Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: The Lightness of Lyric and the Density of ICE

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

By Dennis Polkow

Since 2013, flutist and International Contemporary Ensemble founder and artistic director Claire Chase has been on active search of a new “Density,” a reference to Edgard Varèse’s 1936 seminal flute piece “Density 21.5” (the title referred to the density of platinum, a premium flute material) a revolutionary piece of music that “forever changed the definition of the flute, humankind’s oldest instrument.”

Chase is looking to have commissioned and premiered the twenty-first-century equivalent of “Density” before the work’s centennial in 2036, at which time Chase will be fifty-eight. Chase’s search thus far has led her to offer world premieres of more then one-hundred new works for flute, many written specifically for her.

“Density 2036: part ii” presents a seventy-minute program of new works for flute and electronics (Levy Lorenzo, engineer) by George Lewis, Matthias Pintscher, Felipe Lara, Mario Diaz de León and Du Yun as Chase offers her first solo performance as Northwestern University’s Bienen School’s Institute for New Music’s 2014-15 resident artist. At $8 a ticket ($5 for students with ID) and with Varèse’s “Density” included as a finale along with a post-concert Q&A with Chase, that is a density deal. November 5, 7:30pm, Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place, Evanston, (847)467-4000.

Lyric Laughs at Its Age
November 1, 1954 was the date that Lyric Theatre of Chicago, later Lyric Opera of Chicago, came into being and the company is celebrating with a one-night-only all-star 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball on the actual anniversary date. The tone looks to be light and celebratory rather than the more formal affair that commemorated the company’s fiftieth anniversary a decade ago, since which some key company figures and artists associated with Lyric’s early years have passed away.

Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, who plays coach Sue Sylvester on the television series “Glee,” will serve as master of ceremonies and Second City will present a series of skits across the evening. Renée Fleming will traverse “Over the Rainbow” with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis as accompanist and Eric Owens will sing “Ol’ Man River.”

Sir Andrew Davis will lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and members and alumni of the Ryan Opera Center as well as a roster that includes Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka and Amber Wagner. (Previously announced Sondra Radvanovsky and Samuel Ramey will not be appearing.) Tickets for the concert only start at $75 and all concert-goers receive a hardbound copy of the commemorative book, “60 Lyric Moments.” 6:30pm, November 1, Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker, (312)332-2244.

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Beyond the Aria: J’nai Bridges with Craig Terry/Photo: Marcin Cymmer.

Journeys of the Voice
Harris Theater Presents, in conjunction with Lyric Opera’s Lyric Unlimited, has inaugurated an innovative new season-long vocal concert series called “Beyond the Aria.” The series is an outgrowth of Harris’ Tenth Anniversary Gala last fall when Harris president and managing director Michael Tiknis asked Ryan Opera Center director Craig Terry how Harris might collaborate with Lyric or the Ryan Center.

“What we ended up with was something that combined both,” says Terry, the curator, artistic advisor and accompanist of the series. Each concert spotlights two internationally known opera singers concurrently performing in Lyric Opera productions, appearing alongside of a current member of the Ryan Center.

The debut of the series featured soprano Ana María Martínez, baritone Bo Skovhus and Ryan Center mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges singing a wide range of genres including zarzuela, opera, lieder, operetta, chansons, jazz, Broadway and songs from the American songbook and featured cabaret-style seating with table service on the enclosed stage of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.

“I asked that everyone love the songs that they sing,” says Terry, “and we wanted the experience to be more relaxed than a regular concert hall. I had played on the Pritzker stage and it really is the perfect space: the idea is the rare pleasure to hear really great singers up close and personal in an intimate space.”

The next “Beyond the Aria” program features mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Azucena in the company’s current “II Trovatore”), baritone Quinn Kelsey (Count di Luna in “II Trovatore”) and Ryan Center soprano Laura Wilde. November 10, 7:30pm Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777, from $35.

Soumik Datta

Soumik Datta

East and West
East meets West in Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s eclectic evening of classical and contemporary Indian music and dance called “Mirror of Enlightenment” that includes “Mara,” an enlightenment tale that depicts the life of the Buddha performed by Chicago-based Indian classical dance company Kalapriya Dance.

Twenty-five Fulcrum Point musicians will merge Messiaen and Mingus with Indian composer Param Vir to present the U.S. premiere of Vir’s “Raga Fields, Concerto for Sarod and Ensemble” featuring British-Bengali sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta as soloist.

Tabla master and Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak will collaborate with sarod player Datta and Fulcrum Point founder/conductor/trumpeter Stephen Burns for the improvisational work “Rageshri” and will perform his own work  joined by his own ensemble, the Jazz Mata Trio. The program will conclude with Shirish Korde’s “Lalit,” a duet for flute and tabla featuring Pathak and Fulcrum Point flutist Mary Stolper. November 1, 7:30pm, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. $20 ($10 for students).

Notable Excursions
Guitarist extraordinaire John Abercrombie will perform with his revised quartet, which includes pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron, the same personnel on Abercrombie’s latest album, “39 Steps.” Abercrombie and Copland were both members of the Chico Hamilton Quartet and the fusion jazz-rock group Dreams back in the 1970s, but both have returned to more straight-ahead jazz as this group reflects. October 30-November 2, Jazz Showcase, 806 South Plymouth, (312)360-0234, from $20.

Attempting to fuse arts, science and culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the object of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” with the Canadian period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. Narration, choreography and music by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel will be performed to a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope. November 7, 7:30pm, University of Chicago’s Logan Center, 915 East 60th, (773)702-2787, $35 ($5 students with ID).

Newberry Consort’s “Música Barocca Mexicana” features eighteenth-century music of the New World for voices, violins, guitar, theorbo, harpsichord and cello reconstructed as performed at the cathedral in Durango, one of Mexico’s important music centers. Newly discovered masterpieces are included with many U.S. premieres of works by Ignacio Jerusalem, Santiago Billoni, Manuel de Sumaya and others. November 7-9, various locales, (773)669-7335, from $35.

Following up on its traversal of a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle two years ago and a complete Bartók string quartet cycle last season, this year the gifted and energetic Avalon Quartet is performing a complete Brahms string quartet cycle at the Art Institute. This exquisite Sunday afternoon series includes other pieces that influenced—or have been influenced by—Brahms, followed by illuminating gallery walks that tie together revolutions in music, painting and sculpture. Brahms Quartet No. 3, Op. 67 in B-flat Major and the Debussy Quartet are the pairings in this second of a four-concert season-long series. November 9, 2pm, Fullerton Hall, 111 South Michigan, (312)443-3600, free with museum admission.

Preview: Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion/Symphony Center

Indian Classical No Comments »
Photo: Jim McGuire

Photo: Jim McGuire

RECOMMENDED

Son of tabla virtuoso Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Zakir Hussain began life as a tabla prodigy in his native India, becoming a disciple of his legendary father before embarking on his own career at the age of twelve. His American debut saw him performing with Ravi Shankar.

In addition to his contributions to Indian classical music where he also vocalizes in the traditional manner, Hussain has long enjoyed cross-fertilizing Indian music with other genres, including Western classical music, jazz, rock, blues, Bollywood, et al. He co-founded the fusion group Shakti with guitarist John McLaughlin, the Grammy Award-winning “Planet Drum” and “Global Drum Project” with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and has performed and recorded with a wide diversity of artists across genres including George Harrison, Yo-Yo Ma, Van Morrison, Mark Morris, Christoph Eschenbach, Rennie Harris, the Kodo Drummers and Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Anoushka Shankar/City Winery

Folk, Indian Classical, Jazz, World Music No Comments »

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After dabbling with electronic music in collaboration with Karsh Kale on “Breathing Under Water,” and then pursuing flamenco-fusion on her own “Traveller,” sitarist Anoushka Shankar returns to her classical roots with “Traces of You” while still keeping other genres within arm’s reach. The opening track “The Sun Won’t Set,” for instance, is a beautiful ballad recorded in collaboration with her half-sister Norah Jones, and is much closer to Jones’ alt-folk style than to Indian music.

Though much of the disc is dedicated to Indian ragas, some of the tunes venture into completely different directions. “Metamorphosis” brings together traditional and modern sounds, including electronics and electric bass, while the soft, piano-centric ballad “Fathers” has elements of modern jazz. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Tales From The Grand Bazaar” by Bombay Dub Orchestra

DJ, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Indian Classical, Orchestral, Record Reviews, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »

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On their sixth musical foray, the duo formed by Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay emerge with their trademark mix of electronica, orchestra and Indian sounds. During their career they have collaborated with luminaries like percussionist/composer Karsh Kale (who co-produced one of their earlier efforts) and sitarist Anoushka Shankar, all the while maintaining a tendency to focus on a dance-floor-friendly format.

This time around, they lean toward a more diverse direction by incorporating Asian-centric grooves. For instance, “Blue Mosaic” features wordless vocals and the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, while “City of Amber” contains a fierce drum ‘n’ bass groove, much to the delight of DJs and remixers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Anoushka Shankar & Guests/Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

Flamenco, Indian Classical, World Music No Comments »

Photo: Harper Smith

RECOMMENDED

It took a while for sitarist Anoushka Shankar to get out of her comfort zone as an artist. Her first releases mostly consisted of ragas written by her father Ravi, but after 2005’s “Rise,” she began expanding her musical horizons by incorporating jazz, world music and electronica (2007’s excellent “Breathing Under Water” is a great example) while collaborating with other musicians.

On “Traveller” (Deutsche Grammophon), she takes things up a notch by mixing her signature sitar sound with the sounds of flamenco. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: T.S. Sankaran/Millenium Park

Festivals, Indian Classical, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

When we in the West think of Indian classical music, we tend to think of instruments exclusively associated with that tradition such as the sitar and the tabla, but there is a long tradition of flute performance in India that predates its use in the West but which makes use of the same ragas and rhythms of Indian music though in a more subtle manner. This rare performance by Indian flute virtuoso T.S. Sankaran is part of the four-day “Dance India: Choreographing Traditions” festival and conference that is attracting Indian musicians and dancers from India and elsewhere and which will present Sankaran accompanied by Srikanth Venkataraman, a master violinist in the Indian classical tradition, and G. Vijayaraghavan on the South Indian drum known as the mridangam. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Music Without Borders: Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale/Pritzker Pavilion

DJ, Indian Classical, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Unlike a certain other daughter of legendary Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar who made a household name for herself superficially singing breathy interpretations of standards and elevator jazz, Anoushka Shankar is a multi-faceted musician whose talent is limited only by her imagination. Those of us who follow her father’s career know that it is Anoushka who alternates playing lead and second sitar in Ravi’s ensemble, paying strict attention to the extraordinary demands of his style of Indian classical music. But on her own, Anoushka’s music owes as much to the West as it does to the Indian tradition, and hers is truly a unique fusion of ambient music with an Indian sensibility as her newest album “Rise” (Angel/EMI) attests. A special DJ set by Karsh Kale will open this third and final concert in the City of Chicago’s new world-music series. Read the rest of this entry »