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The new (virus) vibe: Chicago musicians play together while apart for a worldwide audience

Submitted by on Mar 28, 2020 – 7:56 pm

Antidotes: Third Coast Percussion streams, Civic Orchestra Zooms Tchaikovsky,  Lyric Opera offers “Là ci darem la mano”-a-mano.
By Nancy Malitz

If the COVID-19 virus temporarily froze operations at the nation’s classical music capitals including Chicago, there are definitely signs that the industry is getting its groove back.

Available for streaming now is a concert performed live from the University of Chicago campus, with no audience in the hall, by Chicago’s outstanding ensemble Third Coast Percussion, which makes its Carnegie Hall debut next season. One work too good to miss just because the campus has closed is “Perpetulum” by Philip Glass, arguably the most famous living composer, now in his ’80s. Third Coast commissioned and premiered “Perpetulum” in 2018 at the Chicago Humanities Festival on a concert so hot it was sold out and then some. (More about minimalism’s elder statesman here. And here are program notes about all the works on the concert, in case you want to read up prior to the perpetual watch party.)

Stitched together from many threads: Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s centennial concert is “virtual” on March 29

Click-track coordination: Emerging professional musicians of the Civic Orchestra recorded their individual parts to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 with Zoom audio recorders and smartphones.

The Chicago Symphony’s prestigious training orchestra was to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding with a reprise of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, which Frederick Stock conducted at the Civic Orchestra inauguration in 1920. The centennial concert was to be led by Ken-David Masur, the Civic’s principal conductor. Instead, Masur will introduce a “virtual” concert made possible by the click-track technology that keeps movie sound in sync, and by smartphones and Zoom field audio recording technology

“We have 62 members of the Civic participating, and they are playing five and half minutes from the fourth movement of the symphony,” says Jonathan McCormick, who is in charge of the CSO’s vast educational arm. “To make this happen, we engaged engineer Christopher Bill to put together the multimedia Tchaikovsky excerpt. It’s a massive undertaking for him, not only to make sure everybody’s lined up, but also balanced for volume.” The parts are piled on in layers to assemble the full sound. “But I think you will be impressed and surprised,” McCormick says. “I was terrified it wouldn’t sound like an orchestra, but it really does. It’s glorious.”

Audiences can access the 100th Anniversary Virtual Concert at Facebook and at YouTube. And talk about a quick turnaround to get this done: McCormick says the musicians did their recording on March 23, which gave editors Christopher Bill, Mat Lejeune and Green River Films just three days to put everything together. The virtual concert will also feature the world premieres of seven new pieces from emerging composers Josh Fink, Nathalie Joachim, Ted Moore, Peter S. Shin, Liza Sobel, Marta Tiesenga, and LJ White. The program will last 35 minutes. And following the concert, WFMT-FM will offer a CSO Radio broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. March 29 (Central Time), available over the air at 98.7 FM or at wfmt.com, that includes conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the CSO in Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite.

Just for fun: Lyric Opera of Chicago stars Isabel Leonard and Ryan McKinny ask if virtual hand-holding is OK

Baritone Ryan McKinny was at Lyric Opera of Chicago twice this season – as the doomed prisoner Joseph De Rocher in “Dead Man Walking,” and then when he stepped in to sing the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on short notice. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sang Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” in 2014 and the title role in “Cinderella” in 2015, but she’s a Mozartian as well. The Lyric favorites took to their phones with pianist Kathleen Kelly to sing the duet “Là ci darem la mano” (Give me your hand, my darling) from “Don Giovanni.” In contrast to polite social distancing, the suave lothario Don Juan accomplishes – in mere minutes – the seduction of a naive peasant girl on her wedding day.

Virtual triple play stars bassoonists Miles Maner from the CSO, and Miles Maner from the CSO, and Miles Maner from the CSO…

This hat trick is pulled off by the musician who plays both bassoon and contrabassoon for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, although usually it’s only one instrument at a time. Here he tackles (or is it “they tackle?”) a charming little polonaise for bassoon trio by the 19th century composer Julius Weissenborn.

And finally, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as you have never seen it, from the delightful Line Riders at Doodle Chaos

This is four and a half minutes of pure bliss and whmsy. It’s a highly musical ride downhill. Mandatory grinning all the way to the double bar!