Capping off another magnificent weekend for the arts in Elgin was a spectacular concert of soloists and a world premiere performance of original music in a program dedicated to the life of Nancy Hillquist, an Elgin mother, nurse and ECC educator who bravely fought cancer until September 2009.
The audience in Epworth United Methodist church was nearing capacity Sunday as harpist Theodora Barclay played works by Rota and Saint-Saens. The angelic sounds of a solo harp are a rare pleasure, and Barclay's graceful and expressive renditions were a perfect prelude to the concert of remembrance that followed.
Concert organizer and noted Elgin choral conductor and organist Gary Hillquist commissioned an original anthem in honor of his wife Nancy, scored for choir, organ, harp, flute, brass quartet and percussion. The world premiere of "Great Our Joy," with original music by Joel Raney and words by Fred Pratt Green was performed by a superb ensemble: the Heartland Voices directed by Dr. John Slawson, harpist Theodora Barclay, flautist Diane Hansen, organist Aram Basmadjian and the five-piece Brilliant Brass.
The sacred and inspiring lyrics were given a glorious setting by Raney in a perfect blend of traditional choral harmony and counterpoint, and a free modern form that used changes in key and voicing to create a sense of deep spiritual truth combined with constant, joyous renewal.
The majority of the program featured the charismatic organ virtuoso Aram Basmadjian in series of works spanning three centuries. A former airline pilot, and now music executive and recording artist, Basmadjian produced an astonishing volume and variety of sounds on Epworth's three-manual Allen organ. Awed by his talent and delighted by his engaging and witty remarks before each piece, the audience was treated to an encore performance of Bach after giving a long standing ovation.
For more information on the artists, or to donate to the Community Crisis Center in honor of Nancy Hillquist, visit tributetonancy.wordpress.com.