By Melissa Mitchell It's only fitting that a tricentennial conference to mark the death of England's greatest composer should be hosted by an Englishman. What doesn't fit so neatly with convention, perhaps, is that the organizer of the Henry Purcell Tricentennial Conference and Festival, Nicholas Temperley, is staging the event in America's heartland - at the UI. Temperley, a UI professor of musicology who specializes in the study of 18th- and 19th-century English music, acknowledges that he is not himself a scholar of Purcell. Nonetheless, he said, he felt a certain obligation to commemorate the occasion. "As an Englishman, I felt responsible to do something about England's greatest composer," he said. "To my knowledge, it's the first time something like this has been done in this country." Besides, he added, "I've always thought his music was wonderful." The conference and festival, to take place Oct. 20 and 21, is expected to draw Purcell scholars, performers and English Baroque music enthusiasts from across the United States. The event will include lectures, panel discussions and paper sessions; an exhibit of rare printed music and books; and performances - including a concert of music written by Purcell and his contemporaries and performed by the Boston-based early music group The King's Noyse; and a presentation of Purcell's "King Arthur." The conference's keynote speaker, Curtis Price, principal of London's Royal Academy of Music, will focus on "Purcell Performance and Scholarship Today." The opening session also will include a talk by Robert Bucholz, a Loyola University historian, who will discuss "The Decline of the English Court as a Center of Entertainment." Temperley said Purcell - whose name frequently is mispronounced by Americans (it's correctly pronounced PURSE-ul) - and his music have come back into favor recently with modern music scholars and audiences. "There's been a great interest in reviving this music," in particular, Purcell's compositions for public theater presentations, Temperley said. "Until recently, these works were generally never staged. They dropped out of fashion after Purcell's death, when Italian opera - in which everything is sung - set the stage. "This year, semi-operas [operas without full staging] have been revived in Paris, London and Boston. It's a new territory that everyone's been experimenting with." Why the relatively sudden interest in the music of a composer who's been dead for three centuries? "Purcell had an extraordinary gift for setting the English language to music. He had a flair," Temperley said. "Instead of imitating Italian or German music, he had his own style, which is especially suited to the English language." Two public performances are scheduled at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in conjunction with the conference. The King's Noyse will present "Theater Music in the Age of Henry Purcell" at 8 p.m. Oct. 20 and the UI Chorale and UI Symphony Orchestra will present "King Arthur" at 8 p.m. Oct. 21. Ticket information for the two performances are available from the Krannert Center.