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Local Column

Schrader: Kishwaukee Symphony brought us a genius

Kishwaukee Symphony conductor Linc Smelser poses with guest pianist Emily Bear during intermission Saturday at the 40th season concert season opener.
Kishwaukee Symphony conductor Linc Smelser poses with guest pianist Emily Bear during intermission Saturday at the 40th season concert season opener.

The kickoff of the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s 40th season Saturday night was a blockbuster.

If you were one of the fortunate 400 people in the Boutell Concert Hall, I don’t need to tell you that the guest performer – young Emily Bear, a renowned pianist/composer/songwriter, was spellbinding with her performance and delightful personality.

She exuded enthusiasm and displayed her boundless energy and talent unequalled at any of the past concerts I have attended.

Seated at the front of the stage at the grand piano, the 15-year-old prodigy played three of her own compositions, written for the full orchestra.

The first was “Santa Fe,” produced when she was 10 years old, then “The Bravest Journey,” which she composed and orchestrated at 13.

The third, “Les Voyages,” completed at age 12, earned her the ASCAP 2015 Young Composer of the Year Award. For her grand finale on stage she played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” like I’ve never heard it before.

You could tell that conductor Linc
Smelser and the 85-piece orchestra were thrilled to be performing with her. Their performance was stellar.

Many in the audience had not read of her accomplishments – making her professional debut at the Ravinia Festival at age 5; then at age 6 she was the youngest rising star to receive the Morton Gould Young composer award.

Orchestras the world over have been performing her brilliant compositions ever since.

Bear has appeared at the Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Ravinia and at the White House.

Her concerts have attracted large, adoring audiences across America and throughout Europe and Asia.

She was recently commissioned to arrange her own composition to be performed by 25 pianists at the same time.

The list of her TV appearances is too long to detail here.

Known primarily as a classical artist, she also has a love for jazz. Her young talent attracted the attention of Quincy Jones, who has become her mentor. Jones said of her: “She is the most delightful human being I’ve ever met in my life. … I am at once astounded and inspired by the enormous talent that Emily embodies. … She plays like she is 40 years old. … There are no limits to the musical heights she can reach.”

It is interesting to learn she was raised in nearby Rockford, where she is home-schooled by her mother.

Her talent was first recognized when she was 2 by her grandmother, who is an accomplished pianist in her own right.

Emily’s next appearance will be Nov. 19, when she performs in honor of her mentor Quincy Jones at the Los Angeles Society Tribute to him in Hollywood.

It was exciting to see and hear her up close Saturday night in DeKalb.

She ended the evening signing copies of her CDs for concertgoers who were also enjoying slices of a large 40th anniversary cake.

• Barry Schrader can be reached by email at or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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