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Music ensemble looks to tell Chicago stories
by Matt Simonette
2017-10-09

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According to Bach + Beethoven Ensemble ( BBE ) Artistic Director Brandi Berry, her musical organization's mission is all about "tearing down the walls between musicians, [other] performers and the audience."

The ensemble is in large part dedicated to presenting music in its historical context, using instruments that are appropriate to the period. But Berry maintained that another important part of its guiding principles revolves around making that music accessible to a contemporary audience, fostering a sense of community between audience and musician.

Their next performance, in mid-October, is entitled Chicago Stories and features six original compositions from three composers; subjects of the new works include Chicago's Assyrian immigrant community, the Pilsen Latin jazz scene, and minority women in leadership roles "and the 'glass ceilings' they've shattered along the way," Executive Director Thomas Alaan said.

BBE was formed in 2009 by a group of musicians who were new to Chicago and looking for a means by which to break into the city's performance market. They began reorganizing as a nonprofit in 2013, a process largely spearheaded by Berry and Alaan. Some performances consist of just Berry, a violinist, and Alaan, a vocalist. Others have featured anywhere from 5-20 musicians. Openly gay performer David Schrader is among the musicians who regularly play with BBE and will take part in Chicago Stories.

That engagement between musician and audience BBE strives for can take many forms, Alaan said. He sometimes even solicits audience suggestions for lyric-subjects of his vocal performances. At a recent performance, he ended up singing about "Mickey Mouse having sex with Minnie, and Goofy walking in on them," he recalled.

Each performance has a "mascot" or symbol of sorts, usually a stuffed animal that BBE commissions especially for the occasion. But the Chicago Stories performance will be different; the ensemble will have what's ostensibly a book about Chicago on hand, but the inside will be blank, and attendees will be invited to jot down their thoughts and memories about the city.

Indeed, Alaan and Berry hope that the three Chicago stories presented this month will be the first of many BBE interprets in the years ahead. Berry said they want to have work by an LGBT composer reflecting on the city's LGBT community in a future installment.

"That's something we really would like to do," she added.

Chicago Stories will be performed at University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC Student Center East, East Terrace, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14, then at Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway, at 3 p.m. on Oct. 15. For more information, see BBEnsemble.org .


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