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April 2014
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From the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival

Interfaith Liturgical concert

Interfaith Liturgical concert

Listen to Festival Highlights

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm
Sunday, April 20, 2014 at 8:40 am

Jerusalem—a city that always has been defined by two (at least) narratives: religious and political. Palestinians, Christians, and Jews, all religious to varying degrees, or not religious at all, comprise the city’s citizenry of some 800,000. While the peoples of these communities all live closely together in a geographical sense, each community lives a separate emotional life, either by choice or mandate or custom or all three.

The Citadel, Tower of David

The Citadel, Tower of David

Tibetan Ritual of the Mandala 2

Tibetan Ritual of the Mandala 2


With its Sacred Music Festival, the Jerusalem Season of Culture aims to bridge those political and cultural gaps through a shared love of music. Over the course of four days and four nights in August, musicians of every color and creed arrived in Jerusalem to share and celebrate their unique musical traditions. Candice Agree was in Jerusalem as a guest of the 2013 Festival, and shares these sights and sounds:


The next Festival will take place in Jerusalem from September 9-12, 2014.

Theo Bickel and The Passover Story

The Praying Jew, Rabbi of Vitebsk by Marc Chagall

The Praying Jew, Rabbi of Vitebsk by Marc Chagall

Monday at 1:00 pm

Theodore Bickel was being modest when he said, “Professionally, I can count three or four separate existences.” He’s played Carnegie Hall as a folk singer, he created the role of Captain von Trapp in the Broadway premiere of The Sound of Music, and has played the role of Tevye more than 2,000 times in Fiddler on the Roof. Bickel has a film career spanning 50 years. He’s also a humorist, writer, and social activist.

“All too often arrogance accompanies strength, and we must never assume that justice is on the side of the strong. The use of power must always be accompanied by moral choice.”

It has become a WFMT tradition to celebrate Passover with Theo Bickel’s telling of The Passover Story, a production with the ensemble Western Wind. The program includes Klezmer improvisations, Sephardic songs, Hebrew folk music, and classical liturgical music. Join WFMT for The Passover Story starring Theodore Bickel on Monday at 1:00 pm.


About the St. Matthew Passion


Chicago Bach Project’s St. Matthew Passion Live, Friday at 7:30 pm

The history—and the mysteries—of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion are endless. It was written in 1727. One hundred years later, it was all but forgotten.

Listen to Bill McGlaughlin on the opening of the Passion:


Listen to Bill McGlaughlin on painting the characters in the Passion:




Inspiration of St. Matthew by Caravaggio







The Revival

There was a highly cultivated woman living in Berlin by the name of Sarah Itzig Levy who had studied the harpsichord with Bach’s oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. Sarah was a musical activist; she sang, she collected manuscripts, she commissioned music from Wilhelm’s brother, Carl. Sarah’s sister Bella had two grandkids who were extraordinarily gifted musically: Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn.

Felix Mendelssohn was around 15 years old when his grandmother Bella gave him a manuscript of an obscure piece of music: J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. That gift lit a fire under young Mendelssohn. He was determined to launch a performance. It took the youth five years to reconstruct and write out parts in order to actually perform the music; which he did, enlisting friends, family and anybody who could play or sing—some covering multiple parts, in 1829.

First page in Mendelssohn's hand of J.S. Bach's Cantata, BWV 106; from Library of Congressw

First page in Mendelssohn’s hand of J.S. Bach’s Cantata, BWV 106; from Library of Congress

Exploring music

Bill McGlaughlin will present a week-long examination of the St. Matthew Passion in honor of Holy Week, starting on Monday at 7:00 pm.

The Performance

Chicago Bach Choir & Orchestra, with musicians from the Lyric Opera Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Grant Park Music Festival, along with Anima (Young Singers of Chicago) and soloists, perform J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion under the direction of John Nelson on Friday at 7:30 pm, live at the Harris Theater and on WFMT.

John Nelson, conductor
Nicholas Phan, Evangelist
Stephen Morscheck, Jesus
Lisette Oropesa, soprano
Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor
Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Matthew Brook, bass-baritone
Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone
Chicago Bach Choir & Orchestra
Donald Nally, chorus master
Anima (Young Singers of Greater Chicago)
Emily Ellsworth, director

The New York Phil’s Nielsen Redux

Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen

There are two more videos (below) of New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert making his case for the underrepresented Dane—Nielsen goes down easy, as far as 20th century composers go; his vibrant orchestral colors, and earthy Romanticism align him with the likes of Sibelius or Rachmaninoff. In the first video, we see a quirkier, sillier side of Nielsen.

Alan Gilbert has a personal connection to Scandinavia; he has had a long association with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (not to mention being married to a cellist from that orchestra). Gilbert says it’s understood in that part of the world that Nielsen is to be played as often as Tchaikovsky or Brahms; hence his journey with the New York Philharmonic to perform all the Nielsen Symphonies and Concertos.

On Thursday at 8:00 pm, the New York Philharmonic welcomes Nikolaj Znaider for Nielsen’s Violin Concerto. They also call principal flutist Robert Langevin to the fore for the Nielsen Flute Concerto. The program finishes with Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian Symphony.


Hess Concert: Practicing (Hopefully) What He Preaches

Evan Mitchell

Evan Mitchell

Live Recital, Wednesday at 12:15 pm

Evan Mitchell is a hard-working young pianist, currently studying with Van Cliburn Competition-winner José Feghali. Mitchell gave 50 concerts last year, he practices—a lot, and somehow finds time to write music criticism for a website called bachtrack.

As a reviewer, Mitchell assigns star ratings, up to 5 stars, and tells it like he sees it about Jaap van Zweden:

“Music Director Jaap van Zweden’s penchant for loudness—big climaxes, thick textures bursting at the seams with sinuous clarity —was brought off brilliantly in a second half, while Fauré’s Suite from Pelléas…occupied an uncomfortable middle ground.”

Mitchell headlines a Lang Lang review: “In defense of Lang Lang (sort of): Pianists and stage persona [sic].”

Mitchell has reviewed Joshua Bell, Dawn Upshaw, Andrew Litton, and so on. These reviews are interesting in that any of these artists could have a positive—or even a negative—impact on Mitchell’s piano career. Nonetheless, he gives out 5 stars sparingly.

On Wednesday, Evan Mitchell will put himself out there to be judged, bringing to bear years of practice, training, and soul-searching—not for the pianist he wants to be in his heart, but the one he is between 12:15 pm and 1:00 pm.

Evan Mitchell comes to the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts to perform Haydn, Brahms, Schoenberg, Debussy and Mendelssohn. Check back to for the podcast. Listen and post a star rating if you like.

Tuesday’s Opera Special

WFMT's Peter van de Graaff

WFMT's Peter van de Graaff

If you’re like most opera fans—you started listening to opera after World War I—you may be less familiar with the works of the Frenchman, Jules Massenet. Peter van de Graaff, one of WFMT’s biggest authorities on all things opera means to change that.

On Tuesday, in a special Fine Arts Circle membership drive broadcast, Peter sits down for a live show with Suzanne Nance to cook up a luscious feast of music by Massenet. The broadcast begins at 8:00 pm. Special thank you gifts await your call.

Here’s a little Massenet Q and A with Peter van de Graaff:

Most people don’t know the operas of Massenet. Are you a particular fan? Which works?
Massenet was, along with Bizet and Gounod, the great French opera composer of the late 19th century. I consider him one of my two or three favorite opera composers.

Did Massenet write ballet music in his operas?
The best known ballet music comes from Le Cid, but many of his operas have some ballet music, as that was a requirement for anything performed at the Opéra in Paris.

People know the meditation from Thaïs from all the arrangements. What is that piece about? Was it originally sung?
There is an off-stage chorus with it. It is an interlude meant to depict the conversion of the courtesan Thaïs to Christianity.

What sort of stories was he drawn to?
There always has to be something absolutely compelling about the women in Massenet’s operas. All of the other characters are appendages to what they go through (with the exception of the all-male opera Le jongleur de Notre Dame).

Has Massenet been widely recorded by the great singers? Favorites?
Yes—many, many great artists, primarily from the “golden age” of singing recorded Massenet arias. He went through a period of neglect between about WWI and only the last decade. He was considered old-fashioned and too “pretty”, but audiences, artists and companies are now realizing his genius and the power of his operas. Renée Fleming is the artist who, it seems to me, has the perfect Massenet voice with richness and expressivity.


Our Bassist Desires: Live at Lunchtime

Seth Boustead

Seth Boustead

There’s a joke among jazzers:

Q. How do marriage counselors get two people to talk?

A. Play them a tape of bass solos.

Well think again. The instrument that often occupies the back wall is about to show off a little on Tuesday at lunchtime, in a concert that promises the same poetry and lyricism that is the domain of every member of the string family (see video below—which has almost a half million views, by the way).

On Tuesday at 1:00 pm, feast on the range and the great groove that only a bass can provide with University of Illinois faculty bassist John Floeter. He’ll warm up the room with a little Mozart and Rossini, and then shift gears into an upbeat and vibrant quartet by WFMT’s own composer-in-residence, Seth Boustead.

John Floeter

John Floeter

Rossini: Duet for Cello and Double bass
Mozart: Per Questa Bella Mano (Piano, Voice, Bass)
Jan Alm: Quartet #2 for Double Basses
Seth Boustead: Sawtooth Hammer (Bass Quartet)
Douglas Johnson: Canon of Muses (Bass Quartet)

Double Bassists: John Floeter, Douglas Johnson, Jonathan Cegys, Eric Snoza
Violoncello/Piano: Linc Smelser
Bass-baritone: Gerard Sundberg



What’s New: Composer Anna Clyne

CSO composer-in-residence Anna Clyne

CSO composer-in-residence Anna Clyne

Part of the Muti era with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been the 5-year dialogue between the orchestra and two resident composers, Anna Clyne and Mason Bates. They’ve cooked up new music for the orchestra to play at subscription concerts and on tours. They’ve written chamber works for individuals in the orchestra; they’ve also brought in other living composers. Both Anna Clyne and Mason Bates have roots in the traditional Classical music world, but actually move in different circles from the one at Symphony Center.

The new music scene is a parallel universe. A number of musicians have their feet in both, but the audiences can be pretty different; tapping into that world, whether it’s with beer and pizza, or strobes and house music, has been the mandate of these composers-in-residence; bringing a contemporary edge to the culture at 220 South Michigan Avenue.

Conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen is in the midst of a two-week residency with the CSO. He’s leading the orchestra in a piece called Rewind by Anna Clyne, coupled with Sibelius and Bartok. One performance remains of Rewind (Tuesday, April 8).

Listen to Anna Clyne talking about her piece Rewind and her evolution as a composer.


Leonard Slatkin will conduct a series of concerts with a Violin Concerto by Mason Bates and soloist Anne Akiko Meyers starting April 17. Then on May 7, the two composers present the final concert in the MusicNow series at the Harris Theater, a contemporary music series of chamber works played by members of the CSO with Hysterica Dance Company. Anna Clyne has a piece on that concert as well; beer and pizza follow.


Bill McGlaughlin: Pride and the Power of Music


Monday at 7:00 pm

The whole debacle was at once a blemish—a shameful legacy—and a source of enormous pride. A gifted American opera singer, a contralto named Marian Anderson, performed at the Paris Opera in 1935; she gave her Carnegie Hall debut later that year, and performed before audiences and royalty throughout Europe. The scandal erupted when the Daughters of the American Revolution barred Ms. Anderson from singing in Constitution Hall, a place where they maintained a strict “white only” policy—Anderson was black.

It was not the first time Anderson had felt the sting of racism. As a girl, she had been denied entrance to the Philadelphia Music Academy in her home town, “We don’t take coloreds.” Throughout her career, she was denied the access and advantages that were extended to white people, including use of hotel rooms and restaurants.


That snub in Washington, however, became a lightning rod for many Americans—an event that caused tens of thousands to stand up at once and embrace their common humanity. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt promptly submitted her resignation to the DAR. Now with the power of the White House at her side, Marian Anderson took a courageous stand, performing at one of America’s most sacred shrines. On Easter Sunday, 1939, the gifted contralto sang to a crowd of 75,000 people with the stately figure of Abraham Lincoln as her backdrop—a concert at the Lincoln Memorial.



Roosevelt Letter

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Letter

Some 16 years later, Marian Anderson became the first African American performer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera; she was in her late 50s.

Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial concert became a rallying point for America’s civil rights movement, and an inspiration in the struggle for human rights everywhere.

Monday’s edition of Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin continues the two-week theme of Black, Brown, and Beige, a wonderful journey through the African legacy in western music. Bill will feature several recordings of Marian Anderson on Monday starting at 7:00 pm.


Lunchtime Live


On the first Monday of each month, Chicago Chamber Musicians brings in some of Chicago’s top chamber players for a free concert at Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center. Sometimes it’s string players, sometimes it’s woodwinds, others may be brass, or even a mixture—whatever the repertoire requires of this musician co-op. WFMT is there to broadcast the concerts live at 12:15 pm.

Monday’s concert brings a little Beethoven with an early piece by American composer John Corigliano.

Joseph Genualdi, violin
Robert Weirich, pianorobert_weirich

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 30 No. 3
I. Allegro assai
II. Tempo di Minuetto, ma molto moderato e grazioso
III. Allegro vivace

John Corigliano (b. 1938): Sonata for Violin and Piano
I. Allegro
II. Andantino (with simplicity)
III. Lento (quasi recitativo)
IV. Allegro