The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910/Photo: The Lost Panoramas (CityFilesPress.com)
By Dennis Polkow
City on a river. Chicago is many things, but whatever qualities that make Chicago Chicago exist in no small part because it is a city on a river, albeit a river by and large taken for granted.
For many of us, our own placement as a city on a river is something we forget about until we are inconvenienced by having to go over a bridge or have to wait for a bridge that a boat is passing through or that is undergoing construction.
“The Chicago River is the city’s defining characteristic because it is what built the city,” says Martha Gilmer, vice president for artistic planning and audience development at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as the curator of the CSO’s month-long Rivers Festival which runs May 9-June 9. “The river has taken a second place to our lakefront, but Mayor Daley—and now Rahm Emanuel—is very interested in the development of the Chicago River.” Read the rest of this entry »
Civic Orchestra open rehearsal/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
“Are there conductors out there?” asks Riccardo Muti, before starting a Civic Orchestra rehearsal Monday afternoon in front of some visiting music students. No response. “Who is studying conducting?” A handful timidly raise their hands. “Where are you studying? Who is your teacher? Do you study from books or in front of an orchestra?” “Bene,” says Muti, to the responses. “You know, the traditional Italian method is to have conductors study composition for ten years and you do not conduct until the last three, until you have mastered counterpoint, orchestration, etcetera,” says Muti, with a hard c so it sounds like “et-chetera.” “Today we are a visual society and people think conducting is waving your arms. The truth is, you actually have more control with less gestures. Do my young colleagues agree?”
“Come to me,” Muti adds, with a lower voice and deliberateness, intently staring at each of them. “If you have any problem, come to me. I am not sure I will give you the best advice, but, I am here for you.” Read the rest of this entry »
“This piece is very near to my heart,” says Riccardo Muti, touching his breast twice. “It is the grandest setting of all of the masses, a piece that I have done several times. You know, Beethoven wanted a copy of the [Mass in b minor] before he began writing his ‘Missa solemnis.’
“Incredibly, Bach wrote the first part of the piece to get a better job that he never got. And it was never performed. Amazing how such a circumstance can produce such a magnificent masterpiece. Yet there is no doubt that he wanted this to be a Catholic, not a Lutheran mass, because he includes [“catholic and apostolic”] in the ‘Credo.’ ” Read the rest of this entry »
2013 is the bicentennial of both Wagner and Verdi. Whereas Verdi will be getting numerous salutes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, oddly enough, Wagner, whose influence spread across the continent and even influenced Verdi himself, is getting quite little by comparison, particularly odd given that the CSO is considered by many to be the greatest Wagnerian orchestra in the world.
The biggest Wagner salute comes this week from Finnish conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, a relative newcomer to Wagner but who like so many contemporary composers, including Pierre Boulez, has been influenced and remains enraptured by the music. Salonen will be conducting two performances of the Prelude and Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” with German tenor Stefan Vinke as Tristan and soprano Linda Watson as Isolde. Act II includes the most rapturous and sensual music between the lovers. The Prelude will be the subject of a Beyond the Score entry called “The Tristan Effect” with Salonen and the CSO sans the singers. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Daniela Cardone
Formed in 1975 in Southern Italy, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino showcases a smart blend of traditional folk songs and original music performed mostly by acoustic instruments (a handful of tunes feature an electric bass played by multi-instrumentalist Giulio Bianco). The original music is mostly written and arranged by musical director Mauro Durante (violin, percussion and vocals), who is the son of two of the band’s co-founders.
The six-piece ensemble—rounded out by Maria Mazzotta (vocals, castanets), Massimiliano Morabito (accordion), Giancarlo Paglialunga (percussion, vocals), Emanuele Licci (guitar, vocals, bouzuki), and Silvia Perrone (dance)—bring forth an energetic performance that showcases the culture and music of their region. The songs go from fast-paced tarantellas to love ballads like “Bella Ci Dorme,” a slow serenade whose lyrics speak of a man who sings under his loved one’s window as she comfortably sleeps, and fast-paced tarantellas such as “Tambbirriedhu Mia,” a percussion-rich tune in which audience members are invited to sing along to the chorus. Read the rest of this entry »
There is arguably no other single location in the history of American popular music that resonates more in history than the Brill Building in New York City, where composers like Carole King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach and Hal David all churned out countless hits. The building was recently in the news when it was reported that iconic music store Colony Records (which was housed there) had gone out of business after over four decades due to declining sales of physical records and sheet music. Read the rest of this entry »
Sir Georg Solti
By Dennis Polkow
When former Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Sir Georg Solti turned eighty in 1992, the British Royal Family threw a surprise birthday party for the legendary conductor at Buckingham Palace. The highlight of the bash was a performance by a chamber orchestra made up of players from all over the world from various orchestras that Solti had conducted, including the CSO.
Solti was visibly moved and wondered aloud at the gathering, “Why, if it were possible for musicians from various countries to come together in peace and harmony, why couldn’t politicians from various countries do the same?”
That hope gave birth to the extraordinary idea: creating a World Orchestra for Peace to perform for a special concert made up of world leaders to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations in Geneva in July of 1995.
Solti himself made a list of the best players across the world’s orchestras to participate and much to his amazement, every invitation was accepted. That first concert was conducted by Solti and was broadcast live via satellite radio as well as recorded for television broadcast and was an enormous success. Read the rest of this entry »
Rachael MacFarlane is best known because of her famous last name (her brother is Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) and various voiceover roles; few have been aware of her singing chops, at least until now.
On “Hayley Sings” (Concord), she runs through a series of jazz standards backed by a big band, including “Makin’ Whoopee” and “Someone To Watch Over Me,” which she nails with the expertise of a weathered torch singer. Read the rest of this entry »
Anne-Sophie Mutter conductorless at the 2010 Symphony Ball/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The last time the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike in 1991, it took three weeks before a new contract was negotiated. If last Saturday’s strike had lasted three weeks, the orchestra would have lost its Thursday night performance in Ann Arbor, Michigan, its tour to Mexico, its opening of Carnegie Hall, et al, as well as Saturday night’s Symphony Ball. And at what point would a homesick Italian music director without an orchestra to make music with simply head home? Thankfully, these are questions that will remain unanswered as both sides, with the help of a federal mediator, did manage to come to an agreement Monday night that was ratified by the players Tuesday morning and subsequently expected to be approved by the CSO board. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
Two years ago, Riccardo Muti inaugurated his tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a free outdoor public concert in Millennium Park that brought out throngs of music lovers and curiosity seekers. This year, Muti and the CSO are returning to the park Friday night, this time along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir for another free event.
“I have wonderful memories of the last concert in Millennium Park,” says Muti from his home in Italy as he is preparing to leave for Chicago. “The atmosphere was fantastic. I could feel that the public had such warm feeling for the orchestra. Even though there were many thousands of people, the way that they followed the performance was so intense. I could feel that the audience was with the orchestra, was with the music. I hope—I am sure—it will be the same thing now.”
Unlike the event in September of 2010 which featured a handful of pieces by various composers, Muti has decided to present a single work “very dear to me” at this year’s outdoor concert, Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which he performed last season at CSO subscription concerts and will perform on tour at Carnegie Hall next month. Read the rest of this entry »