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Surprise! Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma spring serenade on lunch crowd at Thompson Center

Submitted by on Mar 19, 2012 – 5:17 pm

Report: Soprano and cello joined burgers and pizza on the food court menu as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera united their creative consultants in an unannounced performance with high school choristers.

 By Lawrence B. Johnson

As impromptu happenings go, Monday’s lunchtime  “surprise” performance by soprano Rénee Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma at the James R. Thompson Center was a big hit – and copiously photographed.

In the first joint venture by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the two organizations’ respective creative consultants – who also happen to be two of the most famous musicians in the world – popped up on the Thompson Center’s lower level food court, midway between donut shop and pizza station, surrounded by the curious, the adoring and a slew of camera-packing media types who had been clued in.

The mini event’s message: great music can make a difference in one’s life, with the subtext that anybody and everybody can – and for their own spiritual good, should – sing or play an instrument: Don’t just be a spectator, be a performer. Amaze yourself.

That said, Monday’s amazement was lavishly centered on Fleming and Ma, who on this photo-op occasion, ringed by fans on multiple levels of the Thompson Center, made their debut as a performing duo.

They opened with a shining arrangement for keyboard (Lyric Opera pianist Mathew Piatt), cello and voice of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.” The crowd went wild. Fleming held the final note so long and perfectly that I heard myself thinking, “Breathe, Rénee, breathe.”

To warm up the crowd, teen choristers from Lakeview High School, Chicago High School for the Arts and Merit School of Music sang the South African folk song “Tshotsholoza.” Their lead singer, Elijah Smith from Chicago Arts, displayed a virile sound of real artistic promise, agile and clear.

Later, the combined choirs joined with Fleming, Ma and a group of wind players from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in “America the Beautiful.” Fleming sang verses of the song that I didn’t know existed, only to leave me – along with everyone else, I’m sure – wishing for a few stanzas more.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was on hand to give the occasion the state seal of approval. And that was it. As quickly as it sprang up, this taste treat in the food court was over. A delicious surprise.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Soprano Rénee Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma jam at the James R. Thompson Center March 19.  Right top to bottom: Solo singer Elijah Smith and other high school choristers join the celebration. Yo-Yo Ma enjoys a moment in the solo spotlight. Rénee Fleming greets fellow singers. Below: Rénee Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma in close harmony. (Photos by Nancy Malitz)

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