Evanston Symphony Orchestra performs at Gilson Park (Photo by Laura Bennett)

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After more than a year of COVID-enforced silence, the Evanston Symphony Orchestra finally got to perform live on Aug. 30. The audience and musicians loved it.

“This is the first time we’re playing in public in 18 months,” said Music Director Lawrence Eckerling, and the crowd of several hundred people in the open air bowl at Wilmette’s Gillson Park broke into loud and sustained cheers and applause.

The “Lakeside Pops Concert,” as it was billed, featured a Rossini overture, two film pieces by John Williams (including a wonderful solo performance by ESO concertmaster Julie Fischer in the “Schindler’s List Theme”), the “Carousel Waltz” by Richard Rodgers, “Pops Hoedown” by Richard Hayman and the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. The evening concluded with a rousing version of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

The response afterward was hugely positive. “It was inspiring and joyful,” said one attendee. “Fabulous, wonderful,” said another. “Loved it, loved it,” added a third.

The musicians were equally enthusiastic. “I can’t tell you how good this feels. It was absolutely thrilling,” said violinist Nancy Lisker. “I was really happy to be back together in such a lovely setting, making beautiful sounds and doing something we love to make the players and listeners so happy,” said violinist Gloria Boyell, who started with the orchestra in the mid-1970s. “What a great way to kick off our 75th season,” said violist Liza Berger.

The ESO’s 75th season is scheduled to get underway Nov. 7. Maestro Eckerling said he selected the programs with “lots of favorites,” including the Brahms Fourth Symphony and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on Nov. 7, Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 on Feb. 13, 2022, and the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture on May 22. He said last year’s Beethoven 250th-year birthday celebration was cut short by the pandemic, so he has reprogrammed the Ninth Symphony for the April 10, 2022 concert.

In addition, a consortium-commissioned piece, “Transcend” by Chinese American composer Zhou Tian, will be premiered May 22. And African American composer William Grant Still’s “Festive Overture” will be performed Feb. 13.

The Nov. 7 concert and the annual holiday concert Dec. 12 will be performed at Evanston Township High School, the others at Pick-Staiger Hall on the Northwestern campus. More information about the upcoming season, including COVID-19 restrictions, is available on the ESO’s website.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...

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