North Shore guitarist visits Lake Forest Symphony

January 17, 2012

If you can’t go to sunny Italy this winter, come to the Lake Forest Symphony’s "Italian Fest," with warm and exciting music by Rossini, Respighi, Vivaldi, and the 20th century Hollywood film composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

And there’s another very good reason to attend this concert. The orchestra’s conductor and music director Alan Heatherington has engaged 29-year-old soloist Alan Levin, who grew up in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff and is distinguishing himself in the world of classical guitar.

Heatherington credited two Lake Forest colleagues for alerting him to Levin. "I first became aware of Adam through the former Lake Forest Symphony marketing director Pat Nissen and our Symphony Guild’s president Betty Benton," he explained. Both had known the young man as a student at Lake Forest Country Day School and Lake Forest Academy and were enthusiastic about his music.

Levin also had sent Heatherington some of his recordings, so the maestro invited him to his Libertyville home for an interview.

"(We) met to talk about his career, repertoire and interest in appearing with one of my orchestras as guest artist," Heatherington said.

Benton also invited him to perform for a Guild tea, and he was a great hit. "His performance was extraordinary in every respect," Heatherington declared. "He is an accomplished musician and technician and is also a superb communicator, both in his playing and in his speaking.

Celebrating Italy

Levin’s broad repertoire, however, was a challenge, as both the soloist and conductor tried to narrow down the options from standard and unfamiliar guitar concertos. The Italian theme that did the trick.

Levin will be the soloist in Castelnuovo-Tedesco"s Guitar Concerto No. 1 in D, composed for famed classical guitarist Andres Segovia, and Vivaldi’s popular Guitar Concerto in D, which was initially featured daily on the Children’s Television Workshop’s "Sesame Street."

The program opens with two Rossini overtures to "Il Signor Bruschino" and "L’Italiana in Algeri," and continues with Respighi’s "Ancient Airs and Dances" Suite III and "Gli Uccelli," (The Birds).

Levin has all the positive signs of a chronic over-achiever. At Northwestern University in Evanston he earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in pre-med and physiology and then earned master’s in music performance. "I started piano at five and classical guitar at seven," he explained, when he was back in Lake Bluff for the holidays. "Anne Wallers was my guitar teacher at Northwestern. She was very important."

After graduation he snared a Fulbright Scholarship, initially to study contemporary Spanish guitar music in Madrid. "I was able to get an extension for a second year," he said, obviously pleased. "After that I competed in the Krannert Center at the University of Illionis against 40 other international musicians for the Kate Neal Kinley Memorial Fellowship for further research and performance in Spain, and I won it."

In 2010 he enrolled in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid. "My Spanish was getting better and better," he said, smiling, "but my accent gave me away. I was the only American there."

Local composers, however, had no trouble understanding what he wanted to accomplish during his third year. "There is still a shallow repertoire of works performed expressly for classical guitar," he said, "so I was able to get funding to give an honorarium to 30 contemporary Spanish composers to each write me a short solo work."

Record coming

The pieces would be not only published, but also recorded. "It’s going to be an encyclopedia collection — four volumes," he said. "I start recording in Canada for Naxos in September."

He already has several CDs to his credit, including "In the Beginning" which he recorded in Boston, and "Fuego de la Luna," recorded in Spain.

Levin now lives in Boston, where he studies with his long-time mentor Eliot Fisk. "From Boston I can cross the Atlantic or easily come home to the Chicago area for concerts," he said.

Currently he is going back and forth to Spain every few weeks to perform. "I am better known there than I am here right now," he joked.

His two concerts with the Lake Forest Symphony will certainly improve that situation, and Heatherington has engaged Levin for yet another performance.

"He’s playing for nearly 1,000 school children in our Lake Forest educational concerts while he’s here," the conductor said.