Lucia Matos has a pleasant demeanor, which musicians will attest is a rare trait for a music conductor.
Easy-going and kind-hearted in nature, Matos has not only brought out the best in performers the past nine years as director of the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra, but she's also encouraged musicians to return to the community orchestra.
Matos will lead her final concert of the IVSO at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Illinois Valley Community College's Mary Margaret Weeg Cultural Centre with featured violin soloist Kam-lung Cheng.
The performance figures to be an emotional one as tears have already been shed at rehearsals leading up to the performance.
"Conductors have an autocratic way of doing things," said professional cellist and orchestra member Michael Pecherek, who also heads the IVCC music department. "She has a much more cooperative and pleasant relationship with the orchestra. She's one of the most pleasant people you will meet.
"We will miss her."
Preparing a symphony performance, including one with community musicians, is a challenge. Typically six rehearsals are adequate to prepare for a performance, but a community orchestra may have two or three.
"Many of the people with us are not professional musicians, they have day jobs," Pecherek said. "Lucia does a good job of working with them little by little to bring them up to a higher level."
Professional flutist and IVSO performer Sue Gillio said Matos does so by setting a good tone and a high standard for the group. She consistently makes improvements up to the final performance.
"She asks for your best in such a kind and compassionate way," said Gillio, who operates Music Suite 408 in Peru. "She brings out the very best in you without having to ask directly."
Born in Brazil, Matos has lived in the United States since 1998. She received a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Iowa, where she was a student of William La Rue Jones. For the last decade, she has been the director of orchestra and opera at Northern Illinois University.
Responding to IVSO's search for a new conductor, she remembers leading her first concert as a guest conductor for the group.
"It went very well," she said. "I loved them instantly. You could tell they took it seriously and wanted to do their best."
Matos has appeared with orchestras in the U.S., Brazil and Europe, including the Chicago Philharmonic, the Illinois Philharmonic, along with other international orchestras. An advocate for contemporary music, Matos has given premiere performances of numerous orchestral and chamber works.
"She's a real pro," Pecherek said. "She's prepared for rehearsals and on task. She brings a different sound to the orchestra. Her personality comes through. She's very expressive and stylistically correct. That element of expressiveness really resonates with the audience."
Fittingly, the May 12 performance will include Romantic-era pieces. The orchestra will perform Johannes Brahms violin concerto in D major and Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Isle of Dead."
The Rachmaninoff piece was inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting "Isle of the Dead," which the Russian composer saw in Paris in 1907.
"It's not performed frequently," Matos said. "It's a beautiful piece."
The orchestra also will perform Jean Sibelius’s "Valse Romantique," which was composed in 1911 as the second part of a two-set suite.
Matos said leaving the orchestra was not planned, so the pieces were selected in advance of the season. She is stepping down because she has developed a worsening case of tinnitus, which is a noise or ringing in the ears, she said.
"It's very difficult to leave, it's still too fresh for me," Matos said. "I would love to continue, because it's been such a joy to work with everyone."
A highlight of Matos' time as director was interacting with students during IVSO youth concerts, Gillio said. The orchestra rotates through different schools in the IVCC region.
"She interacts really well with students, which is a big part of the orchestra's mission," Gillio said. "We want students to get involved with music. For many of them, this is the only kind of live orchestra music they'll experience."
A reception honoring Matos and the night’s soloist will follow the concert in room CTC124 at IVCC.
Matos said the group has been preparing the same way it does for every other concert, but there's no doubt this one will be more special.
"I think everyone is going to be super charged to do their best for her," Gillio said. "Given the circumstances, I believe it will be a really fine performance."
Featured soloist a familiar face
Featured soloist Kam-lung Cheng will perform the Brahms Concerto for Violin in D Major, considered by some to be the greatest of all violin concertos.
Kam-lung was born in Beijing, China, to a musical family. He began his violin study at the age of 7 with his father, a violin professor at the Central Conservatory of Music of China, despite the fact that at that time in China playing Western music was a punishable offense and had to be done in secrecy. His family later emigrated to Hong Kong, where he made his first television appearance.
He received his diploma from the University of Freiburg in Germany and was then invited by Yehudi Menuhin to attend the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland, where he studied with Yehudi Menuhin himself.
Kam-lung received his solo and chamber music diploma from Utrecht Conservatory in 1987. He then made a successful appearance on Dutch television playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and giving a recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
In 2017 he was appointed concertmaster of the Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra. Since 2007 Kam-lung has appeared frequently as a soloist on Chinese music stages. He has been serving as guest conductor and soloist for several major orchestras in China, including those of Tianjim and Sichuan.
Kam-lung has performed as a featured soloist with the IVSO before and Matos.
Want to go?
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12
Where: IVCC's Mary Margaret Weeg Cultural Centre, Oglesby campus
Ticket info: Admission to the concert is by season membership or individual ticket available online at ivso.org or at the door. Adult tickets are $20, $5 for college students with an ID and free for students K-12. The auditorium is handicapped accessible. The concert is sponsored by Illinois Cement Company and the Blouke and Marianne Carus Foundation and partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Season sponsors are Ning Communications and Ottawa Radio.