Seventeen of the brassiest brass players (and two percussionists, because why not?) hit the stage for a blowout led by Fulcrum Point Artistic Director Stephen Burns. Burns's own Fanfare for Freedom kicks off the program, followed by Timpani Symphony in Brass by the late jazz/classical fusion visionary Gunther Schuller. Eric Ewazen's Symphony for Brass and Michael Daugherty's Motown Metal complete a show of bells, spit valves, and suds. Oh, and your ticket includes a pint of Belgian Tongerlo. Tickets are $15/advance, $20/door. Tuesday, Oct. 6, 7:30pm. 1st Ward, 2033 W. North Ave.
The Spektrals are back at it, blowing away any preconceived ideas of what it means to be a string quartet in the 21st Century. SQ opens an unapologetically provocative season with a weekend of audience-centered performances. Featuring modular seating, the quartet spreads out across the room to create a surround-sound experience of recent works by Ryan Ingebritsen and Lee Weisert, along with a new commission by Morgan Krauss. SQ's treatment of older repertoire crackles with the same energy as modern works, and you'll be treated to John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts, Schubert's Quartettsatz, and Beethoven's super-awesome Grosse Fuge. General Admission, $10. Saturday, Oct. 10, 7pm. Curtiss Hall, Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Sunday, Oct. 11, 3pm. Mana Contemporary, 2233 S. Throop St.
Throughout the month of September, there are an array of classical music offerings located throughout Chicago, promising to be an unforgettable experience.
Collaborative Works Festival
The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) kicks off its season with the fourth annual Collaborative Works Festival, now a staple of Chicago's vocal music scene. The four-day festival brings some of the finest recital singers in the world to town for a series celebrating the oft-overlooked genre of art song. Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni headlines in the opening solo recital of songs by Franz Schubert, Vincenzo Bellini, Stefano Donaudy, and Paulo Tosti. In two salon concerts exploring American art song, sopranos Nicole Heaston and Laquita Mitchell, and Tenor Nicholas Phan, perform music by Charles Ives, Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Leonard Bernstein. You won't get closer to better singing all year.
September 9 - 12, various locations. Tickets are $35/general, $30/seniors, $15/students. September 10 recital is free.
Before the main music season kicks off in the next two months (and it will be a good one), here are three ways to spend the remaining dog days.
CAIC: Lieder Lounge
Ahead of its 4-day Collaborative Works Festival in September, the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is teaming up with Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center for a summer installment of its popular Lieder Lounge series. Ryan Center members Lindsay Metzger (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Clark Evans (baritone), and Mario Marra (piano) will present a recital of songs including pieces by Gerald Finzi. Get a closeup concert experience in one of the best small venues in the city - and that Fazioli piano isn't too shabby, either. Tickets are $35/general, $30/seniors, $15/students. Saturday, August 15, 7:00pm. Pianoforte, 1335 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Escape the heat and giant crowds during these dog days and check out some intimate chamber music with some of Chicago's best locally-based artists.
As part of the University of Chicago's Chamber Music Intensive program, the Lincoln Trio present a public performance and discussion of Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio — that's the D-Major, Op. 70, No. 1 if you're keeping track. Written during the composer's so-called Middle Period (1802-12) when he was expanding the scope and scale of his musical output while simultaneously confronting his looming deafness, the music was said to have conjured images of Hamlet's father. The work is gripping and tense, particularly through the slow movement; the outer fast movements are more joyous, brightly colored, and energetic. If you haven't experienced a chamber performance at the Logan Center's 9th-floor penthouse, this would be a good chance: excellent acoustics, expansive views of Hyde Park, and a close-up look at one of the city's best chamber ensembles. Admission is free. Friday, July 17, 6:30pm. Logan Center Performance Penthouse, 915 E. 60th.
Special edition double month column to kick off the summer's music!
Third Coast Percussion: Wild Sound
TCP hits the MCA with an explosion of Glenn Kotche music, including the Wilco drummer's "Wild Sound." Composed for the TCP, "Wild Sound" incorporates field recordings from nature and urban life; during the performance, the ensemble constructs and performs on instruments designed by Kotche. The program includes works by Steve Reich, Joao Gilberto, and pieces performed by Kotche himself. Get tickets fast to to the May 21 performance — the May 22 concert is already sold out. Tickets are $28 nonmembers, $22 MCA members, $10 students. Thursday, May 21, 7:30pm. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. (Photo: Saverio Truglia)
All kinds of crossover this month as ancient to contemporary music blurs together and crosses boundaries, and the apparent lines between classical and pop disintegrate. Go hear it!
Fifth House Ensemble and Baladino: Nedudim
Fifth House's season blazes ahead with Nedudim, a collaborative program with Israeli folk band Baladino that explores Middle Eastern, European, and American cultures through ancient and contemporary sounds. The program includes updated arrangements of Ladino and Israeli folk melodies, as well as contemporary pieces by Americans Robert Beaser and Dan Visconti that feature Baladino soloists. In their mission and approach to music, both ensembles emphasize creativity through collaboration, and Nedudim illustrates the fluid and shared nature of music through diasporic cultures. You won't hear anything else like this concert on the calendar the rest of the year. Tickets are $20/general, $15/students. Friday, April 17, 7pm. Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio St., Chicago. Monday, April 20, 7pm. Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave.
It was another amazing day at Levitation Festival in Chicago. It's easy to love a city that can show it's love for great music in a wide stretching genre with such a stellar two day festival, even if our winters are pretty unbearable!
Hubbard Street Dance's Spring Series brings 300 years of music together in another round of solid and intriguing programming. HSD reprises two works by Jiří Kylián: "Sarabande," which Bach's Second Partita for Solo Violin with electronic manipulations, and "Falling Angels," set to Steve Reich's "Drumming" performed live by Third Coast Percussion. Alejandro Cerrudo's "Cloudless" is set to two short works by Nils Frahm, while Owen Belton's music accompanies the HSD premiere of Crystal Pite's "A Picture of You Falling." Finally, HSD gives the world premiere of "I am Mister B," choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano as an homage to George Balanchine, and set to Tchaikovsky's Third Suite for Orchestra. Pretty sure you'll want grab up some last-minute tickets, which start at $25. March 12-15, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, Chicago.
Fifth House Ensemble: Verklärte Nacht
Arnold Schoenberg composed Verklärte Nachte (Transfigured Night) in the closing months of the 19th Century, a single-movement work inspired by Richard Dehmel's poem of the same title. Through the poem and music runs the theme of conflict, impending upheaval, and change. In its ever-deepening cross-media exploration, Fifth House expands Schoenberg's music and Dehmel's stark and beautiful language and adds experimental visuals by Chicago animator Buki Bodunrin. The program includes music by Kevin Puts and Guillaume Connesson. Tickets are $15-$25. Tuesday, February 17, 7pm. Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse.
In memory of my friend, colleague, and arts publicist extraordinaire, Eric Eatherly. He was one of the good ones.
Ian Maksin and Goran Ivanovic Trio
Cellist Ian Maksin returns to City Winery after a round of international touring and album releasing to collaborate with guitarist Goran Ivanovic, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Pete Tashjian. Maksin's never-ending ability to find new realms for the cello has taken his music from his native St. Petersburg, Russia, to American jazz, and he has an uncanny ability to shift styles. Maksin and Ivanovic will perform music of Bach, Bartok, Piazzolla, and original works in what promises to be a lively show. Tickets $15-$22. Sunday, January 11, 7pm. City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph.
Bluebeard's Castle at Thalia Hall
If you see only one psychologically bizarre, and fantastically creepy opera this month, make it Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. The one-act opera opens as Bluebeard and his new wife, Judith, arrive at the castle following their elopement. Faced with seven doors, Judith discovers her new husband's dark, horrific past. This visually-arresting opera features acclaimed soloists Andrea Silvestrelli (bass) and Kara Shay Thomson (soprano) in Bartok's gripping score. Francesco Milioto conducts the New Millennium Orchestra. Tickets start at $10. Thursday, December 4, 8:30pm. Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport.
Fifth House Ensemble's Favorite Things
5HE's holiday party is as close as I'll get to recommending a holiday-themed concert, mostly because some of their favorite things include Shostakovich, Miguel del Aguila, and Marc Mellits. Enjoy cookies and booze and the potential for an audience kazoo-along. Proceeds benefit 5HE's music programs in Chicago schools. Tickets start at $12. Saturday, December 6, 7pm. Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.
In honor of #Movember, here is British composer Edward Elgar:
And now, on to the recommendations for this month.
With its home in Chicago, Fonema Consort has built an international fan base as it builds a reputation in the new music world for adventurous programming. The artists that make up Fonema are constantly thrown from traditional styles of playing, forcing them to add rhythmically and physically complex vocalizations into their playing. And they're really good at it, as you'll see during their appearance as part of the Latino Music Festival. The program includes unusual instrumental combinations, such as Pablo Santiago Chin's Como la leyenda de Tlön for soprano and percussion. The program also includes works by Gustavo Leone and Francisco Castillo Tigueros. Thursday, Nov. 13, 7pm. University of Chicago, Fulton Hall, 5845 S. Ellis, Chicago. Free admission.
As I left my apartment to see Ben Frost the other day, the weather shifted. The sky changed to a ominous shade of black. An inescapable coldness filled the air as flakes of snow fell from the sky, their luminous white color in stark contrast of the overwhelming darkness around them. It was beautiful.
"Classical music is dead. Long live classical music!" - The Internet.
The lesson: Read less internet. See more music.
Spektral Quartet: Sampler Pack
If you haven't seen the Spektrals by now, then I just don't know. Do yourself a favor and check out their latest Sampler Pack concert to get a distillation of their entire outlook on music. n one performance, SQ offers small bits of works from Ligeti's manic Quartet No. 2 to Beethoven's melancholic Opus 132; from brooding Philip Glass to nostalgic Dvorak. Hear string players sing and recite poetry while playing during David Reminick's The Ancestral Mousetrap, and hear selections from SQ's Mobile Minis ringtone project. The ever-evolving quartet will welcome violinist Clara Lyon to the group, in place of the departing Aurelien Pederzoli. There will also be alcohol. Tickets are $12. Saturday, October 25, 8pm. Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.
Cellist Ian Maksin returns to Chicago this Saturday night for an album-release concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., at 8pm. The Russian-born cellist has moved beyond classical repertoire (which he plays beautifully) to embrace more unusual territory for solo cello. Maksin's forthcoming album, "Soul Companion," includes his own compositions that touch on jazz and folk influences. The album also features commissioned works by Chicago composers Ilya Levinson and Seth Boustead. More than just a live version of the album, this concert includes an eclectic lineup of guest artists, including members of the flamenco ensemble Las Guitarras de España, Indian veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan, and the Joffrey Ballet's Lucas Segovia. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $18 for OTSFM members.
Collaborative Works Festival
The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) presents its annual Collaborative Works Festival: four days of vocal chamber music in some of the city's most comfortable and intimate venues. The 2014 festival explores the personal and musical relationships between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms with a lineup of some of the nation's best voices. The opening and closing concerts feature soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, tenor Nicholas Phan, and baritone Joshua Hopkins accompanied by Myra Huang. Renowned mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung gives a solo recital of works by Brahms, R. Schumann, Manuel De Falla, Edward Elgar, and Joseph Marx. Tickets and venue info available at www.caichicago.org. September 11-14. Poetry Foundation, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at Harold Washington Library, Pianoforte, Logan Center for the Arts.
Before the main classical season kicks into gear in the next month or two, take advantage of these local artists and ensembles playing throughout the city.
Chicago Q Ensemble: Living Loop Festival
Loop workers: get out of the office and go hear Chicago Q Ensemble play Mozart in one of the Loop's few open-air respites. The trio — whose recent performance at Constellation was nothing short of magnetic and intense — plugs in and performs the E-flat major Divertimento. You don't need to be Einstein to enjoy Mozart, but Einstein himself really loved Mozart. Of this particular Divertimento, he wrote, "Every note is significant, every note is a contribution to spiritual and sensuous fulfillment in sound...the finest, most perfect trio ever heard." Admission is free. Friday, August 8, noon. 1 South Dearborn, Chicago.
All of a sudden it's the middle of summer and the weather is consistently warm. Head outside with a picnic and plenty of wine and listen to some big ol' classics.
Ravinia: Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays New World
Dvořák's Ninth Symphony is a perfect match for the CSO's famous brass section and rich strings. The "New World Symphony" — written in 1893 while the composer was living in the U.S. — may or may not have been influenced by Native American and African American music, though it somehow sounds quintessentially American. The extended English horn solo is worth the price alone. Pianist Dejan Lazić performs Chopin's lush and stormy Piano Concerto No. 2 in f minor. Stravinsky's Suite from The Firebird rounds out a program of large-scale symphonic music. Krzysztof Urbanski conducts. Pavilion tickets start at $25; lawn is $10. Thursday, July 10, 8pm. 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park.
To the woman sitting behind me at the symphony who said, "No offense, but you're tall" - I'll try to be shorter next time. If you're sitting behind me at any of these concerts, I apologize in advance.
Chicago Q Ensemble: No Exit
Chicago Q Ensemble is emerging among a groundbreaking crop of chamber ensembles. With its second musical/dramatic production, NO EXIT, Q reimagines the traditional violin-viola-cello trio format as a theatrical concert beyond instruments. As Sartre's classic novel explores hell as other people, Q will examine what happens when Mozart's Divertimento in E-Flat comes in contact with Giacinto Scelsi's String Trio. Tickets are $10; admission is age 18 and older. Sunday, June 1, 8:30pm. Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.
Adventures in new music this month. Three hometown ensembles present three vastly different approaches; go hear something unfamiliar and exotic!
Chicago Composers Orchestra: Deep Listening
The far-reaching CCO closes its fourth season with music by some of the top female American composers of our time. In Four Meditations for Orchestra, Pauline Oliveros focuses on heightened awareness of sound and silence as the musicians of the orchestra improvise without a conductor. Olivia Block's Voyager Golden Record explores the world of sound design — white noise, indecipherable voices, and tape loops. Marita Bolles incorporates varying and overlapping tempos in In Due Time from individual pulses to expanded rhythms. Composer/performer Nicole Mitchell's Flight for Freedom weaves jazz, pop, and African elements into a work that celebrates African American figures. Tickets are $15 general, $8 student. Saturday, May 10, 8pm. St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron.
Love fugues? Dig counterpoint? Get your fix this month as the music of J.S. Bach fills the city. Plus, don't miss a Chicago debut and all five Beethoven cello sonatas.
Chicago Bach Project: St. Matthew Passion
The fourth installment of the Chicago Bach Project returns as acclaimed conductor John Nelson leads Bach's St. Matthew Passion, one of the most loved and stirring sacred works ever written. In this one-night-only engagement, musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and Grant Park Orchestra are joined by soloists Nicholas Phan, Stephen Morscheck, Lisette Oropesa, Lawrence Zazzo, Colin Ainsworth, Matthew Brook, and Tobias Greenhalgh. It will be one big night of Bach. Friday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph.
You know that thing when someone's phone rings and it's the same ringtone as your phone so you reach for it but it's not your phone? That's because your ringtone is boring and unoriginal. Get a better one recorded and performed by a real live string quartet this Saturday, March 29 when Spektral Quartet premieres 50+ ringtones composed for your phone. SQ's ambitious "Mobile Miniatures" project — the first of its kind anywhere — features more than 40 of today's leading composers who have written tiny masterpieces to be used as ringtones, alerts, and wake-up alarms. The roster of composers includes such luminaries as Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, Shulamit Ran, Bernard Rands, Julia Holter, Nicold Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and David Lang. The interactive concert also features Marcos Balter and Chris Fisher-Lochhead who will compose ringtones live using audience input and projected on the walls. In addition to the live performance of all the Mobile Miniatures, the pieces will be available for download and ticket holders receive five free ringtones of their choice for free. Get rid of boring ringtones and bring the world of new classical music to your phone (and to everyone else within earshot).
Spektral Quartet performs "Mobile Minatures" on Saturday, March 29, 8:30pm at Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.). The $15 cover includes five free ringtones.
Big names and big works come to town this month in formats small and large. From Bach and Beethoven to Bruckner, hear music that celebrates every bit of life.
A towering figure among concert pianists of the last 40 years, Murray Perahia has performed on every major stage and with every major orchestra in the world. Don't miss his intimate recital at Northwestern's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The program includes Bach's French Suite No. 4, Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata, and various works by Chopin. Tickets are $22 general, $10 students. Sunday, March 2, 7:30pm. Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.
This month's column is dedicated to the memory of Deborah Sobol, a pioneering champion of the arts who believed that music is as essential to living as air and water. Her vision was limitless, her energy infectious. She was a friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, and advocate for countless musicians, students, and arts professionals around the city. Debbie changed the classical music experience in Chicago and her legacy will be heard for years to come. No doubt she now has a front row seat watching Brahms and Schubert perform piano music for four hands. In Debbie's memory, here are some of her favorite ensembles appearing in Chicago this month.
Chicago Chamber Musicians
Oboist Anne Bach replaces Alex Klein and joins brass and woodwind members of CCM in a beautiful program of music by Mozart and Mahler, and recent works by Stacy Garrop and James Stephansom. Tickets are $35 - $45; students $10. 7:30pm. Sunday, February 9, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston. Monday, February 10, Gottlieb Hall, Merit School of Music, 38 S. Peoria St., Chicago.
Yes, it's cold. Put on the big furry hat and go hear some stellar small ensembles this month.
Schola Antiqua of Chicago
In this sacred season of high-stakes football, one will surely hear every quarterback and wide receiver thank his divine maker for bringing victory at the expense of the faithless opponent. But back in the 13th Century, B.E. (before ESPN), an "athlete" referred to a "champion of Jesus," as is the case of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Hear Chicago's acclaimed early music vocalists perform songs from Medieval England that celebrate the martyred Becket. Schola Antiqua's concerts are always historically informed by its expert director, Michael Alan Anderson, and the singing is a musically fulfilling experience. Miley Cyrus performs at intermission.* Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students. Friday, January 10, 7:30 p.m. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn, Chicago. Saturday, January 11, 8pm. St. Clement Church, 642 W. Deming Place.
'Tis the season for long underwear and glögg. And bars with fireplaces. And brass. Lots of brass.
Dame Myra Hess Concert Series
If you find yourself hankering for brass music this time of year, get a taste of something beyond traditional. The adventurous Gaudete Brass Quintet explores the breadth of brass repertoire in a program that alternates between contemporary and Renaissance composers, including Jonathan Newman's Chicago-inspired "Prayers of Steel." Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Follow that with the lush Brahms Piano Trio No. 2 and Piazzolla's "Spring" from his Four Seasons of Buenos Aires as violinist David Bowlin, cellist Si-Yan Darren Li, and pianist Spencer Myer set up under the Tiffany dome. Wednesday, Dec. 18.
Before you overdo it at Thanksgiving (you know you will), fill up on these small-format concerts. Hear familiar and new music while getting right up close to some of Chicago's finest ensembles. Then pass the pie.
Thursday in Chicago was an introspective day. The sky was an ominous shade of grey and a thick fog filled the air. As the day progressed, it started to rain. The city found itself temporarily transformed by the weather into a state of melancholy. It was the perfect weather to experience Ólafur Arnalds and his fantastic set of ambient modern classical.
Ólafur Arnalds played two sets on Thursday at the new jazz club, Constellation. I saw the later show at 9pm. Constellation opened in April on Western Avenue on the edge of Roscoe Village taking the space of the former Viaduct Theater. Founded by local jazz stalwart, Mike Reed, Constellation has taken on the mission of "present[ing] progressive performance and forward-thinking music with a focus on jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical." It's a really nice looking place and they're already booked an impressive lineup ranging from the aggressively avant-garde Peter Brötzmann to the master percussionist Hamid Drake.
The room in which we saw Ólafur Arnalds perform was a small minimalist area that embodied a sense of warmth and belonging. At one point during his set, Arnalds commented on this saying something to the point of, "It feels like I'm playing a private concert in the living room of my house. I do that for friends." He then smirked and further commented with his subtle wit, "It almost doesn't feel like you paid money to see me," before starting to play the baroque "Brim."
On stage, Ólafur was accompanied by a trio of musicians; vocalist Arnór Dan, violinist Viktor Orri Árnason and cellist Rubin Kodheli. Arnalds played the piano and handled sound manipulation with his assortment of devices. They played a set that leaned heavily towards the recently released album, For Now I Am Winter. Pieces like the aforementioned "Brim," and the Steve Reich inspired "New Skin" came alive with a sort of creative kineticism.
About halfway through the set, violinist Viktor Orri Árnason, performed an exhilarating and highly emotive solo. He played so intensely, his bow started to fracture yet he continued on and finished his performance. It was breathtaking. Afterwards, Ólafur commented with his subtle and charming wit, "Well...I guess I have to buy him a new bow."
He ended his set with a tribute to his grandmother, "Lag Fyrir Ömmu," a beautiful and haunting minimalist piece for piano and violin. "I owe my love of Chopin and all things non death-metal to her," he said before he began to play. As the piece reached its crescendo, an unseen violin suddenly played at the same intensity in tandem with the piano before both instruments slowly winded down to silence. The performance as a whole was a beautiful reminder of the subtle joys and subtle sorrows that life can sometimes provide.
As the big festivals continue to roll through town, some wonderfully intimate performances take place this month. Three recitals highlight overshadowed instruments and their diverse repertoire. The best part: you can see all three concerts for just $10.
I love a grand concert hall — and Chicago has some good ones — but this month, the classical scene offers some alternative ways to experience the music from a different perspective: Tchaikovsky under the stars, intimate chamber music in the early evening, and contemporary music across from the City of Chicago Fleet Management Facility. Even if the weather never warms up, it will be a great summer.
As Argentina has found itself in the news recently, it's a fitting coincidence that several programs this month celebrate the country's significant contributions to music while reflecting on a complicated and painful history. In the center of this flurry of programs is the great tango composer Astor Piazzolla, whose music bridges the worlds of Bach and the bandoneón.
Sure, I love the big symphonies, but in no other form can you see the music work than in chamber playing. Designed for intimate spaces and played among friends, chamber music began in a user-friendly format. After 200 years of chamber music writing, the best way to experience a performance is up close. Three concerts this month show off the variety of chamber forms and the limitless possibilities of the music. So get a seat down front.
Edgar Allen Poe lived — and died — in Baltimore. The Baltimore Ravens are named after Poe's famous poem. To celebrate the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, check out Chicago Opera Theater's production of The Fall of the House of Usher. My prediction: it will scare the bejesus out of you, but there won't be any confetti.
The range of concerts this month guarantees that you will start 2013 by 1) hearing something you've never heard before, or 2) experiencing an old favorite performed with new energy — likely on the same program. See them all, or close your eyes and pick one. You won't go wrong.
Music is like drugs — really, it's science — and if you're like me, you're itching for concert season to start up again. Luckily, it's September and your options are plentiful. Head to Millennium Park for one last outdoor hurrah, or have the elevator operator take you to the eighth floor of the Fine Arts Building. A woman on the Lawrence bus once told me "Bach is better than Xanax," and who am I to argue?
Opera is not the most accessible or popular art form, which is too bad, since its creators intended it to appeal to everyone. Its power is lost on most audiences since it is usually in a language they don't know, and tickets for just one concert at the Lyric Opera can cost as much as $200.
The American Chamber Opera, based in Chicago, is trying to change that, with productions in English of popular operas for a much lower price. It started its season last weekend with a performance of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.
The ACO performs the opera in the Sanctuary of the Chicago Temple Building, without a set or props. They use the space effectively, with characters walking down the aisle, entering in the back and hiding under the front pew.
The sun was still high and traffic on Western Avenue still thick, yet the Empty Bottle was filling up, octogenarians clumping around the few tall tables, millennials ordering pints of Green Line from the cash-only bar. By 4:50pm, when 98.7s WFMT's Relevant Tones program went live from the stage, the venue was nearing the capacity of a Friday night punk show.
Despite the club's 20 years bringing noteworthy bands to Ukrainian Village, this was the first live radio broadcast from the Empty Bottle, though it'll be a surprise if this doesn't plant a seed or two in the heads of other Chicago producers. The Thirsty Ear Festival, hosted by Relevant Tones' Seth Boustead, a Chicago composer and founder of education and advocacy group Access Contemporary Music (ACM), was, judging by the performances and the crowd's response and Boustead's own admission at the close of the show, a huge success. Which means the organizers' goal of making it an annual affair is most likely guaranteed.
As this city does so well, Thirsty Ear was really a celebration of Chicago. A person connecting the dots of Chicago's classical scene would quickly make an intricate web, and that was evident on Saturday. Not only were performers local, but so were many of the featured composers. Everything the Chicago Q Ensemble played was written by a Chicagoan. The Maverick Ensemble's Jason Raynovich slipped an original into the program, as did Boustead actually. Clarinetist James Falzone's set was a single, self-authored composed improvisation (more on that paradox in a minute). And the finale — the Boustead piece — also celebrated contemporary Chicago through visual art. "Three for Zhou B." is a three-part rumination on a trio of paintings done by Bridgeport artists Shan Zuo and DaHuang Zhou.
If a person camped out at the Empty Bottle for seven nights straight, they'd almost be guaranteed to see seven shows that shared nothing but the same small, corner stage. It's a venue known for its eclectic taste and a bent toward the fiercely independent, and yet on Saturday it will open its doors for an event that will be somewhat of an outlier to its already fantastically peppered scatter-plot and will make Empty Bottle history.
August: the dog days. As major music ensembles gear up for the next season, the Grant Park Music Festival and Rush Hour Concerts forge through the late summer heat with a final month of great concerts and intriguing programs. It's all free, so check out the schedule and these selected shows.
Ah, the opera: the only art form based entirely on love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge — and that's just the comedies. For example: the wealthy, old Don Pasquale wants his nephew, Ernesto, to marry a rich woman. Ernesto would rather marry a poor widow, and Pasquale gets mad. So he kicks Ernesto out of the house and decides to marry Ernesto's friend's sister instead — all the makings of a scandal in any era.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is performing Gaetano Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" during the upcoming 2012-13 season, but you can hear the highlights this Tuesday, July 31 during Lyric Shorts, the new partnership between the Lyric and Rush Hour Concerts. Singers from Lyric's Ryan Opera Center will perform excerpts from the opera during Rush Hour's regular Tuesday evening 30-minute concert. Dramaturg, lecturer, and all-around opera guy Roger Pines will introduce each piece and discuss the opera's characters and history.
The singers come from the Ryan Opera Center, the Lyric's training wing for talented young artists about to embark on international careers. Performers for Lyric Shorts are soprano Emily Birsan; tenor Bernard Holcomb; baritone Joseph Lim; and bass-baritone David Govertsen. Craig Terry will accompany on piano.
While there is no substitute for seeing a grand production surrounded by the Art Deco opulence of the Civic Opera Building, the bright acoustics of St. James Cathedral and late 1880s stenciled decor make for a very comfortable atmosphere. If you love opera, Lyric Shorts will get you excited about the next season. If you've never seen an opera, this is a great way to get a taste. And, because it's Rush Hour, the concert is free.
Lyric Shorts takes place Tuesday, July 31 at St. James Cathedral on the corner of Huron and Wabash. Doors and pre-concert reception at 5:15pm; the 30-minute concert begins at 5:45pm.
Fun fact: The 1812 Overture, which you will hear on the Fourth of July, was written by a Russian (Tchaikovsky) to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon at Moscow. The Overture begins with a Russian Orthodox hymn and includes the Russian national anthem, God Save the Czar; the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is very clearly blown to smithereens. The Overture entered the American patriotic songbook in 1974 as a brilliant publicity stunt by Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, and cannon fire in classical music was here to stay, if only for one performance a year. For other musical offerings in July, see below.
Standing at the back of the nave of St. James Cathedral, Chicago Symphony Orchestra trumpeters Christopher Martin and Tage Larsen heralded a new season of Rush Hour concerts Tuesday evening, belting out Jean-Baptiste Lully's March Royale with pinpoint articulation and bell-like incantation. Sitting once again under J. Neville Stent's stenciled patterns of the cathedral's Arts-and-Crafts ceiling, one is reminded just how good a deal this is: 30 minutes of free music from some of the best musicians in town.
Photo by Colin Knapp/Rush Hour Concerts
Martin and Larsen joined their CSO colleagues — hornist David Griffin, trombonist Michael Mulcahy, and tubist Gene Pokorny — onstage to complete the brass quintet for J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in C Major. Bach's knack for making any instrument sound like an organ was easily apparent as the quintet's volume rose with each fugal riff. The cathedral worked against the low brass, the live acoustics muddling Pokorny's solo passages; but with the entire ensemble, the high ceiling amplified the sound which was likely to be heard by passersby outside.
June kicks off a great summer for music: loads of free concerts indoors and out, and Riccardo Muti returns to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its final concerts of the season. But if you're just too busy enjoying the hot weather, street festivals, and local bands, take a few minutes on June 21 to find your nearest live performance during the city-wide Make Music Chicago. There is no excuse this month — did I mention free concerts?
A raucous band of cellos. A tuba concerto. A double bass concerto. May is Low Register Month (you didn't know?), and the deep-voiced instruments are full of surprises and rare appearances. Plus, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra kicks off its Keys to the City piano festival. If you survive the NATO summit and Mother's Day Brunch, come back for June.
Tickets for the 2012 season at the Ravinia Festival go on sale Thursday, April 26. Offering up a near-nightly soundtrack to Chicago summers since 1904, this will be the first year you can use a special Ravinia smartphone app not only for your purchase, but also for connecting with friends while attending a show. If you have never been to a concert at Ravinia (located north of Chicago in Highland Park), there are two seating options: a reserved seat under the pavilion (with views of the stage) or a GA lawn ticket which is generally under $20 for most shows, with no sight of the stage. The benefits of a lawn seat are many, besides the lower price. First, you can picnic (with alcohol) on a blanket under the stars or beneath some of the ancient leafy trees on the site. Secondly, you can corral all of your friends together for an outing where everybody gets to enjoy some cheese, wine, and music in the fine summer weather. The "corralling" however, is the tricky part, especially given Ravinia's lack of distinct landmarks besides "right" "left" and "tree." Typically, there's a lot of people standing up with their cell phones clutched to their ears and waving with the other arm, that is, until the sun sets.
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs announced its free summer concert lineup for The Jay Pritzker Pavilion within Millennium Park. This year we get four series: the electronic and new music heavy Loops and Variations, indie rock star studded Downtown Sound, the classical-leaning Grand Park Music Festival, and Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz.
Monday, May 28, 6:30 pm
Kelly Hogan + Scott Lucas and the Married Men
Monday, June 4, 6:30 pm
Jonathan Richman + Joel Paterson and the Modern Sounds
Monday, June 11, 6:30 pm
The Eternals + Wild Belle
Monday, June 18, 6:30 pm
Cloud Cult + Judson Claiborne
Monday, June 25, 6:30 pm
Occidental Brothers Dance Band International + Chico Trujillo
Monday, July 2, 6:30 pm
Joan of Arc + Daniel Knox
Monday, July 9, 6:30 pm
The Sadies + James Vincent McMorrow
Monday, July 16, 6:30 pm
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires + Abigail Washburn
Monday, July 23, 6:30 pm
Ana Tijoux + Sidi Touré
Monday, July 30, 6:30 p.m.
SMOD + M.A.K.U. Soundsystem
Let's skip the small talk: Yo-Yo Ma will perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on May 5 and 6, 2012. I could list all the reasons why you should see this concert, but that would waste time. Simply put: whether you're into this classical music stuff or not, everyone should see Yo-Yo play the undisputed giant of the cello repertoire. But if you can't get tickets to the Dvorak concerts, try May 10 or 11, 2012 when Yo-Yo plays the Haydn concerto; or April 29, 2012, when he joins longtime collaborators guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad and pianist Kathryn Stott in a concert of Brazilian music. Frankly, it doesn't matter if he's performing with Elmo or hanging out with a wombat, Yo-Yo is one of the most magnetic performers of any genre and always worth the price of admission. So call the Symphony (312-294-3000) for tickets.
This month, music comes from such far-flung places as Antarctica, South America, and outer space in performances that will be full of visual and sonic surprises. Women composers, long neglected, also get the spotlight, and a Japanese virtuoso will play the best Mozart piano music of the year. So venture out into the misery of March in Chicago; besides, when was the last time you went to the Planetarium?
Hear a great concert recently? Have a tip on an upcoming show? Talk about it in the comments.
Chicago non-profit art collective Lampo opened up free RSVPs for a performance by Kranky recording artist and synth wizard Keith Fullerton Whitman on March 10th at the Graham Foundation's Madlener House. He will be performing the U.S. premier of "Rhythms Naturels" followed by a live modular synth improvisation. Keith performed multiple sets of modular synth dungeons and guitar dragons as part of the 2010 Neon Marshmallow Festival.
February offers mind-bending music and behind-the-scenes access to those who write and perform it. Meet a real live orchestral composer who moonlights as a DJ. Sit in on a rehearsal at Symphony Center or a master class in Evanston. Impress your friends by mentioning "the blackbirds" (really). This month, the boundaries of music are stretched into previously unexplored realms; bring an open mind, but for the love of all that is good and holy, turn off your phone or risk eternal shame.
Hear a great concert recently? Have a tip on an upcoming show? Talk about it in the comments.
Do your 2012 resolutions include hearing more live music? You have a variety of options this month, some of them free, and all of them excellent ways to fight the dark onset of a long Chicago winter. Plus, you can go to Symphony Center for music you are sure to hear during the NFL playoffs.
Note for Philip Glass fans: tickets for his recital on April 1 at the Art Institute go on sale January 5.
Hear a great concert recently? Have a tip on an upcoming show? Talk about it in the comments.
An ambitious few weeks of Mahler and modern music will take us into the depths of December. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra continues its cycle of Mahler symphonies, and contemporary programs will make for some very un-silent nights. So if you're burned out on fa-la-la-la-las, buy some concert tickets for an early gift or check out the sales at Cedille Records (a Chicago classical music label). See you next year!
Hear a great concert recently? Have a tip on an upcoming show? Talk about it in the comments.
England, Austria, Mexico, Bolivia—this month's music comes from faraway places. Whether composed by the Viennese demigods of Beethoven and Brahms, or cultivated among indigenous populations of South America, each piece is rooted in its own time but alive and vibrant among contemporary audiences. Old favorites and rare offerings from touring and local artists promise to make for memorable concerts. Go check them out for something different to discuss over turkey and stuffing.
Hear a great concert recently? Have a tip on an upcoming show? Talk about it in the comments.
I love October in Chicago: pumpkin ale on tap, no more Cubs games jamming up the Red Line, and classical music returns to stages all over the city. The classical scene in Chicago covers the range of the genre, from the Baroque style of the 1600s to brand new pieces performed on laptops; all of this music can be heard in intimate venues or grand concert halls--and all of it is affordable (and sometimes free). If you love the music like I do, if you've always wanted to attend a performance but needed some direction, or if you just want to know what a harpsichord sounds like, the following is a short list of my recommendations for the month. If you have other suggestions, please add them in the comments.
Over the last few years, David Cohen's made a career by staying current and exercising his right to compromise with technology's past. To his fans and Chicago's DIY community, he is known as Diode Milliampere, a solo artist with more than a knack for making music from obsolete hardware.