Back in the Terrace

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Wednesday, 26 May

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Final Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance of the season. It was great fun to sit directly opposite Bernard Haitink as he conducted works of Schuman, Mozart and Brahms, with Emanuel Ax playing the Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 17.) A fantastic way to end the season.

At the Rehearsal

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Thursday, 17 March

Thursday morning I attended a rehearsal of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as they prepared two pieces for that evening's performance under the leadership of Charles Dutoit. The first half hour was spent working on the Roman Carnival overture by Berlioz and after a coffee break, they worked for an hour on Panderecki's Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra. Both were lively and entertaining pieces, neither of which I'd heard before.

It was so interesting to watch the back and forth between the conductor and various sections of the orchestra as they rehearsed segments alone and then combined them for the finished product. There was lots of note taking on music scores and conferring among orchestra members and you could see how sections of the orchestra worked together.

At the Rehearsal

Adding to the fun, I was able to sit in a box seat, off to the side and very close to the orchestra with a great view of the conductor. Great seats, great sound, great fun.

Cubicle of Gongs at the CSO

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Wednesday, 23 February

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Last week I attended a CSO performance of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 (wonderful) and Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto, conducted by Salonen with Leila Josefowicz wailing away on her violin. It was quite something to see and hear, with an impressive assortment of percussion instruments including violin bows played on the edge of the vibraphone and an array of tuned gongs that Karen dubbed the cubicle of gongs. You can see it there on right side of the stage, behind the basses.

A Chilly Weekend of Fun

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Saturday, 18 December

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You know you're a true Chicagoan when you don't let the single-digit windchill keep you from getting out and having fun.

Last night, I went to see a local production of Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams. It had been quite a while since I'd been to a play and I'd forgotten how, as in so many theater companies in Chicago, you're one of maybe 15 people in the audience, sitting two feet (or in some cases on) the stage. It was great to see live theater again. This particular production wasn't as good as the reviews had led me to believe, but I thought the two leads were very good. The material's a bit dated but worth seeing.

Afterward, we stopped at the Lakeview Uncommon Ground, just down the block from the theater for a cold beer. Of course.

St. Michael's Church in Old Town
St. Michael's in Old Town was one of the few buildings to "survive" the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

The night before, I attended a performance of Music of the Baroque's Christmas concert in St. Michael's church in Old Town. This event had the double win of live music performed in a church I've long wanted to see from the inside. The music, a mixture of choral and brass, sounded fantastic in this impressive venue.

Salt bread with honey butter and bacon jam.

Of course I had to get the salt breat with honey butter and BACON jam. Yum!

Afterward, the three of us stopped in to the Goose Island brewery to sample what they had on tap. I enjoyed their Christmas ale (see Feet First #101) and something called the Bitter Cold. I sampled the Dominique, which is aged in bourbon casks and had a wonderful aroma and flavor of the bourbon. Since I was driving, having a pint of this was out of the question, but next time…

Red Carpet at the Lyric Opera

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Saturday, 20 November

Lyric Opera's production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream was pretty to look at but the pacing was very slow. I'm not a fan of this Shakespeare play, which I'm sure the two Shakespeare-loving friends I saw it with would insist is because I have yet to see a good production of it. I found the story silly and dull and Britten's music hard to get a hold on. That left the libretto, lines taken from Shakespeare. Meh. Not until the final song was there anything even remotely approaching a melody.

There was a live dog in the production, which, according to the review in the Tribune, performed some amazing trick in the second act. If he did, none of us saw it. Disappointment on top of disappointment, as I'd actually been looking forward to this opera.

With Seven Minutes to Spare

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Wednesday, 20 October

CSO Afterworks concert. Lots of strings on the program: Gil Shaham conducting and playing Haydn's Violin Concerto No. 4 and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5. The orchestra also played Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, which never gets old.

BTW, with just a few minutes to spare before the beginning of the program, I of course stopped in the aisle half-way to my seat to snap a photo. This is just one instance of many (and many more to come) where I'm sure people around me are wondering what the heck it is I'm doing.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Berlioz Spectacular!

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Kicked off another symphony season this evening with a program of all Berlioz. The first half was spectacular. Riccardo Muti conducting the Symphonie Fantastique, which was exactly that, fantastic. There was a little something for everyone in the orchestra on this one, including a really effective back-and-forth between the giant chimes (played off stage) and the brass.

Muti is extremely expressive and a lot of fun to watch. He conducts with his entire body, leaping, jabbing, hopping, leaning in to the orchestra and then away, punctuating the air with his arms up high, down low and sweeping the length of his body. At one point he simply stopped completely and turned his attention to the violins on his left, seeming to let them carry on on their own, as if listening and enjoying with the rest of us. I'd never seen that before.

The second half, Berlioz Lelio, was less enjoyable personally though I do give the CSO extra points for dramatic staging. Surprise guest Gerard Depardieu was on hand (a surprise to me because I had no idea he'd be there) to narrate the piece in French. The orchestra and chorus performed behind a giant black scrim, lit as if by candlelight from the lights on their music stands and scores. It looked great and the music was beautiful, but I could have done without the narration.

CSO Tales From Tchaikovsky

CsoredmoonIf you’re looking for something festive to do this weekend–well as festive as listening to music from a pair of tragic love stories can be–I’d suggest the Tales from Tchaikovsky program the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is running through the weekend.

I saw it last night as part of my Afterworks Masterworks series and was pleasantly surprised to see it was in collaboration with Redmoon Theater. Incidental music from the The Snow Maiden included narration which greatly added to the emotional impact of the music.

The second work was Swan Lake, which, beautiful as it is, has become so cliche in my mind that I thought I never needed to hear it again. Wrong. Hearing it live was quite amazing. In addition, Redmoom has created a shadowplay presentation using overhead projectors and paper cutouts to dramatize the story with cinematic touches reminiscent of silent film. Two teams of puppeteers on either side of the stage and behind the orchestra, worked in time with the music. A large screen over the stage used video cameras trained on each projector’s screen to combine the images in real-time. It was a unique and entertaining way to tell the story.