Illinois Symphony Orchestra marks Mendelssohn bicentennial
You’d never know it living in Springfield, but Abraham Lincoln is not the only historic figure celebrating a bicentennial birthday.
Around the time Lincoln became a lawyer and was starting out in Springfield, Felix Mendelssohn was already playing a key role in music history as a composer and conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
This weekend, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra celebrates the bicentennial with an all-Mendelssohn program.
Jakob Ledwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born in Hamburg (then part of France, now Germany) on Feb. 3, 1809, making him nine days older than Lincoln.
He was Jewish, but Mendelssohn’s father had his children baptized as Lutherans and added the name Bartholdy, which was attached to a plot of land the family purchased in Berlin.
“Mendelssohn is the most astonishing of all the composing prodigies,” Michael Steinberg writes in “The Symphony: A Listener’s Guide.” “Mozart was to go much farther, but as a teenager not even he surpasses or often equals Mendelssohn in assurance and certainly not in individuality.”
Indeed, the overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was composed when Mendelssohn was just 17 years old. The first piece of Saturday’s concert will be the Scherzo from the same work.
Longtime ISO concertmaster Julieta Mihai will perform the Violin Concerto in E minor, the last work for large orchestra that Mendelssohn composed before his death in 1847 at age 38.
The concert ends with Symphony No. 3, known as the “Scotch Symphony.”
Were it written today, it probably would have been called the “Scottish Symphony.” Mendelssohn first had the idea for it during a vacation in Scotland in 1829, though it would not be finished for more than 12 years.
Steinberg writes that the “Scotch” is a pianissimo symphony: “The scoring tends to be dense and dark in a manner that we, certain of the symphony’s title, are much inclined to interpret as Northern and peaty.”
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or email@example.com.
Masterworks II: Mendelssohn Bicentennial
Illinois Symphony Orchestra with Julieta Mihai, violin
8 p.m. Saturday
Sangamon Auditorium, on the campus of the University of Illinois Springfield
$42, $37, $30; available at the Sangamon Auditorium ticket office, by phone at (217) 206-6160 or online at