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David Commanday on Step-Brother Ambassador Chris Stevens, Oct. 27th

David Commanday’s comments to the audience prior to the Heartland Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Symphony Number 3, the “Heroic”, on Saturday, October 27, 2012.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you for being with us this evening, and with me and my family.

This program was planned long, long ago – far sooner than the seven weeks which have elapsed since the loss of my step-brother, Chris Stevens, in Libya. And yet, I believe there is no more fitting tribute, more appropriate piece of music with which to celebrate the achievements of a person like Chris.

Chris and I got acquainted with each other back when he was a teenager and I not much more than a teenager, when our folks got married. And already in high school Chris had a capacity to make a friend on first meeting. Not only was he outgoing and a delight and charming, but he had a gift for listening. I am certain that his capacity to listen, but not merely to listen but actually to hear the person with whom he was meeting, was a key to the successes of his career.

We have many heroes who protect our liberties and protect our freedom, and who help uphold the ideals which we hold dear, here in the United States; equality, liberty, freedom, dignity for all… and an open-hearted willingness to live with our neighbors. Well, these in fact were ideals which Beethoven himself cherished.

In 1803 he had just come off of a tremendous personal crisis in his life, as some of you may remember from our experience with the Second Symphony a year ago. He wrote this moving testament and nearly suicidal note out in Heiligenstadt, one of the suburbs in Vienna. He was coming to the realization that he would never be able to live the ‘normal’ life of which he had dreamed – that his ears probably would not be healed, and that he would live the rest of his life as a deaf man. So he had a period of turmoil behind him, and that was in his personal realm.

But at the same time in the world, in Europe, in the beginning of the 19th Century – 1800- 1803 – there were forces at work that kept life from being settled in every way – they were revolutionary forces. It was not long since the American Revolution had occurred, and still less time had passed since the French Revolution. And the leader of the French Revolution or at least its proclaimed hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, was idealized by Beethoven as having been instrumental in setting men free, leaving behind the tyranny of aristocracies and the suppression of the common man. Humanity seemed to be stepping forward to a brave new future.

And so Beethoven, on the heels of this crisis, and at the moment of reaffirming his joy in life and finding once again his creative power, wrote this work and initially dedicated it to Napoleon Bonaparte. When, however, before its premiere Beethoven was informed that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor — he violently scratched out the name on the title page, and tore the dedication page in half.
“So it turns out he is human after all – he is just going to be another one of the tyrants!” And so he left us this work, and entitled it;
“To celebrate the memory of a great man”.

Chris Stevens lived a life, pursued a career dedicated to the ideals of liberty and friendship among peoples. He arrived wherever he went with his hand open, ready to meet his next friend. And he might be in the same room with an Israeli and a Palestinian, and each one of them would feel he had been heard.
It was magic, really.

We need peacemakers like Chris Stevens. And so in the tragedy and the sadness of his loss I take some solace in the fact that, because of this dreadful occurrence, his work has become all the more clearly known around the world. And think of the harvest of good will and friendship and, yes, love, which was the result of his encounters with all the Libyans — resulting in an outpouring of, of grief, regret, condolences, and also messages not just to my personal family but to all of us Americans from the Libyans, who said: “This is not us, we are against this.”

So we all need to find ways to emulate what Chris did, and make peace – to wage peace, and not war.

This symphony is a solemn moment, and yet it is a celebration – and you will hear the vitality and the nobility of the hero. This is a celebration of life and of humanity, and we hope it will help you take in this experience of being human, and help all of us to heal and go forward.


Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony Press Release


 Heartland Festival Orchestra Artistic Director David Commanday dedicates HFO October 27th concert to his late stepbrother, the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.

Peoria, IL:  October 1, 2012— On September 11th Artistic Director David Commanday and his family received devastating news:  a mob stormed the US mission in Benghazi, where Commanday’s stepbrother, J. Christopher Stevens, was stationed as US Ambassador to Libya. During the attack, Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

For Stevens’ extended family, including his mother, Mary Commanday and stepfather, Robert Commanday (David’s father), of Piedmont, California, the 52-year-old ambassador’s death while serving in a region of the world he loved, was a profound personal loss. For our country, the violent attack on members of its diplomatic mission in Benghazi has been a national tragedy.

With Stevens’ death provoking such sorrow worldwide, David Commanday has decided to dedicate the upcoming Heartland Festival Orchestra concert at Five Points Washington as a tribute to Stevens.

“Chris was a remarkable, accomplished, brave man, with a deceptively calm and unassuming persona,” Commanday said. “My family lost a son and brother, but the world lost a great advocate for peace.”

“The sudden tragic loss of Chris changed my world,” Commanday said. “Plans, projects, relationships—all took on a different aspect in light of this blow. I felt the need to dedicate Beethoven’s Eroica (Heroic) Symphony to Chris’ memory. Beethoven himself was a man of the highest ideals, believing profoundly in the brotherhood of mankind.

“Chris was just the kind of hero Beethoven had in mind:  he represented the United States throughout his career in the most difficult political and ideological settings, and always found ways to make friends to foster understanding and progress,” Commanday said. “He ‘waged’ peace with great success, and great courage, and ultimately gave his life—serving the American ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

The symphony contains a moving funeral march, perhaps first conceived as honoring heroes of the French Revolution.  Transformed in light of Beethoven’s ideals, it can be understood as a tribute to a fallen hero.

Said Commanday:  “Music can work magic in celebrating life and in healing, and it is my hope to offer both in this concert.”

Heartland Festival Orchestra Administrative Director Laura Evancho adds, “The Heartland Festival Orchestra has been deeply moved by the outpouring of support and kindness shown the Commanday family – from our community and from musicians and friends across the country – after this global, yet very personal, tragedy.  All of us have felt a sense of loss and bewilderment at the horrific death of our ambassador to Libya.  At times like this, when we don’t know quite what to do, we can come together and let our emotions speak through the music.”

WHAT:   Beethoven’s ‘Heroic’ Symphony

Rossini: La Scala di Seta Overture

M. Haydn: Concerto for Two Horns, Thomas and Tricia Jöstlein, Soloists

Beethoven – Symphony No. 3, “The Heroic” in E-flat Major, Opus 55

WHEN:  Saturday, October 27, 2012 – 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Five Points Washington, 360 N. Wilmor Rd., Washington, IL 61571

TICKETS: Single tickets – adults $30, students $8.  For tickets and information, call (309) 339-3943,or visit

Concert benefits PARC

Concert sponsored by Baum Family Foundation and Jim & Ede Kidder

CONTACT for more information:

Laura Evancho, Administrative Director
(309) 339-3943

Following Their Lead: Paws Giving Independence

Just a couple days ago Maestro David Commanday visited Paws Giving Independence our community partner in our next concert “Amadeus” on June 2nd. The good work that the trainers, families, and service dogs (and service dogs in training) do is as heartwarming as these happy faces.

Music Education and the Musical Caravan

Music Education and the Musical Caravan                       

On the eve of launching our Musical Caravan Project, in which the HFO will be bringing music to the students in their schools, I have been looking into the latest on music and the arts in education. 

 Honestly, I am amazed. 

 By now there is such a huge body of research and statistics demonstrating the profoundly positive effects of arts education, that  everyone should be demanding that it be increased, restored, or if need be newly established in  their children’s schooling. 

 The benefits for the growing mind are proven by measurement of all aspects of child development.

Arts education

  • Expands and enhances thinking skills
  • Develops creativity in problem-solving
  • Improves test performance in all subjects
  • Has positive effects on social interaction
  • Increases the level of success in adult life after schooling
  • Raises income levels of students and their families

The evidence is so strong that arguing for music and arts education in school seems just about as obvious as saying that the sun rises in the East.

 But here it is: Educating school students in music is good for them, good for us, good for the economy, good for our  country, and good for the world.

 Here are a few supporting statements and facts.

 Data show that high earnings are not just associated with people who have high technical skills. In fact, mastery of the arts and humanities is just as closely correlated with high earnings.

Tough Choices or Tough Times: The report of the new Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 2007

 “When I hear people asking how we fix the education system, I tell them we need to do the opposite of what is happening, cutting budgets by cutting music programs…. Nothing could be stupider than removing the ability for the left and right brains to function. Ask a CEO what they are looking for in an employee and they say they need people who understand teamwork, people who are disciplined, people who understand the big picture. You know what they need? They need musicians.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, 2007

 Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school or school district.

Christopher M. Johnson and Jenny E. Memmott, Journal of Research in Music Education, 2006

 Schools with music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%).

Harris Interactive poll of high school principals, 2006

 Students of music continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT, according to reports by the College Entrance Examination Board.

The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006

 Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments.

The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005

 Children with music training had significantly better verbal memory than those without such training, and the longer the training, the better the verbal memory.

Summary of paper by Ho, Y. C., Cheung, M. C., & Chan, in Neuropsychology, 2003

 Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training.

Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour at McMaster University, 2006

 “Music is one way for young people to connect with themselves, but it is also a bridge for connecting with others. Through music, we can introduce children to the richness and diversity of the human family and to the myriad rhythms of life.”

Daniel A. Carp, Eastman Kodak Company Chairman and CEO.

 “…Children are among those that benefit most from music and the arts. The study of music can greatly enhance a child’s analytical skills, interest in school, creativity, discipline, and self-esteem. Moreover, music education programs can also offer at-risk youth life-saving alternatives. Music motivates children by stimulating their imaginations and increasing their confidence. It is no surprise that numerous studies have linked music education with increased academic achievement…”

– U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes

 “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.”

President John F. Kennedy


An article on the Benefits of Music Education can be found at:


I am looking forward to bringing our music to the schools!


David Commanday

Artistic Director/Conductor

Heartland Festival Orchestra



Honk if you love the HFO

Have you seen our banners? They’re out now all across Peoria!

Orchestra Hall!

Heartland Festival Orchestra

Orchestra Hall, Chicago

On Monday the 16th of May the HFO and I had the pleasure and honor of making our Chicago debut in Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony and a space rich in musical history and tradition.  I was in the hall and on the stage in advance of the musicians, preoccupied with stage management questions (Who would sit where for which works on the program?) when the musicians appeared.  The buses were early, and suddenly I could see them standing at the rear stage wall, waiting for the OK to come on stage – they were ready now!

The excellent Orchestra Hall stagehands, in addition to having consummate professional command of their space, are also blessedly flexible and helpful in attitude … and said, yes, the players could come on.  It was a pleasure to see my HFO family take the stage, and watch them begin to get acquainted with it.

The space gives to the players warmly.  Each musician has a good, real sense of his or her own sound, while able to hear everyone else.  It makes a huge difference in an orchestra, this important balance between hearing oneself and hearing the ensemble.  Beyond hitting this balance, Orchestra Hall adds a lovely nimbus to the collective sound.  It gave us our own warmth of sound right back, beautifully.

And so we began our Beethoven First Symphony rehearsal, making friends with the space while we re-focused our Beethoven.  Just a few words from me in advance of each movement, in some cases changing details from our last performance, and we ran it. The musicians were, typically, totally prepared.  In a few cases individuals asked questions about specific spots, helping to clarify my intentions to everyone.  It was what I treasure in my relationship to the musicians of the HFO – a collaboration in pursuit of excellence.  This is orchestral chamber music — chamber orchestra!

Later in the afternoon I had a new experience – hearing the HFO from the hall, not from the podium.  Simon Carrington (founder of The King’s Singers and an eminent conductor and musician) rehearsed them in the Faure Requiem – and I was struck by the beauty of their sound and clarity of execution.  The violas shone in their rare ‘top voice’ role in this work, the cello section was crystal, horns, trumpets, bassoons, basses, and timpani dead on.  Sarah Gentry’s violin solo was angelically pure in intonation, and Julia Jamieson’s harp perfect and beautiful.

A scant two hours later we were in performance.  The intensity of the musicians’ looks made clear – they were determined, excited, and a bit nervous.  My role, both for them and for me, was to remain in the Beethoven, in the instant – not conducting in order to avoid mishap, but re-imagining and re-creating this music as it developed, just as Beethoven conceived.  Energy, character, imagination, spontaneity, and invention — all are needed in a fine performance, and that is what the musicians and I gave each other and shared with the audience.  Audience members and musicians alike have been writing in to express glowing reviews of the performance. One musician noted, “we were so focused together on our performance that it wasn’t until near the end of the Beethoven that I realized Maestro Commanday was conducting without a score.  On purpose, of course.”

The Heartland Festival Orchestra musicians played at their absolute best; it was beautiful, and it was alive.  What a pleasure, and what a privilege, to be at the helm of such an ensemble.  Simon Carrington and the other musicians in the hall were lavish in their praise.  The producers said to the musicians while onstage, “Peoria is lucky to have such an orchestra.  When are you going to play in New York?”

Happy Mothers’ Day Wishes to All!

It is a great day, and a rare one, when we all together salute and thank and celebrate the best people of our lives – our Mothers, who far too often go unsung.

Just a brief glance back in history shows us two shining examples of unsung Maternal (and Human!) excellence; women who were both wives and mothers, wellsprings of support for great men, but also huge creative talents in their own right: Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Wieck Schumann.

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix, was born like her illustrious brother with prodigious talents and gifts for music, but in the early 19th century was neither encouraged nor trained for a career as a composer. She was a source of expert counsel and advice to her brother in his career as composer and conductor, but never pursued one of her own. She married and had a child, and although she composed 466 pieces of music, she was virtually unpublished in her lifetime. Generations later her talent and accomplishments were recognized for their great worth.

Have a listen:
Lied: Larghetto from Song Without Words, Op. 8, No.3
Piano Trio Op. 11 Mvt IV Finale – Allegro Moderato

Clara Schumann

Clara Wieck was a brilliantly gifted young pianist and composer who captured the heart of Robert Schumann – when finally her father approved the marriage, the Schumann’s were wed, and Clara set her ambitions (somewhat) to the side… Clara raised seven children, performing on concert tour after tour, and continuing to compose as she supported Robert. She continued on with motherhood and career through her husband’s mental illness and forty years after his death… and serving as muse, inspiration, and support to Johannes Brahms through his adult life. Her strength in achieving her successes, while raising her children and caring for her husband, was truly astonishing.

Hear works by Clara Schumann:
Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 7 Allegro Maestoso
Piano Trio in G Minor Op. 17 Andante

These stories are remarkable only in the scale of these mothers’ gifts and achievements – they are otherwise typical and characteristic of what mothers have been doing, and continue to do, through the millennia – they do it all with unknowable strength and love.

So today, and tomorrow and after, let us sing our mothers’ praises and thank them for their song!

We are all your creations, and we
Thank you all!

Post By: David Commanday
Artistic Director / Conductor of the Heartland Festival Orchestra