Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Philip Glass Comes Home to Chicago

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Interviews, Minimalism, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Rock, World Music No Comments »
Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

By Dennis Polkow

Composer Philip Glass is coming home. Well, sort of. The high priest of Minimalism, a term Glass has always loathed, will be in residence at the University of Chicago this month. Although it is not the first time Glass has been back to his Hyde Park alma mater, where he was once a mathematics and philosophy major, this is his first official residency there as a Presidential Arts Fellow.

Glass’ residency will include a University of Chicago Presents concert where he and others will perform his Piano Etudes, a screening of the film “Mishima” which Glass scored and will discuss, a free public talk on artistic collaboration and various conversations with students and faculty from across the university.

Chicago was where Glass originally realized—while practicing piano pieces of Charles Ives and Anton Webern—that he wanted to become a composer, although he would head to Juilliard to begin to accomplish that goal. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: After a New York Detour, Stephen Williamson is Back Home Playing Mozart

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, News and Dish, Orchestral No Comments »
Stephen Williamson (center) conducts a master class. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Stephen Williamson/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

By Dennis Polkow

“Honestly, I felt like I was being shot out of a cannon,” says Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Stephen Williamson of the day he unexpectedly landed the job. “There had been four years of auditions and the position was still vacant. I was at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and was being asked every time, ‘Please, will you come?’ My wife and I struggled with it and I told her, ‘They’re not finding anybody. I feel I need to go out there and to at least say that I tried, that I represented myself.’

“When I finally came to Chicago, I wasn’t expecting anything. All I was hoping was that I would have an opportunity to be invited to play a week with the orchestra and then, whatever happens, happens. And I could say that at least I got to play with the Chicago Symphony and that it was a great experience.”

What Williamson never expected was for music director Riccardo Muti and the audition committee to offer him the position on the spot immediately after he had concluded his audition. “I really was shocked. They did it so early in the morning because I had to fly back to do a ‘Die Walküre’ performance with Maestro [James] Levine. I was elated, but in shock, because I had to go back to my music director at the Met, play that same night and say, ‘By the way, something just happened.’ The news was already at the Met before I even showed up off the plane. Maestro Levine had requested to see me at intermission.” Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: R.O.E. + NYC = A Bold New P.O.V.

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Interviews, Rap 1 Comment »

620382_10100441858583871_364860079_oBy Craig Bechtel

West Side product Roosevelt Sledge, Jr. goes by R.O.E. (pronounced Roe), an acronym for Rising Over Envy, but he’s risen over a lot more. Since his 2011 debut EP, “A Backpacker Named R.O.E.,” he’s toured to tout his intelligent brand of alternative hip-hop, recorded an incredible live album with his band The Soulvillians at Double Door… and his 2014 EP was either a toast “To Happiness” or described his journey there.

That sojourn toward happiness has included recently relocating to New York to better connect with music-industry resources and expand his horizons. R.O.E. says “it’s a mix” of music bringing him to NYC and also wanting “to experience life outside of Chicago.” He says he’ll probably live here again, but plans on developing his career and “building up Chicago” from his new base. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: The Ides of March Are Bearing Gifts for Christmas

Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Holiday Music, In Memoriam, Interviews, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

The Ides of March

By Dennis Polkow

“There is something lacking in a lot of current Christmas music,” admits legendary Chicago singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Peterik. “A simple thing called spirituality. When it’s only about mistletoe and eggnog, it kind of misses the point. I don’t mind fun Christmas songs, believe me, but there also has to be some substance.”

Peterik’s longtime band, the Ides of March, has released two Christmas albums over the years, and this year, is releasing its third, “The Meaning of Christmas.” “Are we forgetting the meaning of Christmas in all the hoopla? That’s the whole idea: where did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate it? That’s my goal, really. And they’re not all religious or spiritual songs but there’s a thread that’s running through them: let’s not forget the meaning of Christmas.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Composer Jimmy López Makes Peruvian Folk Music Highbrow

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Latin, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Record Reviews, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Jimmy López

Jimmy López

By Dennis Polkow

“One of my greatest experiences is when things come to you,” admits Peruvian composer Jimmy López. “The first composition I ever wrote came through a dream, I can still remember it. I trust my memory in that sense.”

Some of the musical ideas that come to López remain with him for years before they end up in an actual piece of music. “I try to write things down only after they have already taken a certain shape in my mind. I don’t really like to write down ideas that I feel are premature. There’s a certain plasticity that ideas have when they’re in your mind rather than written down.”

López reveals he has ideas that “I am carrying right now. There is one I have been carrying since at least 2003.” One from 2007 was only recently written down and turned into a finished piece. “It’s a beautiful melody that I never wrote down because I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, I had no idea. I saw the opportunity to use it, finally, it felt perfect.” Read the rest of this entry »

News: Muti to Make Rare December Appearance with CSO

Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music 1 Comment »
Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti

Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti is making a rare December appearance this week with the CSO. The Italian-born conductor usually conducts quarterly residencies, but this year has added a fifth residency close to the holidays. This has never happened before as Muti is usually back home in his native Italy at this time of year, but is reflective of how increasingly “at home” Muti feels in Chicago.

During the Sir Georg Solti era of the CSO, the Hungarian-born conductor, who made his home in London, spent so little time here that he was known as an “absentee landlord.” Daniel Barenboim notoriously flew out of Chicago the same night he conducted his final concert as music director in 2006. Muti, however, seems to relish his time here. “When I go back to Italy, my wife asks me, ‘What have you been doing in Chicago?’ ” admits Muti. “And I tell her, ‘Having fun.’ ”

Why only a single program across a single week? “Because someone was asked to come here—I would rather not say who—who really should not be conducting here,” Muti explains. “This orchestra should only have the best, and this was not the best. I was asked, ‘Who can we get to take a one-week program in December with so little notice?’ I said, ‘I will come. With pleasure.’ ” Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Works: Musician in Goodman Theatre “A Christmas Carol”

Holiday Music, Interviews No Comments »
JustinAmolsch_AXmasCarol

Justin Amolsch, Malcolm Ruhl and Andrew Coil

This is Justin Amolsch’s thirteenth season in the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Since the show has been running since 1978, that means he’s been part of it for more than a third of its lifespan; and he is, additionally, the show’s longest-serving active cast member.

And he is indeed a cast member, although his role is “Musician, French Horn.” In any other show, the players are offstage, but Goodman integrates their orchestra of four—in addition to Amolsch, there’s Madeline Ruhl on flute, Andrew Coil on violin, and Malcolm Ruhl (who’s also the music director) on accordion—into the play’s action. They move about the stage, providing both musical commentary and strategic cover when required (as to mask the noise of stage machinery, or distract attention from a cast member changing costume upstage). Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Billy Strayhorn Lived a “Lush Life” Beyond Duke Ellington

Big Band, Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Vocal Music No Comments »
Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

By Dennis Polkow

When Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli first came up with the idea of devoting an entire concert to the music of Billy Strayhorn more than a decade ago, the first question was often, “Billy who?”

“It was for a gay chorus that I directed for eight years in Los Angeles,” recalls Rastrelli, “and they had a tradition of doing single composer concerts: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman. I wanted to move beyond doing composers that were obvious. I wanted to challenge the chorus and the community with things they didn’t know, specifically jazz, and especially a black composer who was out and gay at a time when that was not at all typical.”

Strayhorn is best known for his near thirty-year association with Duke Ellington, from the time they met in 1938 until Strayhorn’s early death from cancer in 1967 at the age of fifty-one. Often given direct credit, sometimes not, Strayhorn is estimated to have composed and arranged some forty percent of the entire Ellington catalogue and was, as Ellington himself put it in his autobiography, “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: ProbCause is Drifting With Intent

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Interviews, Rap No Comments »

yes-1925color

By Craig Bechtel

Chicago’s nascent hip-hop scene offers myriad rising stars, but it would probably be a bad idea to discount ProbCause. Because he has matured beyond his years since he was voted onto the North Coast Music Fest lineup in 2011, because he has come into his own as a producer, collaborator and rapper, because he has demonstrated lyrical intelligence, rhythmic talent and dope flow, the Evanston native should not be overlooked.

Reached via phone on a recent Monday afternoon, the rapper born Colin Grimm detailed how he got into hip-hop, how his new record “Drifters” differs from his previous output, the novel perspective he brings to the table as a borderline suburbanite, and what’s next in the near and long term. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Sir Andrew Davis Traverses Continents and Genres

Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Photo: Dario Acosta

Photo: Dario Acosta

By Dennis Polkow

“The thing about me is that I haven’t had a lot of jobs,” admits Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis, “but the ones I’ve had, I’ve had for a long time: twelve years in Glyndebourne, seventy-five to eighty-eight in Toronto; the BBC Symphony from eighty-nine to 2000; Chicago since 2000, and now Melbourne since 2013.” Only Glyndebourne and Chicago have been opera-related, the others—including Davis’ most recent post as principal conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra—are orchestral posts.

One fringe benefit of Davis spending so much time in Chicago is that he does get the occasional opportunity to conduct non-operatic repertoire, as he will do this week with superstar Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at a special gala concert.

“I love working with the [Chicago] Symphony. Kissin is rather fussy about conductors and he likes working with me. I did all of the Beethoven concertos with Kissin and the CSO about five or six years ago, all in a week. The first time we worked together was the last year I was with the BBC and we did the Rachmaninoff Two. He did everything that should happen in that concerto but rarely does. Rachmaninoff is extraordinarily complex and contrapuntal but a lot of times people just put down their pedal and it’s a big mush. There was a clarity with him which makes it so much more moving and emotionally much more complex.” Read the rest of this entry »