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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Measure for Measure, classical music in Chicago
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2018-10-31

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As part of its newly expanded arts coverage, Windy City Times is resuming Measure for Measure, a monthly digest of news about classical music in Chicago that first appeared in 2000 but has been on hiatus for several years.

The name references both Shakespeare and a musical score. Of course, a great deal of work in this category is thoroughly modern and contemporary, and we doubt anyone will mistake Philip Glass for Johann Sebastian Bach. What we mean by classical music is work derived from historic formal structures such as trio sonatas, fugues or operas, as well as musical organizations that keep the classical tradition alive. This writer is old enough to remember when it was called long-hair music, in the era before the Beatles changed male hairstyles forever.

Even those who are thoroughly up-to-speed about things symphonic, operatic, choral and chamber may be unaware that one of the best information and ticketing sources for classical music events is the League of Chicago Theatres website, ChicagoPlays.com . For some years now, the League membership has been expanding to include classical music and dance organizations, not only theater companies, and the result is a website with extensive listings of performing arts goings-on.

Last week, the site had several dozen listings/links for dance, classical music and opera representing both major organizations—such as the Joffrey Ballet, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pick-Staiger Hall and Chicago Opera Theater—plus many smaller groups such as Rembrandt Chamber Musicians, Lira Ensemble, the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company and Petite Opera Productions. Filters allow you to access info by city or 'burbs and select a time period from today to 30 days out. There's also a link ( bottom of the page ) to Hot Tix, the League's half-price ticket program. These listings are for last-minute or this-weekend performances, with classical music, opera and dance listings appearing from time to time, so it's your go-to place if you are flexible and want to save money.

As we scrolled through the League's music and opera listings, Petite Opera Productions ( POP ) caught our attention, initially because we weren't familiar with it and then because of POP's slogan, "Saving Opera Heroines From Certain Death." The troupe's website pledges to "take the stuffy out of opera" with small-scale productions in English and an emphasis on comedy. Seems POP was formed in 2009 by three classically trained vocalist comedians.

POP's Nov. 3-18 production of Mozart's Don Giovanni seems to typify what they are all about. They are calling it Don Giovanni #MeToo, and debuting a completely new English translation that updates the story to modern Hollywood where Donny G. is a producer and Leo Porello is his fixer-lawyer and Donna Anna is a starlet. All performances are at the Mary Wilson House Beyer Auditorium of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Park Ridge. Info/tickets: PetiteOpera.org

The violins made by Antonio Stradivari are the most famous in the world, but those made by Giuseppe Guarneri ( 1698-1744 ) are nearly as renowned and held by many to be equally superlative or better ( a darker tone, some say ). His name has been given a modest re-birth in Chicago's newest chamber music venue, Guarneri Hall, a performance space seating 85 at 11 E. Adams St., third floor. The venue, which opened Oct. 23, is acoustically engineered and equipped ( lighting, audio, video ) for live performances, recording and webcasting, including a three-camera high-definition video capture system and rear projection capabilities. It's available for rentals. ( Contact Executive Director Barbara Goff. )

It's operated by a non-profit concern, Guarneri Hall NFP, which promotes music education by offering live performances at Guarneri Hall and elsewhere in Chicago and by sponsoring music education programs aimed at young people with limited access to classical music. For example, Guarneri Hall events are live streamed via guarnerihall.org . The next live event at Guarneri Hall is a January 30 tribute to the 200th birthday of Clara Schuman, in which pianist Orion Weiss joins chamber music ensemble Frankly Music in works by both Clara and husband Robert Schuman.

When I was a kid growing up in Highland Park, the high school auditorium became the venue several times a year for classical music concerts featuring professional recitalists or chamber music ensembles. I remember a family friend—who was a clarinetist and a wag—once sent a note backstage to a pianist requesting The Muskrat Ramble as an encore. Obviously, Highland Park classical music ( beyond Ravinia ) has come a long way as the Highland Park Strings celebrates its 40th anniversary season.

Founded in 1979 by Lawrence Block ( still co-principal cellist ), the Strings is a full chamber orchestra of advanced amateur players and young professionals tackling the symphonic repertory as well as chamber works. For the 40th season, the Strings is offering three free concerts ( all Strings concerts are free ), with the next one on Dec. 2 featuring works by Bach, Vivaldi, Saint-Saens and Schubert, under the baton of principal conductos Dr. Robert G. Hasty. The concerts still are at the Highland Park High School auditorium. More info is at HighlandParkStrings.org . FYI: The 2018-19 season also is the 150th anniversary of Highland Park itself, the successor town to Port Clinton and originally home to Potawatomi Native American settlements.

Nov. 11 is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day ( now Veterans Day ), which brought World War I to an end, and a number of arts-related events will mark the occasion. Perhaps none will be grander or more evocative than the concert presented by the Rembrandt Chamber Musicians, "War and the Human Heart," which will combine a chamber orchestra, chorus, film, and live narration in a moving performance that honors the experience of war for every veteran, past or present. Rembrandt Chamber Musicians will be joined by the Valparaiso University Chorale, the Valparaiso University Bach Choir in works by Beethoven, Strauss, Holst, Schumann, and others under conductor Craig Jessop ( former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir ). The concert date actually is Nov. 10, at St. James Cathedral on the Near North Side. Info/tickets: RembrandtChamberPlayers.org

Veteran theater critic Jonathan Abarbanel has written extensively over the years about classical music for the Lerner Papers, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Virgin Records. He created the original Measure for Measure column in 2000.


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