SMTD University Symphony Orchestra to honor Bilik and Bernstein in first performance of the season

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 11:30am

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Courtesy of SMTD

Having recently returned from a spell as a guest conductor in Innsbruck, Austria, Director of Orchestra Kenneth Kiesler immediately resumed his work in conducting world-class musicians as he prepares for the University Symphony Orchestra’s first performance of the 2018 — 2019 term.

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) University Symphony Orchestra is the most experienced orchestra at the University. Composed of 73 undergraduate students and 35 graduate students, the University Symphony Orchestra is consistently ranked one of the top university orchestras in the United States, having been awarded a Grammy for Best Classical Recording in 2004 and nominated for the Grammy on two other occasions.

The SMTD University Symphony Orchestra will be performing three pieces: the “Violin Concerto” by Benjamin Britten, performed by SMTD Concerto Competition winner Christine Harada Li, Elgar’s most famous piece, “Enigma Variations” and the encore: Jerry Bilik’s arrangement of “Hail to the Victors.”

Kenneth Kiesler has been at the University for 23 years and is currently the Director of Orchestras at the University. As such, his responsibilities include the supervision of the conductors of the other orchestras at SMTD, handling programming and scheduling for each orchestra and conducting the renowned University Symphony Orchestra. Kiesler’s work is significant in both physical demand and musical payoff. Although he often finds himself burning the midnight oil, Kiesler has led his colleagues and students to be ranked by U.S. News and World Report as constituting the number-one graduate program in conducting every year since 1997. In short, the conductor is well-versed in the intricacies of Mich.’s orchestras and a celebrity in his field.

The encore piece being the focus of the University Symphony Orchestra’s opening performance for the term, Kiesler wanted to honor Bilik and Bernstein for their contributions to the University and to American conductors.

“Usually encores are a surprise, but this is very cool, so I don’t want it to be a surprise,” Kiesler said in an interview with The Daily. “Jerry Bilik is the guy who has written over 1000 arrangements for the Michigan Marching Band for football.  In 1967, he wrote variations on ‘Hail to the Victors’ for the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in the premier here at Hill Auditorium in 1967. It has never been played since.”

Kiesler has long been a follower of Leonard Bernstein’s.

“I grew up in the New York area, in the suburbs of New York city, so I grew up going to his concerts, and he spoke at my graduation for grad school, too. I conducted the orchestra at my graduation with Leonard Bernstein staring at me,” the conductor recounted. “It’s neat for me. I’m certainly no personal friend of Bernstein’s but I met him and was with him three times and I feel a huge debt of gratitude to him because he opened the doors for American conductors.”

The University Symphony Orchestra is well-equipped and ready to fulfill this debt to the late Leonard Bernstein with the group’s first performance of the season next Saturday.

After a 51-year slumber, Bernstein’s performance of Bilik’s arrangement of “Hail to the Victors” will ring through Hill Auditorium once again, revived by the University’s finest musicians. There will be a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. in the lower lobby of Hill Auditorium to be followed by the main performance at 8:00 p.m. Entry to the performance is free of charge.