Weekend" concert, part of a free arts program celebrating Moscow, also includes works by Glinka, Prokofiev, and Mussorgsky. Soloists are baritone William Warfield and, in the Levinson, violinist Alex Koffman of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. Friday, 7:30 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 847-674-0039.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump-RSP.

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