Cover by Colin Denney
Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.
While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)
Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »
It has been seven years since Bryn Terfel last sang in Chicago. The Welsh bass-baritone superstar has severely curtailed his American appearances and the Met has been his first priority when he does come to the States. This week Terfel makes his long-awaited return to Chicago at Ravinia, where he had several early career triumphs.
Terfel will sing the role of Scarpia in a concert version of Puccini’s “Tosca” with soprano Patricia Racette in the title role and Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra as Cavaradossi, with Ravinia music director James Conlon conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (not the CSO chorus, however, in another Ravinia cost-cutting move).
The title and most popular aria (“Vissi d’arte”) may belong to Tosca, but in many ways, this is Scarpia’s opera, and Terfel is known for his blood-curdling portrayal and for the way that he toys with Tosca and creates sadistic sexual tension with her. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I received an email from a high-octane PR firm that primarily deals in rock and pop music with the subject line that “Renée Fleming to take on indie rock” at Ravinia. Hmm. Someone was confused, I thought, but then again, Sting showed up at Ravinia last week with the Royal Philharmonic, so anything is possible.
It turns out that yes, America’s reigning superstar operatic soprano has recorded an album called “Dark Hope” (Decca) which “finds her exploring a parallel universe via songs by Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Leonard Cohen, Death Cab for Cutie, Jefferson Airplane, The Mars Volta, Muse and others; the album debuted on the Billboard Top 200,” as the release explained. But unless Fleming is planning to do any of these as an unlikely encore for her Ravinia appearance, we will have to settle for her doing one of her signature art pieces, Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” with Christoph Eschenbach (spelled Eschenback in the pop release) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, doing these polished gems from late in Strauss’ life about life, loss and the inevitability of death as no one else can. Can the same be said for her “parallel universe” exploration of pop music? I have yet to hear, but generally speaking, there are good reasons that trained voices stay away from this stuff: neither the material nor the voices benefit. Read the rest of this entry »
So you thought last year’s Police reunion, or a new U2 album, was nostalgic? Get ready for a fortieth-anniversary Woodstock “World’s Largest Lawn Party” at Ravinia with one of the most memorable of that legendary festival’s performers, Joe Cocker, minus the hair. A lawn party in 1969 would have had plenty of fondue and incense but Ravinia is providing more traditional fare such as hot dogs, cheeseburgers and a “selection of salads” from 5pm-7pm included in the admission price and a cash bar from 4pm-8pm. Of course, back in 1969, there were other things going on out on Ravinia’s lawn, but those involved aren’t talking because they can’t remember. Ironically, several acts that performed at Woodstock appeared at Ravinia in those years—some the very same summer and within days of appearing at Woodstock—but this represents Cocker’s long overdue Ravinia debut. Given the Woodstock theme, Cocker will be emphasizing his many hits that are most associated with that era. For reasons that are unclear, Wisconsin-based 1990s folk singer Willy Porter will open the show; was Joan Baez or Richie Havens not available? (Dennis Polkow)
June 28, Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook & Green Bay, Highland Park, (837)266-5000, 7pm. $20-$50.
The recent events regarding the legality (or not) of same-sex marriage has clearly inspired some of the music on “Poseidon and The Bitter Bug,” the Indigo Girls’ first independent offering in two decades—a move that came after they left Hollywood Records (and the major-label game altogether) last year. “Fighting For The Love Of My Life” points an accusatory finger at the results of the passing of Proposition 8 in California while also celebrating the new revolution that has brought so much change for gay men and women around the country. Also, the R&B-esque “Digging For Your Dream” encourages listeners to incessantly fight for what they believe in. For their upcoming stop in Chicago, expect the set list to heavily showcase tunes from the new disc alongside favorites like “The Power of Two” (featured on the soundtrack of “Boys on The Side”), “Galileo” and “Closer To Fine,” which should be enough to keep oldies fans away from the concession stand. (Ernest Barteldes)
June 26, Ravinia Festival, 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park, (847)433-7983, $45.
Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Pop, Rock, World Music
It’s the economy, stupid.
Not only has the music industry had to adapt to the growth of digital technology and file-sharing, now everyone’s broke and on the brink of fighting for food. This century has not been kind to record labels, record stores and record manufacturers, not to mention the promoters and venues who’ve seen some declines in business due to—you guessed it—the elevating economic crisis. Top that off with the threat of a Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger and a citywide Promoter’s Ordinance, and the fear is very much real. No matter how good the intentions are of all parties, there may not be enough room for the little guy for much longer.
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After fifty-two years of performing, the Beaux Arts Trio remains the measure by which chamber-music ensembles are measured not only in terms of longevity, but artistry as well. The group’s fiftieth anniversary two seasons ago was marked here by performances of the complete Beethoven Piano Trios was a bittersweet affair that looked back on the group’s legacy with both sadness and joy: Isidore Cohen, who had performed as the group’s violinist for twenty-three of those fifty years had died just before a grandiose celebratory recreation of the first concert that the Beaux Arts had performed at Tanglewood on July 13, 1955. Founding member and pianist Menahem Pressler was as sprightly and focused as ever, working wonderfully well with Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses who joined in 1998, and with British violinist Daniel Hope, who joined up in 2002. Pressler and Meneses communicate almost with telepathic ease and Hope is more integrated into the Trio than his most recent predecessor had been and together represented some of the most elevated live playing I have experienced from the Beaux Arts in two decades of covering them. The most significant chamber-music ensemble of the second half of the twentieth century is making its farewell performance tour with two separate concerts at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre: the first featuring Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio along with trios by Ravel and Gyorgy Kurtag and the second an all-Schubert program, signature music for this group to make its area swansong. (Dennis Polkow)
While Michael Feinstein’s peers were being weaned on rock music, Feinstein grew up in a home filled with the music of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and other great American songwriters of the century. Feinstein was particularly such a Gershwin fanatic that he managed to hook up with June Levant, widow of the great Gershwin pianist Oscar Levant, who introduced him to none other than Ira Gershwin himself. For the last six years of the legendary lyricist’s life, until his death in 1982, Feinstein had the unique opportunity to completely immerse himself in the world of the composer/brother songwriting team who had been his childhood idols, George and Ira Gershwin, by cataloguing Gershwin records, music and memorabilia, and while acting as Ira’s surrogate in matters pertaining to the publication and/or performance of Gershwin works. Gershwin remains the composer that Feinstein most likes to perform, particularly at Ravinia, a favorite Gershwin venue where the composer last performed in 1936, the year before his death. “Gershwin Under the Stars” features both the popular Gershwin tunes everyone knows and loves, but reflective of Feinstein’s encyclopedic knowledge of, and unparalleled access to, the brothers’ complete output, will include rarely performed gems as well. (Dennis Polkow) Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook & Green Bay, Highland Park, (847)266-5100. $15-$40. 8pm.
Sheryl Crow is clearly back into her old shape after the fiasco of 2005′s “Wildflower.” By refreshing her partnership with Bill Botrell (who produced her first CD in 1993), she comes up with a selection of infectious pop tunes reminiscent of her earliest efforts. “Gasoline,” for instance, has a very catchy hook that gets the listener from the go, and the same goes with “Love Is Free,” which will certainly resonate during her live shows. It is not only happy times, though. By opening the disc with “God Bless This Mess,” a country ballad recorded on a home tape recorder, Crow clearly wants to get your attention from the start. The protest song is intended as a slap in the face of the Bush administration, who she blames for leading the country “into a war all based on lies” after the events of 9/11. She gets personal on “Diamond Ring,” which reveals the reasons for her very public breakup with Lance Armstrong, and also on “Make It Go Away [The Radiation Song],” a heartfelt reflection on her recent bout with breast cancer. Another highlight is “Love Is All There Is,” a tune that could have been co-written by George Harrison—both the chorus and the guitar riffs remind us of the late Beatle’s solo work, and it sounds as a personal tribute to his influence in her work. Listen also to the hauntingly beautiful “Lullaby For Wyatt,” a tune she wrote for her adopted son with the realization of the temporary nature of things in mind. By singing “you are mine for a time,” she is aware that some day he will grow and begin to live his own life; as someone who has bounced back from heartbreak more than once in her life, she clearly understands the meaning of letting go. (Ernest Barteldes) Ravinia Festival, 200-231 Ravinia Park, Highland Park, (847)266-5100. 8pm.
On their latest disc, entitled “Forgiven” (Epic), the Garza brothers collaborated with percussionist Steve Jordan (who co-produced the recording sessions) and New Orleans legend Dr. John, emerging with what could be regarded as one of their masterpieces. Clearly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and Los Lobos (who incidentally shares the bill during the current tour), this time around they take the music to the next level, both acknowledging the past and looking into the future on tracks like “Heart Don’t Tell A Lie,” a high-energy track that evokes echoes of Texas blues, and “Loving You Always,” an acoustic tune with Latin hints that reminds us of the brothers’ Mexican heritage. Last year, Los Lonely boys recorded a cover of John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Though The Night” for an Amnesty International compilation in benefit of the victims of Darfur, which turned out to be one of the best on the disc. Unlike many other artists who take on Lennon’s work, they honored him by recreating the tune from their bluesy point of view—which the late Beatle would surely have approved. (Ernest Barteldes) Ravinia Festival, 200-231 Ravinia Park, Highland Park, (847)266-5100. 8pm. $15-$40.