So I’m a Grinch. A serious Grinch. Actually, scratch that. I’m not EVEN a Grinch—I wouldn’t even bother to steal Christmas. However, Chicago a Cappella’s Friday concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church did wonders to make me reconsider my general Grinchiness.
What was most striking throughout the entire evening was the versatility with which the ensemble embodied and deftly switched between the many styles of music on the program. The nonet opened the evening the medieval chant “Angelus ad Viginem” which set a haunting tone for the evening as the perfectly balanced voices transported the audience to a quieter, dare I say, more spiritual time. Poulenc’s “Motets pour le Temps de Nöel” were another showcase of CAC’s pure sonic beauty.
The Chicago Chamber Musicians presented a free concert Monday afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center. The program was an accessible, all-Baroque affair, featuring two trio sonatas by Georg Philipp Telemann, with a charming, brief Handel cantata sandwiched between them.
CCM (and CSO assistant principal) oboist Michael Henoch highlighted the two brief sonatas. He played with a full, rich, complex sound. More still, he took great care to convey and underscore the harmonic intricacies of Telemann’s musical language, whose music risks sounding simple, contrived, even dippy when not performed with such care. Violinist Baird Dodge was a delight to hear also, and played with commensurate elegance.
I cannot in good conscience start this review of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s May Orchestra Hall performance without disclosing several facts. My father is on its board, I on its “Young Associates Board”; I’m an alum of the organization, and most of my happiest memories from high school somehow involve the organization, is myriad programs, and its many remarkable students. Having disclosed this potential for bias, I still feel safe calling CYSO’s Sunday concert a resounding success.
Sunday afternoon the Chicago Sinfonietta performed at Dominican University. With conductress Alondra de la Parra in charge the orchestra provided a delightful afternoon, the kind one might not expect to expect from an ensemble in the throes of a search for a new music director. de la Parra is a formidable candidate for the position, and the Sinfonietta would be lucky to score such a coup as engaging her to replace founding director Paul Freeman.
The Rembrandt Chamber Players delivered the closing installment of their “Mahler Project” at the Merit School of Music’s Gottlieb Hall Tuesday night. Under the baton of Music of the Baroque conductress Jane Glover, the group capped its three-year-long initiative, during which they have performed chamber versions of Mahler masterpieces, with a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s transcription of “Das Lied von der Erde.”
I was apprehensive about reviewing the Chicago Philharmonic’s Sunday concert at Northwestern’s Pick-Staiger Auditorium due to a multitude of conflicting interests. My mother is on the orchestra’s board; I had given a talk about the performance; I’ve written grants for the group; my parents are donors; orchestra members are personal friends and former teachers of mine; I even played with the group once. I was concerned that if the concert were sub-par, I would have to figure out a way discreetly to suggest as much. Fortunately, that unenviable task was not to be mine, as the concert was thrilling. All that said, given these conflicting interests, you are cordially invited, as always, to ignore every last comment I might have about the performance.
On Thursday night the Windpipe Chinese Ensemble gave its North American debut at Northwestern’s Thorne Auditorium. The one night only concert was the product of a collaboration between the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office of New York (HKETO), and Chicago’s own Fulcrum New Music Project, in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
As people were filing into Thorne before the performance began, footage of the Windpipe Ensemble doing presentations at two Chicago public schools was projected on the back wall of the stage. (The obviously tireless group did these despite having a total of 36 hours in Chicago.) The students looked engaged and impressed, though perhaps a little mystified, which mirrored my own reaction to the beginning of the concert.
So I’m a sucker for great wind playing; I guess almost a band geek. But the first half of last night’s Chicago Chamber Musicians’ concert at Gottlieb Hall was proof (not that any was needed) that a bunch of wind players have as much a place on a beautiful concert stage as on a football field. The program opened with Franz Krommer’s B-Flat Partita. A renowned oboist once said of this work specifically, “It’s the kind of music that, you know, needs a little help.” Well, the CCM players gave it that and a lot more. I was “blown” over by the nuances and emphatic attention to detail the group displayed. Pitch perfect, wide dynamic range, all that good stuff. Charles Geyer’s trumpet playing added flair to the ensemble (as did, I suppose, Krommer’s instrumentation), and Dennis Michel showed off his superb technique and tone in some virtuosic passages in the closing rondo.
The music of Richard Wagner comes with plenty of problems and ifs. Depending on whom you talk to, you might hear it’s too long or boring, or weird, or genocide-inducing. One stigma less frequently associated with it is that it’s exceptionally difficult to play, and it was of that stigma I was most reminded at Saturday night’s Illinois Philharmonic Concert.
Singing in the West Loop? Nope, not Lyric this time! This afternoon the St. Charles Singers put on a splendid concert at Old St. Pat’s. I’m not much of a crier or much of a churchgoer, but this concert made me one of each. The moving program was a sampling of works from Mozart’s early years.