Smile Politely

Kick off your holidays with class(ical music)

Champaign-Urbana’s younger professional symphony orchestra, the Sinfonia da Camera, dates from 1984, and unlike its older brother, The Champaign-Urbana Symphony, its creation is largely the work of one man, Ian Hobson.

In addition to being an accomplished concert pianist and conductor, Ian Hobson is an artist who likes to get things done. Born in Wolverhampton, England, he was a youthful graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and then added a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Yale. In 1983, he made his US debut as a concert artist, just after solidifying his credentials at the piano by winning a gold medal at the Leeds International Pianoforte competition. 1984 brought him to the University of Illinois. He didn’t wait long to change the musical scene in Champaign-Urbana.

In 1984, he founded the Sinfonia da Camera. It was established as the professional chamber orchestra affiliated with the Krannert Center and the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois. This new ensemble was not conceived a clone or rival of existing orchestras as it was explicitly designated as a chamber orchestra, that is an ensemble of around 25 players who specialize in works designated for smaller orchestral sounds. Its membership came from the community and university and its concerts became part of the Krannert
Center’s Foellinger Great Hall concert series. But, like the CU Symphony, its professional musicians are paid for rehearsals as well as concerts.

Its size and repertoire have varied with the Music Director’s interests. For the recent November 7th concert at the Foellinger Great Hall, this chamber orchestra featured 42 players, eleven of which are not in the string section. Chamber orchestras tend to emphasize works that are oriented towards the string section, but Maestro Hobson’s choices have varied greatly. His February 21, 2016 concert with the Sinfonia will feature the usual string section of 28 string players, but they will be augmented by over 20 musicians who are not string players, plus vocal soloists and two college choirs.

By 2000, Ian Hobson had been named Swanlund Professor of Music at the University of Illinois, had 16 years of successful seasons with theSinfonia da Camera behind him, had an on-going concert career as a soloist and was also a part-time conductor of Warsaw’s Sinfonia Varsovia. If that was not enough to keep him busy, he was a major moving force behind the establishment of Zephyr records in 1997. Both the Sinfonia da Camera and Sinfonia Varsovia have recorded for this label under Ian Hobson.

In that founding year of 1997, Maestro Hobson recorded the first complete recording of John Philip Sousa’s opera, El Capitan, with theSinfonia da Camera for Zephyr records. Since then the Sinfonia da Camera has teamed with Ian Hobson for around twenty recordings that have championed traditional repertoire as well as some exposition of lesser known composers.

Among the lesser known artists Professor Hobson has championed on Zephyr records are Americans William Schuman and George Walker. He has also taken special pains to educate the musical public of the talents of 19th century composer Ignaz Moscheles with four cds. Through all of these undertakings, he has mentored students at the University of Illinois School of Music and his growing fame has attracted great soloists to the Krannert Center.

Violinists Gil Shaham, Pamela Frank, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerkman have appeared as soloists with the Sinfonia. If that is not impressive enough, add pianists Menahem Pressler and Charles Rosen and clarinetists David Shifrin and Richard Stoltzman. You can pile on classical guitarist Christopher Parkening and vocal soloists Nathan Gunn and Marilyn Horne just to emphasize the point that this is no ordinary regional orchestra.

On the immediate horizon at Urbana’s Krannert Center is the December 5 concert with a heavy Mozart flavor. Maestro Hobson has scheduled two Mozart works, plus a section of Handel’s Messiah that Mozart orchestrated. The forces of the Sinfonia will be joined by the University of Illinois Oratorio Society.

Choral supplements will grace their February 21st concert. The University of Illinois’ Chamber Singers and the Webern Kammerchor from Vienna will team up with the Sinfonia for an evening of classical choral music by American and Franz Schubert’s Mass #6.

Check Krannert’s website for further details, as well as the Sinfonia’s website. The riches continue into the second semester, so stay in touch.

More Articles