Howard LevySubmitted photo

Two great local musical institutions – the Evanston Symphony and Howard Levy – are teaming up for the first time to perform his “Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica and Orchestra” with the ESO at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 at Pick-Staiger Hall on the Northwestern University campus.

The three-movement, 15-minute piece was composed in 2000 on a commission from the Illinois Philharmonic. Each movement is written in a different church mode – Mixolydian, Dorian and Ionian – to give it a unique sound, and features improvisatory cadenzas for the soloist. Mr. Levy has recorded the piece with the Czech National Symphony and performed it more than three dozen times in Europe, Asia and North America, including at Orchestra Hall with the Chicago Sinfonietta.

Both composer and concerto have strong Evanston ties. Mr. Levy grew up in New York and came to Northwestern as a music major in 1969. After returning briefly to New York in 1970, he has lived here ever since. While at Northwestern he also developed his celebrated “overblowing and overdrawing” technique, which enables him to bend the reeds to play every note across the entire spectrum of the instrument, like a chromatic harmonica, while retaining the soulful and hauntingly expressive quality of a blues harmonica.

“I felt like Columbus discovering a new continent,” he has said of the moment, in Evanston in September 1969, when he first developed the technique.

Mr. Levy has appeared on piano and harmonica with numerous pop and folk icons such as Paul Simon, Steve Goodman, Kenny Loggins and Dolly Parton. He has played on more than 200 CDs, has won two Grammy Awards and has performed around the world.

“For me, it’s a dream to play this piece in the town where I live,” Mr. Levy adds.
He will also be playing improvisations of selected songs as part of the orchestral suite from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”

This all-American concert also features the Illinois premiere of “Dreamtime Ancestors” by composer Christopher Theofanidis. This 17-minute showpiece was specially commissioned by a consortium of some 50 U.S. orchestras, including the ESO. The suite from Aaron Copland’s film score for “The Red Pony” rounds out the program.

Tickets and information are available by calling 847-864-8804 or visiting
evanstonsymphony.org.