Symphony celebrates a 'triple crown' season

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

As the concert season draws to a close for the Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest (S/OP&RF) with "Nature's Realm" on Sunday at Concordia University Chicago, the orchestra has much to celebrate.

The Illinois Council of Orchestras (ICO) named the group Community Orchestra of the Year; its general manager, Beth Hoover, Executive Director/General Manager of the Year, and the Cultural Leadership Award went to Music Director Jay Friedman.

"This is a trifecta; I don't know if I've ever seen that," said ICO Vice President Greg Clemons, as he presented the awards on stage at Symphony Center, Chicago, during the Symphony's April concert. When he gave the Community Orchestra of the Year Award, he said, "When others are looking at how to do it, we tell them to look at the Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest."

The 100-person Symphony went on to perform Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and Orff's Carmina Burana. The terrace seating area surrounding the stage was filled, at times, with nearly 200 voices from Tower Chorale, Concordia University Choirs, Chicago State University Choir, Pro Musica Youth Chorus, and its own chorus. The result was worthy of the venue, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra regularly performs, as well as other top-tier musicians.

Leading the Symphony is Friedman, a man who could have retired years ago, but instead holds four jobs. Besides conducting the Symphony, he also leads the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, teaches trombone at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) and in private lessons, and is principal trombonist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 1965.

When Friedman got word that he received the Cultural Leadership Award, he said he was surprised because he didn't know the ICO did this. The award has not been bestowed since 2011 and has only been presented six other times. According to Clemons, Friedman was recognized for all his roles and his mentorship of musicians. Besides teaching at the CCPA, Friedman gives trombone lessons to Civic Orchestra members and other musicians of all ages and at all points in their musical careers.

"I get people from all over the world," he said. "I have a real desire to pass on what I know. Each generation should compile what they learn. It's taken a long time. Now I want to pass that on."

At the regular Wednesday evening rehearsals for the Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest, Friedman passes on his wisdom as he conducts, readying the group for the next performance. Primarily a volunteer orchestra, its members range from new assistant concertmaster Minoru Ueda from Japan to veterans who have been with the 87-year-old Symphony for more than 40 years.

Hoover joined the Symphony four decades ago, playing the much-needed English Horn and oboe. In 2003, she became general manager, overseeing ticketing, social media, programs and other print materials, securing rehearsal and performance space, and "putting out fires." She said teaching junior high and elementary school music for 35 years gave her the skills to handle this job.

At last week's rehearsal she busily moved chairs from Concordia's band room to the chapel when she discovered the air conditioning was out in the room where they typically rehearse. Less than an hour later, the orchestra members were seated in the cool comfort of the chapel, warming up.

Concordia's chapel has been acoustically renovated and will not only be the venue for the next concert, but for the next season, too. For now, though, the focus is on the outdoors, i.e. nature, as the group readies to perform Dvorak's In Nature's Realm and Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 'Pastoral,' along with Flute Concertino in D Major by Cécile Chaminade, a female composer, performed by a high school student concerto-competition winner.

"The Dvorak piece is one of my favorite overtures," Friedman said. "It portrays the Czech countryside. He'd stroll through and get ideas. Beethoven's symphony is all about nature. He's a hard-driving, intense composer and it captures him in a completely different mood, like he's spending an afternoon in the woods." 

See Nature's Realm, Sunday, June 10, 4 p.m., at Chapel of Our Lord, Concordia University, 7400 Augusta, River Forest. Preconcert conversation at 3 p.m. Reception following the concert. $28; free, students through college. Tickets/more: symphonyoprf.com/index.php. 

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