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Bernstein, Gershwin Headline IPO Season Finale

Maestro Carmon DeLeone selects American legends for his final program as Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra music director.

When steps onstage Saturday in Frankfort, no doubt to roaring applause, he will take the baton for his music director (See ).

The 25 years with Carmon program also closes an extraordinary 2010-2011 .

An acclaimed contemporary artist himself, it seems appropriate DeLeone has selected works by two American composers of epic fame, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) and George Gershwin (1898-1937), to end his IPO tenure.

A look at the program reads like a musical map as selections from Bernstein’s Candide open and close the program.

However, when DeLeone explains how the concert evolved, his plan does not unfold in a linear manner.

Rather he begins with the program’s second half and ends with the first.

“In my 25 years as music director, selections from Leonard Bernstein’s 1971 Mass have been among the most exciting,” DeLeone said last week. Nine sections of Mass complete the second half of the concert.

“Mass is not (grave),” DeLeone said. “It’s the antithesis of (what one expects). It’s fun, a fantastic work.

“The music makes you laugh and cry.”

This enormous work calls for many voices, often a huge sound, and the IPO production will not disappoint.

Baritone Benjamin Warschawski, in a return engagement, performs as celebrant.

Soprano Elena Batman, young soloist Brendon McCray and the 100 voices of the celebrated , under the direction of Al Jackson, will complete the huge Bernstein sound.

“Mass begins with a complex Kyrie Eleison followed by a simple guitar and the Hymn and Psalm: A Simple Song,” DeLeone said.

“From there it moves to the First Intuit where a processional comes down the aisle -- with a snare drum,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s like watching a marching band with kazoos ands whistles, just a wild piece of music.” Several more sections follow.

“The entire Mass is eclectic, Bernstein at his best,” he said. “And it ends on a very quiet note, Pax: Communion.          

"As Mass ends softly, we need to finish with something more lively," DeLeone continued. “Make Our Garden Grow, from Candide is dynamic, a perfect ending for the season and my tenure with the IPO.”

With the concert’s second half complete, DeLeone turns to the first, where the audiene's musical journey will begin.

“Now we have to think about what will precede all this to open the concert?”

He selects the Candide Overture, “to bookend the concert” with the first and last numbers from the same Bernstein operetta.

“This (Overture) piece is beautiful, pure fun and sparkling.”

Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, with its upbeat Latin percussion, adds spice to the program.

Another gargantuan American masterpiece, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, completes the program’s first half.

“It’s always one of the most popular (selections) and seemed appropriate for this concert. It was written in 1924, great years in the history of the United States," he explained. "It was between the world wars, and people were positive, feeling great.

"I’m so happy to end the first half with Rhapsody.

Acclaimed pianist Kevin Cole will solo.

DeLeone said Cole’s reputation is extraordinary, and while the celebrated pianist has not performed with the IPO before, the orchestra is very fortunate he can appear. Many reviewers have said he is the greatest contemporary Gershwin soloist.

The concert program complete, , IPO executive director and veteran second principal violin, reflected on Make Our Garden Grow, the closing piece and DeLeone’s final number as music director.

“The IPO under Carmon has grown into its skin and identity as a professional orchestra. While we’re excited about the future, there will be many lumps in throats and on the stage during Make Our Garden Grow,” Nussbaum said.

However, DeLeone does not view the evening as his IPO finale as he returns to conduct three concerts during the 2011-2012 season along with several children’s programs. He said he hasn't planned much beyond that but is interested in the future of the IPO.

“With a new music director, there really is the exciting potential for new ideas," he said. "As always, everything must change.”

When: 8 p.m., May 21; 7:15 p.m., free pre-concert lecture
Where: Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center, 19900 S. Harlem Ave., Frankfort 
Cost: $30-$50, $15 for students 18 and younger
Tickets and information: 708-481-7774 

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