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September 2014
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CSO at Millennium Park: Allegro con Muti

Fans crowd Millennium Park to see Riccardo Muti conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Fans crowd Millennium Park to see Riccardo Muti conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Update: 7:43 pm CDT

Friday’s crowd is estimated at over 20,000 people. Hundreds more are being turned away at the park entrance.

Riccardo Muti brings the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Millennium Park on Friday for a free, all-Tchaikovsky concert. It’s been four years to the day since Maestro Muti gave his inaugural concert in the park’s Pritzker Pavilion. He’s made a habit of alternating Millennium Park concerts with free neighborhood concerts for his season opener.

“Do you know that the Chicago Symphony is one of the best orchestras in the world? But…did you know?

…Don’t forget for your spiritual, your cultural “bread,” to come to the concert hall and to hear the orchestra, and to bring your children, because it’s the only possibility, in this terrible world, to make people better.”

—Riccardo Muti at the free concert in Millennium Park, September 19, 2014


Early birds wait to claim seats at the Pritzker

Chicagoan Mary Catherine Burtch is first in line

Chicagoan Mary Catherine Burtch is first in line

Last year, Mr. Muti took the orchestra to Cicero. Three years ago, they played at a church on Chicago’s south side.

Mary Catherine Burtch of Chicago took half a vacation day to line up for a seat at Friday’s concert. “Riccardo Muti reaches out to the entire Chicago community. He steps out of Orchestra Hall and into the arms of the community.”

More on the CSO’s opening weekend.

Patty Campanile of Chicago said it had been 30 years since she had seen the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “It’s a world-class symphony, and I’d been meaning to go. This will give us a jump start.”

At intermission, 13-year-old Matthew said, “I thought it was really interesting how they were able to play together. I had no clue what instruments could be used to make a particular sound.”

After the concert, 9-year-old Colin said, “It was loud – but GREAT.

Documentary Filmmaker Phil Grabsky at WFMT

Filmmaker Phil Grabsky at WFMT, photo by Noel Morris

Filmmaker Phil Grabsky at WFMT, photo by Noel Morris

When Phil Grabsky looks out into the world, he sees stories that need to be told. As an independent filmmaker, he’s followed his passion from Brazil to Angola, from Chernobyl to Afghanistan. He also has a fascination for great composers.

In Search of Chopin

“His grave in Paris remains a place of pilgrimage and his music continues to sell out concert halls worldwide – but who exactly was this man who was terrified of public performance, who fled his Polish homeland for Paris never to return, took up with the most notorious transvestite in France, rarely gave public performances and, despite a life of ill-health, wrote some of the deepest and most powerful music ever written? How exactly did a young Polish boy rise to such heady heights?

For four years, Phil Grabsky has traveled the globe in his quest to lay bare the life and music of Chopin.”

—Seventh Art Productions

Phil Grabsky is in Chicago to introduce his new film In Search of Chopin. He stopped by WFMT to play Guest Host with Kerry Frumkin, and offered a mixture, including Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and (of course) Chopin. “I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to explore Chopin.” According to Mr. Grabsky, with all the negativity in the world, it’s essential to immerse oneself in the works of people who are so inspired.


Phil Grabsky speaks with Kerry Frumkin, photo by Noel Morris

He talks about a moment in the film, In Search of Chopin, when pianist and performance artist Hershey Felder wonders how so much talent could be poured into one person [Chopin]. “Is it a gift from God?”

According to Mr. Grabsky, one can’t help musing about such things, but the challenge is to train the lens upon “what can be explained.” That is, stitching together a narrative through the art, the people, and the events of a subject’s life.

In Search of Chopin is the latest in Phil Grabsky’s composer series which includes In Search of Haydn, In Search of Beethoven, and In Search of Mozart.

Click to learn more about Phil Grabsky and his company Seventh Art Productions.

In Search of Chopin runs at the Gene Siskel Film Center through October 2nd. Director Phil Grabsky will be present for audience discussion at all screenings, Friday-Monday, September 19-22. The 2:00 pm shows on Saturday and Sunday will be moderated by WFMT’s Andrew Patner.

A partial filmography:

2014 Matisse Live (Documentary)
2014 In Search of Chopin (Documentary)
2013 Exhibition on Screen: Vermeer and Music (Documentary)
2013 Exhibition on Screen: Manet – Portraying Life (Documentary)
2012 Leonardo Live (Documentary)
2012 In Search of Haydn (Documentary)
2011 The Boy Mir (Documentary)
2010 Swallows and Amazons: Bristol Old Vic Sets Sail (Documentary)
2009 Making War Horse (TV Movie documentary)
2009 Marlow meets… (TV Series documentary)
2009 In Search of Beethoven (Documentary)
2007 Escape from Luanda (Documentary)
2006 Half Life: A Journey to Chernobyl (Documentary short)
2006 In Search of Mozart (Documentary)
2005 Tim Marlow on… MOMA (TV Mini-Series documentary)
2004 The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan (Documentary)
2003 The Nude in Art (TV Mini-Series documentary)
2002 The Surprising History of Sex and Love (TV Movie documentary)
2002 The Surprising History of Egypt (TV Movie documentary)
2002 The Surprising History of Rome (TV Movie documentary)
2001 Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World (Documentary)

CSO Will Roll Out with a Bang

Riccardo Muti on stage at Millennium Park, c. Todd Rosenberg

Riccardo Muti on stage at Millennium Park, c. Todd Rosenberg

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra makes a joyful noise this weekend, performing to capacity crowds. Riccardo Muti opens the concert season with four sold-out performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and a free Tchaikovsky concert at Millennium Park.

With orchestra and chorus proclaiming Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy at Thursday’s opening night, the orchestra sets the bar for things to come. Mr. Muti plans a season-wide focus on Tchaikovsky, a composer who delivers much in the way of orchestral fireworks (and usually a rapturous audience to go with them).

Maestro Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The CSO looks out at a capacity crowd during a 2012 concert, c. Todd Rosenberg

It was four years ago to the day (September 19, 2010) that an estimated 25,000 fans greeted Maestro Muti at his inaugural concert in Millennium Park, one of the largest crowds in the park’s history. On Friday, September 19th, Mr. Muti returns to the Pritzker Pavilion to conduct a free concert, with Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony as its centerpiece. He will also conduct Tchaikovsky’s 4th the following weekend at Symphony Center.


Bass-baritone Eric Owens in a WFMT Impromptu, c. Noel Morris

The CSO will be at Orchestra Hall for the remainder of the weekend, performing the Beethoven for the first subscription concerts of the season. The soloists include Chicago favorite, bass-baritone Eric Owens. Mr. Owens sang in Lyric Opera’s Rusalka last spring (as did mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova, also soloing with the CSO this weekend) and is scheduled to sing his first Wotan in Chicago in 2016. Mr. Owens is in the queue to star in Porgy and Bess this season.


Evanston native Matthew Polenzani is a last-minute substitution for the CSO’s opening concert

In a twist that may delight members of Thursday’s audience, Chicago favorite Matthew Polenzani will step in to sing the Beethoven 9. Mr. Muti had engaged Christopher Ventris, an acclaimed tenor in European opera houses, but he has withdrawn from the concerts due to illness. Mr. Polenzani grew up in Evanston and trained at Lyric’s Opera Center, and is a Lyric Opera regular. He is also a favorite of James Levine and sings regularly at the Metropolitan Opera.


Ekaterina Gubanova as the Foreign Princess with Brandon Jovanovich in Lyric Opera’s “Rusalka


Camilla Nylund takes a bow after “Salome” at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

The remaining three performances of the Beethoven 9 will feature New Jersey native William Burden, who will sing Capriccio in Chicago with Renée Fleming next month.


American tenor William Burden

The top half of the vocal quartet includes Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova and Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund. This will be Ms. Nylund’s only North American performance this year.

Thursday begins a three-week residency for CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti.



Winners of Genius Grants “Inspire us all”

Public artist Rick Lowe

Public artist Rick Lowe

Historian Tara Zahra

Tami Bond

Environmental engineer Tami Bond

People who win don’t even know they’ve been considered, but on Wednesday they were identified by international news agencies as “21 extraordinarily creative people who inspire us all.” Some are scientists; others are historians, poets, or lawyers. There’s an artist, a jazz musician, and a cartoonist. They are the 2014 MacArthur Fellows, recipients of what’s often called the genius grant, a $625,000 cash prize – no strings attached.

Funded by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the vetting process is conducted in secrecy; candidates cannot apply.

Mark Hersam

Material scientist Mark Hersam

Alison Bechdel

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel

Three of the newly announced Fellows live and work in Illinois: Tami Bond





is an environmental engineer at the University of Illinois in Champaign. She studies the effects of black carbon emissions on the environment and on human health.

Northwestern’s materials scientist Mark Hersam studies nanomaterials, and their potential for use in energy, biotechnology, and information technology. The third Illinoisan is Tara Zahra an historian at the University of Chicago who specializes in modern Europe.


Khaled Mattawa, Translator/Poet, University of Michigan

Poet Khaled Mattawa

Jazz artist Steve Coleman

In the arts, recipients include: Alison Bechdel, a graphic artist who crafts complex, multilayered narratives combining social commentary with observations about family, through the interplay of text and cartoons. She is the creator of Dykes to Watch Out For, the comic strip which ran from 1983 to 2008.

The MacArthur Foundation recognized saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, an active performer, as well as founder of M-Based Concepts, Inc., which provides support to artists and encourages players young and old to push the boundaries of their art form.

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer

Poet Terrance Hayes

Two poets are among the 2014 Fellows: who writes poetry and is translating Arabic-language poetry into English, with the purpose of bridging cultural divides.

Terrance Hayes, who writes about race, gender, and family; and University of Michigan-based Khaled Mattawa,

“Public Artist” Rick Lowe received a genius grant for his visionary organization Project Row Houses, which transforms derelict properties in low-income neighborhoods into art.

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter was recognized. He is author of The Whale, and is in residence at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater (in the old Biograph Theater).

Samuel Hunter

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter

Danish filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer also received the genius grant for his gripping examinations of challenging subjects, including an intimate look at religious zealotry, anti-government militiamen; and worker abuse and state-sponsored massacres in Indonesia.

See the complete list of 2014 MacArthur Fellows.





Fisching for Excellence in Chamber Music

Akropolis Reed Quintet

Wednesday at 12:15 pm

This week’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert welcomes the 2014 Fischoff Competition gold medalists. They had walked away with the silver medal in 2012, before clenching the gold in 2014. In July, the Akropolis Reed Quintet was presented with the 2015 Fischoff Educator Award for their imaginative programming for children. The Akropolis Reed Quintet came together in 2009 at the University of Michigan.

Every year, approximately 125 chamber music groups enter the Fischoff Competition in South Bend, Indiana. According to organizers, over 20 nationalities are represented.


Akropolis bassoonist Ryan Reynolds coaches a young player at the Musikhochschule Münster, c. Ralf Emmerich






Musicians age 18 and under compete for scholarships, $6,000 in prize money, and an appearance on NPR’s popular radio series From the Top (Sundays at 7:00 pm). Musicians age 18 to 35 are eligible for the seniors division and compete for $28,000 in cash and the Grand Prize Winner’s Tour.

The competition began with six entrants in 1973; it had been the vision of Joe Fischoff and the South Bend Chamber Music Society to stage an event that would encourage the next generation of ensembles. Past winners include Joshua Bell, Eighth Blackbird, the Cypress Quartet, Imani Winds, the Pacifica String Quartet, and Quintet Attacca.

The Devil Gets a Second Act


 Monday at 8:00 pm

L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) is a curiosity. It’s theater. It’s a musical composition. It’s a work rich in orchestral color, but has only six players. With a unique ensemble of actors, dancers and instruments, it’s been a one-of-a-kind for nearly 100 years – until now.


Igor Stravinsky

Monday’s broadcast from the Ravinia Festival features Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale with a new piece intended as its complement.

L’histoire comes from the end of the First World War. Stravinsky produced the work in hope of driving from one war-torn community to the next, launching the production from the back of a truck. For Stravinsky and his troop it was a way to make a living. For the audience, it was intended as a momentary escape. The tour fell through, and L’histoire was premiered by conductor Ernest Ansermet.


Composer James Stephenson

The Soldier’s Tale, based on Russian folklore, paints a rather bleak world which could easily have been Europe in 1918: sickness ravaged the continent, economies and infrastructures were in shambles, some casualties of war were limping home, while millions of others lay dead – it seems a rich environment for the Devil who, in The Soldier’s Tale, makes the acquaintance of an unsuspecting infantryman.

Stravinsky uses a setting by C.F. Ramuz for the piece. In this concert, Chicago Pro Musica adds a sequel to Stravinsky’s L’histoire by Chicago composer James Stephenson. Stephenson’s piece, The Devil’s Tale, uses the same six instruments and starts where Stravinsky leaves off, working its way backward through the tale. What Mr. Stephenson envisions is a palindrome, with his piece following a performance of the Stravinsky.

Monday’s broadcast from the Ravinia Festival was taped last month. The narrator and director is Hershey Felder. Kerry Frumkin is host.


A British Import: the BBC Proms


Sunday at 5:00 pm

They gave the world Monty Python and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Leave it to the British to organize something as inexplicable and wonderful as the BBC Proms. The 2014 BBC Proms has been an eight-week music festival with 74 concerts. What sets this festival apart is its subculture of devoted attendants, some of whom line up hours before a concert for a £5.00, standing-room-only ticket.


A gentleman is first in line for one of 500 day-of, standing-room-only tickets to a Prom

Standing at the Proms is a time-honored tradition known as “promming.” The people who do it are called “prommers.” In a venue like the Royal Albert Hall, there can be as many as 1,400 prommers at a concert. Reserved seating is also abundant at the Royal Albert Hall, which can accommodate nearly 6,000 for the Proms concerts, but it’s the standing area directly beneath the stage that is among the most coveted places to hear a concert, especially with high-profile performers.


Prommers on Last Night

There are stalwarts among the prommers who speak of the “community of the queue.” Holding season tickets to the standing area, they line up early for a favorite spot in the hall, spending the entire afternoon together, picnicking, playing cards, drinking, and reading. Interlopers who attempt to push their way ahead of the line are not tolerated.

The Telegraph offers a a less affectionate moniker and definition for prommers: “Promenerders: mild loopiness and often terrible dress sense.”

Inside the hall, this pack of prommers has its traditions like shouting “heave ho” when the piano is moved, and greeting a foreign orchestra in its native tongue.

The Proms culminates with Last Night, featuring performances throughout the UK, including Belfast, Glasgow, Swansea, and London’s Hyde Park. A jumbotron links the sea of flag-waving fans to the grand singalong from Royal Albert Hall.

English trumpeter Alison Balsom plays a Prom

WFMT presents the BBC Proms 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014
5:00 pm

The China Philharmonic/Long Yu, conductor
Alison Balsom, trumpet; Haochen Zhang, piano

Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March #4
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
Liszt: Piano Concerto #1
Qigang Chen: Joie éternelle
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition.

Sunday, September 28, 2014
5:00 pm

The Last Night of the Proms from September 13
BBC Symphony, choirs, and soloists/Sakari Oramo, conductor

Concert favorites, American tunes, and British music, ending with Parry’s Jerusalem.



The Proms tradition started around the mid 18th century with “promenade concerts,” at which audiences strolled through pleasure gardens (public gardens) while listening to live music. The present festival goes back to 1894, when impresario Robert Newman conceived of low-cost, casual concerts to broaden the audience for classical music. According to the Proms, he pitched the idea to conductor Sir Henry Wood, ‘I am going to run nightly concerts to train the public in easy stages,’ he explained. ‘Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’ Concertgoers were invited to enjoy smoking, eating, drinking; and promenading in the designated space.

Impromptu with Ken Burns

Ken Burns does live interview at WFMT

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns paid WFMT a visit on Tuesday afternoon; he’s on a whirlwind tour to promote his latest series: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

More on Ken Burns’s WFMT appearance.


Ken Burns discusses “The Roosevelts” with Kerry Frumkin







As a director who’s covered everything from the Civil War, to baseball, to prohibition, to the national parks, Ken Burns is famous for making epic films about human endeavors – not so much for making biographies, although personal accounts are a hallmark of his storytelling style. His latest series is a biography, weaving together the stories of three people named Roosevelt: Teddy, his niece Eleanor, and her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fifth cousin of Teddy.



WFMT’s Kerry Frumkin speaks with filmmaker Ken Burns

“It’s a celebration of three extraordinary lives, but they are not without really glaring faults.”

—Ken Burns discusses Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin Roosevelt

According to Ken Burns, the inspiration to focus on the Roosevelts came, in part, because of the way those three personalities continually intersected with the other film projects.


Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

“There’s this whole host of characters…that call into question all the fundamental elements that we’ve explored in many of the other films: what is the role of government, what can a citizen expect from government, what is the nature of leadership, what’s the tension between idealism and pragmatism – all of the stuff of America, all of the politics, but to [call these things into question] from the inside out…our subtitle is “An Intimate History,” and we’re interested not in psycho-babble, but in getting to know who these people are. What formed them.

“You know, if you’re interested in leadership, you’ve got to also be interested in character…you’ve got to understand how adversity or just the regular stuff of life formed that character in order to create (or not create) leadership.”

The new series The Roosevelts: An Intimate Story starts Sunday, September 14 at 7:00 pm on WTTW.

Filmmaker Ken Burns to Visit WFMT

Ken Burns's latest film is "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History"

Ken Burns's latest film is "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History"

Ken Burns with Kerry Frumkin, Tuesday, 3:00 pm hour

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns comes to WFMT on Tuesday, September 9 for a live conversation with Kerry Frumkin. Mr. Burns will be on-hand to talk about his latest release, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which premiers on WTTW on Sunday.


Eleanor Roosevelt taking a ride with Tuskegee Airman Charles “Chief” Anderson (1941)

“The Roosevelts have played significant roles in other stories we’ve told before, from the National Parks to World War II,” said Burns. “It’s impossible, in fact, to visit many parts of the American experience without encountering their presence. But beyond simply sharing a bloodline or political success, they each shared a passionate belief that America is at its strongest when everyone has an equal chance. And on a personal level, they each struggled to overcome their own fears while maintaining a public face of courage.”


Teddy Roosevelt at a campaign stop in Milwaukee, moments before being shot

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a Colt .38 while on the campaign trail. Displaying the bloodstained shirt, he proceeded to the Milwaukee Auditorium where he delivered a 90-minute speech.

The new 14-hour documentary film chronicles a century, from the birth of Theodore Roosevelt in 1858 to the death of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962.

In that time, the Roosevelts played lead roles in America’s story, overseeing the completion of the Panama Canal, the New Deal, the defeat of fascism, and beyond. In his new documentary, Ken Burns captures the interwoven lives of the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt; his fifth cousin and 32nd President Franklin Roosevelt, and Franklin’s first lady (and Theodore’s niece), Eleanor. In vivid detail, the series chronicles their struggles, their triumphs, and the sometimes agonizing decisions that changed the course of history.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt seated beside Winston Churchill

Ken Burns has covered a range of topics in his documentary films, most notably The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), and Prohibition (2011). His documentaries have been among the most-viewed programs in public television.

Don’t miss Ken Burns, one-on-one with WFMT’s Kerry Frumkin, on Tuesday, September 9 in the 3:00 pm hour.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History premieres on WTTW on Sunday at 7:00 pm. The two-hour episodes will air nightly, September 14-20. Each episode will be re-broadcast nightly at 9:00 pm.


The Passing of Magda Olivero

Soprano Magda Olivero

Soprano Magda Olivero

Magda Olivero (b. March 25, 1910; d. September 8, 2014)

1910 – born in Saluzzo, Italy
1933 – La Scala debut as Anna in Nabucco
1975 – Met debut as Tosca (at age 65)
1993 – recorded excerpts from Adriana Lecouvreur

Magda Olivero singing Handel in Milan, 1991

Magda Olivero singing Handel, Milan, 1991

With Licia Albanese and Magda Olivero gone, it truly is the end of an era in opera, reaching back into the first half of the twentieth century. Those were the decades in which composers like Puccini, Mascagni, Cilea and Strauss; and conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham, Leo Blech, and Fritz Reiner gave us operatic performances directly expressing those composers’ intentions. Licia Albanese interpreted Puccini with his friend and colleague, Arturo Toscanini. Magda Olivero’s signature role was that of her friend Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur. Fortunately we have a legacy of recordings that not only tell us what was done, but point the way to what can and should be.

—Larry Johnson, host
Arias and Songs