The late Lucille Ollendorff, who taught French literature and Greek philosophy at the University of Chicago, used to love to tell the story of how she had attended a 1974 Music of the Baroque performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and was so moved that she felt compelled to attend a performance by Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus two weeks later. If the then-struggling MOB could so move her, she reasoned, surely Solti and company would take her into the stratosphere. During the intermission, a disappointed Ollendorff had a chance encounter with Music of the Baroque founder and longtime music director Thomas Wikman, whom she had never met and who was also in attendance. “I have to tell you,” said Ollendorf, “your performance did so much more for me than this one is doing.” The vivacious and personable Ollendorf went on to become MOB’s general manager and oversaw many of the group’s signature innovations, including its geographical expansion into carefully chosen acoustically superb and architecturally inspiring churches across area neighborhoods before being killed in a freak car accident along Lake Shore Drive in 1987 on her way home from a MOB concert. It was a blow from which, many will say, MOB has never fully recovered, in that a revolving door of her successors failed to allow the organization the artistic initiative and mandate that it had enjoyed under her extraordinary care and eventually led to a bottom-line Board unceremoniously dumping Wikman, the only conductor that the group had known for its first three decades, and abandoning many of its trademark innovations, including moving away from the Baroque repertoire neglected by other area organizations and doing “catch-all” concerts in one downtown theater and a single token North Shore church. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” was MOB’s signature work for decades, but no one there would dare touch it without Wikman, until now. Whereas Wikman always scheduled the piece during Lent, this time around, the work comes a week into the Easter season. Go figure. In any case, it should be interesting to hear what Mozart specialist Jane Glover will do with a work so associated for so long with Wikman. (Dennis Polkow)
Sunday, March 30 at First United Methodist Church, 1630 Hinman, Evanston. 7:30pm. $30-$75.