Articles by Lawrence B. Johnson
Burning hot at the Cadillac. 5 stars!
Lovable but seriously bizarre. 4 stars!
Neo-Futurists riff on a tragedy. 4 stars!
At Bank of America Theatre. 4 stars!
In a quandary about what to give the person you dare not buy for? If that knotty assignment is a music or theater lover, we at Chicago On the Aisle have a garland of happy solutions: concert music, operas, plays and musicals on CDs, DVDs and downloadable recordings. We’ll be stringing our bright recommendations over the weeks ahead, so check back often.
Interview: Michael Stegall, who looks and sounds every inch a ropin’ cowboy in the Raven Theatre production of William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” grew up in the West. No surprise there. But wait a minute. Not that West. The 6-foot-3, 23-year-old actor hails from Palm Springs, CA, where the buffalo do not roam.
Review: The French conductor Stéphane Denève made a thrilling debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night. Denève, who turns 40 this month, is going to be an international force, and his concert with the CSO amply demonstrated why. *****
Maestro at the Royal George. 3 stars
The last three string quartets Mozart composed, in 1789 just two years before his death, utterly belie the desperate financial straits into which he had fallen. These sunny, and technically brilliant, performances by the Emerson String Quartet reveal Mozart at the zenith of his creative powers.
Engagingly off-kilter charms. 3 stars
Interview: At the center of Stephen Sondheim’s acerbic musical “Follies”stands Benjamin Stone, worldly, rich, the envy of his old acquaintances gathered at this reunion of theater folks. Ben is all of that, and one more thing — miserable. Veteran actor Brent Barrett offers a candid analysis of the self-centered cad and womanizer.
What a pleasure it was Thursday night to hear Handel’s vivacious “Water Music” in the hands of a conductor who knows it so intimately that he doesn’t require a score – and who understands what charms it possesses that induced a delighted monarch to command repeated performances at its first hearing.
Review: The Pacifica Quartet offered a stunning reminder in its concert Sunday at the University of Chicago that the quartets of Shostakovich stand shoulder to shoulder with Beethoven’s as exemplars of the form, great and deeply personal expressions. *****
The Pacifica Quartet has been playing complete cycles of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets and Shostakovich’s 15 in international venues over the last couple of years. Violist Masumi Per Rostad talks about the enduring importance of both composers.
The American guitarist David Russell got my attention a few years back with a CD of Renaissance music that included some very fine readings of works by John Dowland. That same technical finesse and artful musicianship grace this wide-ranging collection of pieces by Isaac Albeniz.
Sardonic, but clear-sighted. 3 stars
Interview: Actor Sadieh Rifai thought Jessica’s Dickey’s play “The Amish Project,” at American Theater Company, would be a pretty straight-forward one-woman show. The plays is based on the 2006 shooting of 10 school girls in Pennsylvania. Rifai would be switching among seven characters, but she didn’t see that as a big deal. She was in for a big surprise.
Review: Conductor Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra summoned performances of exceptional clarity in Schubert’s chamber-size Fifth Symphony and Mahler’s grand-scaled Fourth Symphony. *****
At the Royal George Theatre. 4 stars!
Interview: Actor Kirsten Fitzgerald portrays two very different characters amid the hurlyburly of “Clybourne Park, the double-edged drama by Bruce Norris now playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through Nov. 13. She’s a grieving mother in 1959 and a self-interested lawyer 50 years later.
It’s a theatrical tour de force that Fitzgerald likens to acting in two different plays the same night.
Susanna Mälkki, the 42-year-old music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 13 with a program of Charles Ives and Richard Strauss that, in every way, placed her among the most important conductors of her generation.
In Part 2 of an interview with Chicago On the Aisle, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director extols Italian training, calls Toscanini his hero and admits impatience with routine effort – and prima donnas.
Donizetti’s bel canto dazzler. 5 stars!
Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project,” echoes of a massacre at ATC. 5 stars!
This off-beat CD takes the Russian-born violin virtuoso Viktoria Mullova back to her ancestral roots in the Ukrainian outback, in the traditional music of gypsies and other rural folk. 3 stars
John Musial’s “The Great Fire” flames up at Lookingglass. 2 stars
In an exclusive interview with Chicago On the Aisle, Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti explains his limited enthusiasm for Mahler and reflects on a lifelong struggle with the immensity of Beethoven.
Fischer’s landmark bio of the great symphonist is now in English. 4 stars!
Company to get check for $10,000.
Celebrating the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth, music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra forged a sublime performance of Liszt’s epic “Faust Symphony.”