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Kimo Williams (left) and Gary Sinise with Lt. Dan Band
By Dennis Polkow
“When I tell people I’m a Vietnam Vet, I hear, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” laments composer and guitarist Kimo Williams. “There’s a time, there’s a place for saying that. It just rolls off of people like a painful cliché and you’re forced to react or respond. Do you know what my service was? Do you know what I did? Hear my story, then if you want to thank me, fine.”
Williams has spent a lifetime of service to those who have been in service, starting with his own stint in the military that brought him to Vietnam in 1969. “I was a combat engineer and my job was to provide supplies to fix the dossiers that would clear land mines. Two friends of mine and I had decided one morning that we were going to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that night. It got to be the end of the day and I’m getting the popcorn but was told, ‘They didn’t make it.’ That was the first time that it hit me. I was so naïve I said, ‘What do you mean?’ It hit me hard, this was forever. That’s it? I went to the movie and you do continue on. It numbs you.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Dennis Polkow
“When we started, the world knew me only as a jazz trumpet player,” admits Orbert Davis, the founder and artistic director of the sixty-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this season. “Even the musicians were like, ‘What is he going to do, standing up there? He’s not a conductor!’ When we did our first recording, some of the sub musicians looked around and said, ‘Who wrote this?’ ‘I did!’ ”
Davis’ vision of a full-scale “third stream” ensemble has evolved over the past decade. “We think of the first stream, which is classical, and the second stream, which is jazz, but it’s difficult to understand how they come together; we tend to think of what keeps them apart.” Originally the orchestra featured both classical and jazz musicians, and the school each belonged to was obvious. Now the members have synthesized into a core group who “get it,” Davis asserts. “They are a community. I can reference [Ellington’s] ‘Jubilee Stomp’ or a Beethoven symphony and everyone knows what I’m asking for!” Read the rest of this entry »
Gustav Mahler at the time of his First Symphony.
When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commemorated Mahler’s death centennial three years ago, there were plenty of Mahler symphonies to be heard, to be sure. But curiously, none from its then-new music director, Riccardo Muti.
Instead, Muti chose to reconstruct the final concert that Mahler ever conducted a century before. “This was the last concert of Mahler’s life,” Muti told me at the time. “He went back to Vienna and died. As music director of the New York Philharmonic, he chose a complete program of music of Italian contemporary composers. He used the Mendelssohn ‘Italian’ Symphony because one of the composers didn’t write the piece that he asked for, but it was clear that he wanted to have a contemporary Italian evening. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Jim McGuire
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 »
Riccardo Muti rehearsing Civic Orchestra, April 2013, Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Riccardo Muti’s spring residency goes for two weeks this season, but what a jam-packed and extraordinary period of music-making it looks to be. This first week program includes pianist/conductor Mitsuko Uchida, who last week made her annual Chicago Symphony Orchestra appearance conducting from the piano. Not easy to conduct Robert Schumann from the piano, however, so Muti will be her collaborator for the Schumann Piano Concerto. The centerpiece of the program will be the Schubert “Great” Ninth Symphony, a work that Schumann championed posthumously after Schubert’s death at age thirty-one.
Muti’s idea of a day off that first weekend is to lead the Civic Orchestra, the training orchestra of the CSO that is marking its ninety-fifth anniversary this season, in an open rehearsal of movements from Prokofiev’s ballet suites for “Romeo and Juliet” on Sunday evening. This is a favorite piece of Muti’s and he has a lot to say about how various movements should sound, particularly as they relate to the emotions reflected in Shakespeare’s narrative. To watch him do so with an attentive audience of young musicians working to give him what he asks for is to experience a passing of the torch of the highest order. It also offers a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the rehearsal techniques of one of the great conductors set to a basic level, a rare and wonderful deconstruction of the art of conducting. Tickets are free but must be ordered and demand is always high. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Felix Broede
A Murray Perahia recital is a wonderful and increasingly rare thing to behold. Prior to his appearance in the fall of 2012 at Symphony Center, it had been several years since the celebrated pianist—a Chicago favorite during the Solti years because of his frequent collaborations with the late Chicago Symphony music director—had played here. Perahia had agreed to substitute for an ailing Maurizio Pollini in April of 2011, but Perahia himself ended up canceling, feeling that he had not sufficiently recovered from a hand injury that had sidelined him completely from a 2010 tour that was to have included Chicago.
This time around, Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music is hosting Perahia, winner of the school’s biennial Lane Prize in Piano Performance, at its Evanston campus. One of the conditions of that prize and its $50,000 stipend is that the winner spend two to three non-consecutive weeks in residency at the Bienen School and engage in master classes, chamber music coaching and lectures. Read the rest of this entry »
Chorus soloist rehearsal/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
“Buon giorno,” says a sweater-clad Riccardo Muti, seated on his podium at an eerily empty Symphony Center, to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra clad in street clothes assembled for its first rehearsal of Verdi’s “Macbeth.”
“This is a great joy for me, since Verdi is the only composer that I can conduct,” Muti says, poking fun at his reputation as Verdi’s greatest living interpreter. The orchestra laughs.
“Seriously, you gave me the best ‘Otello’ I have ever done from an orchestral point of view,” Muti adds, referencing the 2011 Muti-led CSO performances of one of Verdi’s last operas that like “Macbeth,” is also based on Shakespeare and that has just been released on the CSO Resound label.
“You may think that because ‘Macbeth’ is earlier that it is less difficult music, but it’s not. This work was very ahead of its time. In fact, the operas to follow will be a step back.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Clay Patrick McBride
In the past few years, trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center bandleader Wynton Marsalis has recorded three live albums of blues and soul music (two with Willie Nelson, one with Eric Clapton) in addition to touring with both his quintet and the JALC orchestra. He has also joined CBS News as a music correspondent, doing entertaining reports on Paul Simon, blues music and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
His Chicago appearance with the quintet (which is rounded out by Walter Blanding on tenor sax, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass and Ali Jackson on drums) comes after a long European jaunt that included stops in France, Germany and England. Read the rest of this entry »
Some folks claim flamenco’s lineage reaches back several centuries. And that may well be the truth. The genre has its canonical figures, and Paco de Lucia is one of them. While the sixty-four-year-old ranks as the music’s best-known contemporary performer, he’s remained one of flamenco’s most explorative composers, conspiring with players engaged with jazz and other sympathetic genres. His ability to inject an adventurous tone into a music with such a long history, though, troubles some traditionalists. Read the rest of this entry »
Though Billie Holiday died in 1959 pretty much in disgrace (she was technically under arrest as she lay dying in a New York hospital), her legacy as a jazz performer lives on thanks to countless reissues of her recordings and tributes from many contemporary jazz artists influenced by her work. Even though she has been gone for more than half a century, her unique delivery of tunes like “I’m a Fool to Want You,” “God Bless The Child” and “Lady Sings The Blues” are testament of the great talent taken away from us too soon. Incidentally, her recording of “I’m a Fool To Want You” was recently used as the backdrop for a Chanel commercial featuring French actress Audrey Tautou and Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro. Read the rest of this entry »