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CONCERTANTE DI CHICAGO
When composer William Neil came to Chicago in 1984, he was out of sync with new music’s orthodoxy. Until the early 90s academic fashion favored atonality and consistency of voice, but Neil liked to choose from a variety of styles, old and new; he had more in common with Samuel Barber or David Del Tredici than Roger Sessions or Milton Babbitt. Though he produced a prizewinning live concert series for WFMT in the late 80s and organized a handful of festivals, his music’s lyrical leanings and conservative eclecticism probably cost him broader success. He didn’t want to teach, though his PhD from Michigan might’ve secured him a position; at one point, after a two-year stint as the Lyric Opera’s first composer in residence but before his next fellowship, he even collected unemployment. Neil went through a difficult divorce, then disappeared from the music scene for almost five years, joining an investment firm and taking courses to get a license as a financial planner. Since resurfacing as a composer in the mid-90s he’s debuted a concerto for piccolo clarinet, which he wrote for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s John Bruce Yeh, and a baldly sensuous setting of D.H. Lawrence poems for local soprano Barbara Ann Martin. This weekend the chamber orchestra Concertante di Chicago will premiere his Rhapsody for Violin, starring concertmaster Sharon Polifrone, as part of “American Eclectic”–a program that also includes Bernstein’s enchanting homage Arias and Barcarolles and Barber’s Cello Concerto. The rhapsody, a ravishing collage of sinuous melodies, extends Neil’s use of “shadow themes”; each theme spawns several close variations, which crowd around like musical doppelgangers. The work ought to help his comeback, and it will certainly make a case for a revival of the kind of eclecticism Bernstein epitomized in the 40s and 50s, which polishes old formulas until they glow with charm and warmth. The singers in the Bernstein will be Buffy Baggott and William Andrew Stuckey; Steven Honigberg will solo in the Barber. Hilel Kagan, the orchestra’s founder, will conduct. Sunday, 3 PM, Concert Hall, DePaul University, 800 W. Belden; 312-621-5265. Neil will give a preconcert lecture at 2, dramatizing his composition process with the aid of a laptop computer and a piano. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): William Neil uncredited photo.