How does one listen to Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time? The title itself is almost incomprehensible. Musical images abound in each of the eight movements—birds, rainbows, angels—but is the dominant image the atmosphere, albeit imagined by the listener, of the quartet’s premier while composer and musicians were prisoners in a German internment camp? Of course, to consider the musical manipulation of time and melody requires its own mental fortitude. The piece makes divine the earthly and the heavens visible to mortals.
The musicians of the Sphinx Virtuosi strode onto the Harris Theater stage Sunday afternoon with a stylish swagger that betrayed the exuberance of their music. A chamber orchestra without a conductor, the Sphinx is made up of alumni of the national Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players. The Detroit-based Sphinx Organization has been promoting ethnic diversity in American orchestral music for 15 years while producing top-rate musicians, some of whom were on display in a program perfectly designed to showcase their virtuosity and youthful energy.
Musicians, like actors, assume a persona in our imaginations that may or may not have anything to do with who they are in reality. Furthermore, whilst we often have the pleasure of seeing our favorite interpreters perform live, we most often enjoy their talents by way of recording. In other words, this physical art form is frequently disembodied.
Enter Cambridge Jones, photographer. Mr. Jones has a large repertoire of portraiture. Thus, an aspect of his work is about embodying.
Currently, you have the opportunity to see one of Mr. Jones’ portrait exhibits, “Talking Pictures,” which is featured in one of the Pop-Up galleries conveniently located in the Loop, which I visited the evening it opened.
The City of Chicago has a handful of exceptional ensembles focusing on music of the 17th and 18th centuries and is, of course, home to the world renowned Lyric Opera. But one group doesn’t specifically offer operas and the other offers operas aplenty but not exclusively within a historic performance practice context. That’s where Haymarket Opera Company (HOC) comes in to fill the awkward gap (a.k.a “gaping hole”). This is their debut season. We who adore proper Baroque opera are collectively breathing a sigh of relief.
Your mother’s beating heart was the first sound you ever heard, and every day you live and breath, you create a constantly evolving rhythmic symphony between your pulse, your inhalation/exhalation, and your footsteps. Then of course, there is the voice, with all its lyrical possibilities. A kind of hard-wired resonance is hibernating within us, waiting to a reason to wake up. This past week, the alarm clock went off at Mayne Stage where Third Coast Percussion (TCP) – along with Tim Munro, the tremendously talented flutist of Eighth Blackbird (another stellar Chicago ensemble) – presented their concert “Bells and Whistles.”
Musical Excellence Through DiversityTM is the mission of the Chicago Sinfonietta, which was established in 1987 by Maestro Paul Freeman. Concluding an extraordinary career spanning a childhood in the segregated South to becoming the first African-American to conduct in some of the most famous halls in the world, Maestro Freeman steps down as Music Director and Conductor this season. In a concert this week presented at Orchestra Hall, Freeman symbolically passed the baton to Mei-Ann Chen the ensemble’s Conductor and Music Director Designate in a program appropriately entitled “Women in Classical Music.”
“What do you think of these little chestnuts?” asked one concertgoer to another during intermission Monday night, referring to Music of the Baroque’s performance of the final three Mozart symphonies. “I could just hum along with them,” he answered himself.
To another concertgoer, Mozart “sounds like Mozart.”
The ubiquity of Mozart’s music has perhaps dulled our senses to it. Orchestras may program an early symphony to open a concert or a late symphony to take the edge off a contemporary work. Soloists of a variety of instruments have a concerto in their repertoire always ready to go for a fifteen-minute appearance. No matter how rich or engaging these performances can be—and there have been a number of remarkable such performances here in recent memory—they never seem to be enough of the soloist or the music. Mozart ultimately becomes relegated to the quaint, clichéd “chestnut” of the concert hall.
If Friday evening’s concert at Harris Theater featuring the English tenor Ian Bostridge with the Canadian chamber orchestra Les Violons Du Roy had been a culinary class, its subject would have been “Sugar Stages 101” (thin thread stage, the soft/pliable/firm/hard stages, soft crack, brittle, clear, brown, and burnt). I refer not to the idea of sweetness, but that of textural variation on a single ingredient. Baroque music is in some ways analogous to the minimalism of our modern era, to the extent that both place a great deal of responsibility upon the performer’s instinct for interpretive variation to offset the structural repetitiveness of the music. Mr.
Even before the harpsichord sounds, Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Charpentier's Medea is filled with tension. Francois-Pierre Couture’s set offers a sparse but jagged scene that belies the destruction to follow once the tragic heroine, Médée, enters.
Picking up where the saga of Jason and the Golden Fleece leaves off, Médée and Jason have arrived at Corinth and devise a plan to win the favor of the king, Creon. Médée’s ever-growing jealousy, and Jason’s love for the princess, Créuse, eventually clash amid a torrent of epic-styled aphorisms on the nature of Love, and Médée brings chaos and death to Corinth.