Time Out Magazine
By Marc Geelhoed
The creative use of venues made ’07 memorable.
By Marc Geelhoed
Chicago doesn’t have many good chamber-music spaces, so enterprising performers and presenters have to work extra hard to find a suitable place for their concerts. A few ensembles slammed home runs this year, and even the big institutions with their own halls found innovative uses for those taken-for-granted spaces. This consideration helps the audience and the music, a twofer always worth applauding.
Opera Cabal, the young group of musicians surrounding composer/conductor Nicholas DeMaison and singer/actor Majel Connery, takes top honors by commandeering the Zhou B. Center for three days of new music and performance art last April. The Center’s industrial setting proved to be the ideal location for Chicago composer Kirsten Broberg’s haunting new work Opening, sung by Linden Christ. And a performance of DeMaison’s in-progress Ursularia for two actors, two singers and ensemble—filled with absurdist wordplay, the history of Catholic saints and, believe it, funny ruminations on the nature of God’s will—wouldn’t have made half the impact had it been staged in a recital hall.
A similar impulse underpinned the New Millennium Orchestra’s concert in the Lakeshore Theatre in October 2006. (Classical groups work on an academic calendar, so we’ll grandfather in this one.) After CSO cellist Katinka Kleijn played Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, they reconvened with DJ jRick to remix the performance with the orchestra jumping in along the way. It was an experiment, and if not entirely successful, the audience was more receptive than they would have been in a recital space demanding more formality.
Not all such experiments work so well, though, as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra learned with a Beyond the Score production last January. A large drape was strung across the rear of the stage with projections of artwork and other visuals on it to illuminate Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Series creator and host Gerard McBurney furnished his trademark insight and wit, but the screen’s gauziness blurred the images of paintings by Russian artist Nicolay Rerikh, who collaborated on the ballet’s scenario, and muted the afternoon’s impact.
Trio Mediæval, the Norwegian vocal group of Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum, took the venue-specific idea a step further when they sang in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in November 2006, as part of the University of Chicago Presents series. Known for their performances and recordings of Medieval and minimalist music, they instead brought Norwegian folk songs. They fanned out across the chapel, and the call-and-response of their voices echoing across the cathedral’s stone interior could only have resonated as beautifully as it did in a stone sanctuary.
ICE, Trio Mediæval and Opera Cabal showed what’s possible when tradition is eschewed, but that tradition still has something to say, and it helps to contextualize the experiments. Pianist Maurizio Pollini played a solo recital, perhaps the most rule-bound format in classical music, in Orchestra Hall in May, then proceeded to draw a clear line through Chopin to the jagged outbursts of Pierre Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata. Mission accomplished, he then played five encores for a crowd that would’ve stayed for ten.
An organ recital is also bound to a specific place, since pipe organs can’t be moved without several burly men. Chicago native Nathan Laube, currently enrolled at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, played at St. P aul’s Church in A ugust and gave ample demonstration of his individual prowess. More surprising was his sensitivity in accompanying CSO principal trumpeter Chris Martin in virtuoso works for that instrument, as well as oboist Jelena Dirks. There was nothing stridently new in the recital, but stylish music-making is its own reward, no matter where it’s heard.