Celebrate Black and Women’s History Months with imaginative concert and dance videos

M.A.D.D. Rhythms Starinah "Star" Dixon (photo by William Frederking)
M.A.D.D. Rhythms Starinah “Star” Dixon (photo by William Frederking)

Black History Month of February and Women’s History Month of March overlap in creative music and videos when diversity and inclusion are combined.

M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a Chicago tap group whose initials stand for Making A Difference Dancing, premiers “Rhythm Symphony” by Starinah”Star” Dixon on Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. CT and “I Get So Lonely” by KJ Sheldon on March 8 at 1 p.m. CT. Find them on M.A.D.D. Rhythms YouTube.

The videos are part of M.A.D.D. Rhythms’ 20th Anniversary Season’s events that also  include a documentary premiere, M.A.D.D Rhythms’ publishing debut, social media happenings, classes and the Chicago Tap Summit. For more. Information on the 20th Anniversary events visit MADDRhythms.

 

Then, on March 13 at 7 p.m. CT, look for  “Resilience: Hope, Healing and Harmony” a combination of music and videos that deal with pandemic and political challenges.

Presented by “6Degrees composers” founded by Regina Harris Baiocchi in 2010 to promote and inspire music by women with different traditions, the the program features “War Chant” based on Illinois Poet Laureate’s “War Chant of the Architect.”

Also on the program are the art songs “Journey” and “Things Change” for children’s choir and piano, a 3-D animation by Kyong Mee Choi that is the first part of an animated song cycle and “Doxology” for pipe organ.

For more information visit Hothouseglobal.

 

Lyric Opera brings sun and love in virtual concert

Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)
Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)

If tired of everything Covid and weather related from staying in but wearing a mask and social distancing when going out to weariness of snow tunnels and sloshy streets, look for the free online concert gifted by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Music Director Designate Enrique Mazzola. They think it’s nice to find some sun and love where not expected.

The result is “Sole e Amore” (Sun and Love), a virtual concert of works by familiar Italian composers that will be on U-Tube and Lyric’s Facebook at 6 p.m. Feb. 21, 2021.

Sung by Lyric’s 2020/21 Ryan Opera center Ensemble, Mazzola chose intimate songs—arie da camera, that are not operatic arias, but instead offer new ways to enjoy the genre’s popular composers.

As an example “Un bel dì vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is generally recognizable but not the song, “Terra e mare.”

The concert also includes relatively unknown works by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Catalani, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Respighi.

“This concert is a very beautiful step into the romantic Italian world of singing, passion, and love,” says Mazzola.

For more information visit Lyric Opera of Chicago and Sole e Amore.

Jodie Jacobs

Behind the scenes look at inauguration fanfare

 

American composer/arranger James Stephenson (Photo courtesy of Stephenson)
American composer/arranger James Stephenson (Photo courtesy of Stephenson)

 

Normally, the works of fifty-one year old American composer/arranger James Stephenson, Lake Forest, IL, are played by such orchestras as the Boston Pops, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic and the National Symphony.

However, on Jan. 20, 2021 in front of 40 million people watching the Biden-Harris inauguration (Nielsen ratings), his “Fanfare for Democracy” led off the three fanfares played by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

Directed by  Col. Jason K. Fettig, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band plays for inauguration ceremonies, state dinners and other White House functions. (Note: Thomas Jefferson is credited with the nickname “The President’s Own.”)

How Stephenson’s fanfare, and indeed, the theme of the US Marine Band’s music prelude to the swearing-in ceremony came to be, offers some insight into the tension surrounding the 59th quadrennial presidential election and inauguration.

“The week after the Nov.3 election had been a week of turmoil. So, on Saturday when we finally heard that Biden was confirmed, my wife (Sally) and I went for a walk with the dog. It was warm, 70 degrees, and people were out. People were feeling relieved that the democratic process had been gone through. It was energizing,” Stephenson recalled.

“I started hearing music in my head. Then, while we were having drinks and a meal with friends I couldn’t focus on that. I kept hearing the music. I went home and wrote it in five hours. It felt good. I had done my duty. It was my response,” he said.

“What I had remembered was the image of Biden and wife Jill standing on a stage in Delaware while fireworks went off in celebration of the moment. I wanted to capture that feeling,” said Stephenson.

Because the composer had previously worked with Col. Fettig, including writing a symphony that Fettig commissioned and that won the prestigious Sousa/Ostwald Competition, the idea of sending the fanfare to the U. S. Marine Band was foremost on Stephenson’s mind.

As a result, a musical fanfare program was developed.

“He said I can move some things around. Your fanfare has given me some ideas. This can be composers’ responses to American democracy,” said Stephenson.

When asked about Stephenson’s contribution to the inauguration, Col. Fettig said, “Jim and I have had a very fruitful and long-standing creative collaboration, and his music really speaks to me as an interpreter of new music. I find myself returning time and again to his music; he is such a versatile and virtuosic composer, and he has the rare ability to write for absolutely any occasion and ensemble, and hit just the right mark.”

Fettig added, “When I first heard Jim’s new fanfare inspired by the symbol of Democracy inherent in the Presidential Inauguration, it was a foregone conclusion in my mind that we would perform it live for the occasion. Jim’s music is always deeply moving, and this brief fanfare immediately and brilliantly captures the indomitable spirit of the nation for the listener.

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give it a featured place in the special soundtrack we crafted for this historic moment. The reception for his piece and all of the music that Marine Band performed on Wednesday has been incredible, and far beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said.

Two other composers’ fanfares completed that part of the Marine Band’s program: “Fanfare for Tomorrow.” by Altadena, CA composer Peter Boyer and “Fanfare Politeria” by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville composition professor Kimberly K Archer.

They only had 12 days to compose and send their fanfares due to the uncertainty of how and where the inauguration ceremony would take place.

Stephenson explained: “The Colonel didn’t know if the band would be playing because of what happened on Jan 6 and whether Biden would be inside or what would still take place. He did find out Sunday that the Marine Band would be playing.”

A weekend after the inauguration, Stephenson has had time to take in how everything came together.

“At the moment, I wasn’t really allowed time for reflection or celebration because both my wife and I were running around the house checking various stations on various TVs to find the one that didn’t have talking-heads constantly overcoming the music. So it ended up with me in one room and her in another trying to take in what we saw on the station we each independently found,” said Stephenson.

“Now, that I’ve found more time to go back and take it in, I’m especially excited at hearing my name spoken and announcing the world premiere in the same space of where so much history and pageantry has occurred. That was pretty cool, and I’m going to go ahead and allow myself to be a bit proud of that,” he said.

“I also think a shout-out is deserved for the Colonel, of course, but also for the members of the band. They awake at 1:30 a.m. to be there, and go through so much ritual and sitting/waiting. Then, to perform so well in such cold weather, is no small feat. They are a true testament to professionalism and talent.”

(Ed note: James Stephenson’s current project is writing a new ballet for the San Francisco Ballet called “Wooden Dimes.” A period ballet piece, it is set to premier in March on film instead of live because of the pandemic.)

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Arts Across America: a virtual program worth bookmarking

Kennedy Center in Washington DC (Photo courtesy of the JF Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)
Kennedy Center in Washington DC (Photo courtesy of the JF Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a bi-partisan founded institution designated as our country’s National Cultural Center, has often televised arts  awards and programs. With COVID forcing the closure of music festivals and theaters the Kennedy Center is now presenting several performances on line. They are free and worth a view.

For example:  Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. ET the program  has Jewish music performed live by Chloe Pourmorady and Joey Weisenberg from the National Museum of Jewish History.

Then, on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. ET,  the Savannah Music Festival partnering with South Arts, is presenting Greenville, Georgia blues musician Jontavious Willis in a “Just You, Just Me Musical Conversation” between the Drum and the Voice. It features drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.  and vocalist Juquan Vickers in African-American spirituals.

For more information visit Kennedy Center.

 

Jodie Jacobs

CSO concerts and conversations

 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (A CSO photo)
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (A CSO photo)

I can’t promise that your eyes won’t tear as you watch Stehanie Jeong, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Associate Concertmaster, stand elegantly but alone in  an empty Orchestra Hall.

The talented violinist is introducing viewers to “Sounds of Celebration: An Evening at Home with the CSO,” a fundraiser that aired Oct. 24 but that can still be seen.

However, I can promise an entertaining evening that includes, among others Maestro Muti talking about how he misses his CSO family and  Yo-Yo Ma, explaining what the orchestra means to him while he accompanies two  rising cellists in separate videos.

Other voices and performers included Cynthia Yeh (principal percussion) playing Elden “Buster” Bailey’s “Two sticks in search of a waltz” and Concertmaster Robert Chen playing a Ravel sonata for violin and cello with  principal cellist John Sharp plus appearances by Herbie Hancock, Mitsuko Uchida, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn and Anita Rachvelishvili.

To see the event click CSO.org/tv then scroll way down to “Sounds of Celebration” and click “watch now.”

The CSO tv site is a good one to bookmark because it has links to concerts in the Sessions series that ranges from a virtual recital of the Lincoln String Quartet performing Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 and a program of CSO members playing Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Each session is on for a limited, date specific time. They cost $15 a ticket but can be obtained at a discount with the series. And viewers’ seats are unobstructed. And they support the CSO.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

Music Works and Goodman do outdoor shows this week

With the pandemic still haunting the indoor entertainment scene, some show venues have taken their artistry to parks and parking lots.

Among them are Goodman Theatre which has been working with the Chicago Park District and Music Theater Works which has been using the parking lot of its new home, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Music Theater Works new home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (Music Theater Works and Performing Arts photo)
Music Theater Works new home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (Music Theater Works and Performing Arts photo)

Music Theater Works

The longtime Evanston based production company formerly known as Light Opera Works, presents “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits” Sept. 29, 2020 at 7 p.m. CT.

Divided into two parts of 15 numbers each, songs range from “I wish I were in love again” from Babes in Arms to “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel.

The program is presented live in the Center’s rear parking lot, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie and then online from October 2-11. For tickets and more information visit MusicTheaterWorks/summerconcertencore.

 

Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)
Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)

Goodman Theatre

The Goodman show, “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak on It! featuring E. Faye Butler, is being performed in some Chicago parks. Directed by Henry Godinez and adapted from Cheryl L. West’s play “Fannie,” the show brings back famed civil and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer through storytelling and music.

Currently, it is scheduled for the front of Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.,  for 6 p.m. Oct. 1, Homan Square in North Lawndale at 3559 W. Arthington St. at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 and  in Ellis Park at 3520 Cottage Grove Ave. in Bronzeville at  3 p.m. Oct. 3. The Ellis Park performance is sold out.

Please check GoodmanTheatre/SpeakOnIt for more details.

 

 

Ravinia tribute to Leon Fleisher

 

Ravinia Festival (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Ravinia Festival (Jodie Jacobs photo)

To keep the music going Ravinia Festival has been broadcasting excellent concerts on Friday nights. However, the one coming up is particularly special given that the artist, pianist Leon Fleisher, won’t be heard live again. Fleisher died at age 92 on Aug. 2, 2020.

In a tribute to Fleisher, Ravinia Festival will do a broadcast of a past concert, Sept. 21, 8 p.m.  CT on WFMT.

The program will bring back the “Leon Fleisher and Friends” program that celebrated his 90th birthda, performed and recorded July 23, 2018 in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre.

“Leon Fleisher was a great artist. His integrity and commitment to truth, his unerring sense of proportion, his larger-than-life persona, the sheer beauty of his sound, and the power of conviction in his playing were unparalleled and mesmerizing,” said Miriam Fried, director of the Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI) Program for Piano & Strings. Fleisher had been a program faculty member for 24 summers.

The birthday concert features Fleisher’s playing “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Bach’s “Birthday” Cantata No. 208 and Kirchner’s “For the Left Handwritten for Fleisher in 1995.

It also includes his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, joining him in the four-hands piece of Schubert’s Fantasy D. 940 and Ravel’s La Valse.

In addition, the Argus Quartet and bassist Kit Polen perform alongside Fleisher in an arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 385p. The Argus Quartet was in residence at RSMI in 2017 and had won the M-Prize and Victor Elmaleh competitions later that  year.

WFMT can be found at 98.7 FM and online at wfmt.com/listen,

 

The Chicago Theater Season

heater venues range from Chicago's Lookingglass theatre in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)
Theater venues range from Chicago’s Lookingglass in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)

Normally we would be talking about what productions are coming this fall and winter to the Lyric Opera, Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Broadway in Chicago, Lookingglass, Northlight, Court, Music Works, Citadel and several other Chicago area theater stages.

And normally, what’s coming would be divided up by regions because in 2019 there were about 250 theater companies in the area.

Maybe when the coronavirus is under control and artists and patrons feel safe attending live rather than virtual shows, we will know which Chicago theater groups survived the pandemic.

But here is a sample of what we are hearing now about our next theater season.

 

Goodman

Calling the season “Our Next Act,” Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer announced that the Goodman Theatre would have eight plays in its 2021 subscription (membership) series when safe for everyone. That number doesn’t include “A Christmas Carol” which isn’t a subscription show but details on the popular holiday show are expected to be out soon.

“We’re proud to announce four exciting world premieres, including a Goodman commission – Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie.” Directed by Henry Godinez, it is a passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer that features E. Faye Butler in the title role,” said Falls.

Another world premiere is “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “It is a stunning meditation on protest, legacy and reconciliation; and we’re delighted to welcome back Christina, whose bold, imaginative How to Catch Creation was a memorable favorite last year,” said Falls.

The third world premiere is “Good Night, Oscar” by Doug Wright, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as Oscar Levant.

Falls added, “Finally, we’ll produce the highly anticipated new musical we postponed due to COVID-19—”The Outsiders” based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film. A beloved story of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ that defined a generation it is told anew.” (Book is by Adam Rapp, music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine, choreography by Lorin Latarro and directed by Liesl Tommy.)

Three Chicago premiers include “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Lili-Anne Brown that was interrupted by the pandemic, “A Paris Love Story” featuring the Music of Claude DeBussy that is written and performed by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay and “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González, directed by Henry Godinez and is a coproduction with Dallas Theater Center.

In addition, Goodman will be doing “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman.

“We can’t wait to welcome back our audiences for our dynamic 2021 Season that exemplifies the very best of our art form,” said Falls. “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our artists and audiences, we remain flexible in our planning and will share production dates when the time is right.”

Subscription memberships to the upcoming season are available, including the “Whenever Membership” flexible package. A five-play Membership package starts at $100. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/2021season. Single tickets will be available at a later date.

 

Lyric Opera

The Lyric will open a reimagined fall season with “For the Love of Lyric,” a virtual concert from the Lyric Opera House, that will be available for free streaming beginning at 5 p.m. CDT Sept. 13, 2020.

The event is in place of the opening night opera and ball, according to Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO.  “…we are proud to present “For the Love of Lyric- a very special concert presentation available to the largest possible audience via streaming,” said Freud.

Renowned soprano Renee  Fleming teams up with special guests including Tony and Grammy award-winner Heather Headley (Aida, Lion King), soprano Ailyn Perez, bass Soloman Howard and mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges.

For more information visit For the Love of Lyric. A first screening at sponsor level will be available Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and can be found at LyricOpera/Support.

 

Music Theatre Works

Formerly called Light Opera Works, Music Theatre Works is moving from its Evanston home at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie,  beginning with its 2021 season.

A 40-year-old, not-for-profit company that has produced several highly recommended shows, Music Theatre Works has basically honored the classics with great direction, voices and orchestrations that range from the best “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mame” that I have seen to what other CTA writers say is the best “Anything Goes” and “Into the Woods” that they have seen.

Administration and rehearsals will continue at the Paul S. Mavros Center and Joyce Saxon Rehearsal Hall.

The performance move to North Shore Center’s large and small venues means the organization can do more productions and have longer runs, better parking and more exposure.

“For 40 years, Music Theater Works has been a cornerstone of high-quality professional music theater in the Chicago area. Our history demonstrates our dedication to bringing great music and great theater to our audiences. The community along with the many artists, board members and staff have built the company to what it is today,” said Music Theater Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan.

“Music Theater Works’ move to its new performance home at the North Shore Center is a testament to our community’s support for our art. In addition, this outlet strengthens Music Theater Works’ pledge to explore the full spectrum of music theater with the availability of multiple performance spaces within the North Shore Center,” Dougan said.

North Shore Center for the Performing Arts General Manager Michael Pauken said, “It is very exciting to welcome this well-respected organization and its productions to the North Shore Center as I have long admired them as an audience member.”

Pauken added, “I know Music Theater Works’ customers will find the North Shore Center’s location near numerous restaurants, convenient access to public transportation and free parking to be an enhancement to their theatergoing experience and Music Theatre Works performers will enjoy ample backstage space and the technical capabilities of our facility.”

In advance of its formal move to the Center next year, Music Theater Works presented two sold out performances of “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits,” August 28 and 29, as part of the North Shore Center’s outdoor concert series, “Out Back Summer Sessions.”

For more information visit  Music Theater Works/New Home and Music Theater Works/About Us.

 

What to do Labor Day Weekend

 

Navy Pier. (J Jacobs photo)
Navy Pier. (J Jacobs photo)

Except for the falling leaves, it’s hard to believe that Labor Day Weekend is almost here.

With the pandemic changing our lifestyle, vacation plans and the events we usually use to mark off warm weather months such as the Chicago Air and Water Show, the usual Labor Day holiday might feel like just another weekend unless we plan something special.

Navy Pier

Chicago’s most popular destination will close Tues., Sept. 8, 2020 until sometime in spring of 2021 so plan an outing to the Pier Labor Day Weekend.

Stretching out into Lake Michigan at 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago’s arguably most popular destination will close Tues., Sept. 8, 2020 until sometime in spring of 2021 so plan an outing to the Pier Labor Day Weekend.

If you enjoy jazz, singers and bands, plan to spend some time in the Miller Lite Beer Garden. See the Saturday, Sept.. 5 schedule at Live on the Lake  and the Sept. 6 schedule at Navy Pier/events.

Cruise

Sightsee by boat from Navy Pier while it’s open or take the cruise from the Chicago River piers at Michigan Avenue.  Check dates, safety protocols and tickets at NavyPier/cruises.

Chicago Architecture Center Tours

CAC at 111 E Wacker Drive, will be running its popular Architecture River Tours during Labor Day weekend. Cruises leave across Wacker at Michigan Avenue down on the river

But it also has some interesting walking tours such as a Frank Lloyd Wright Oak Park tour on Sun. Sept. 6.

CAC tour tickets go quickly because numbers are decreased according to protocols.

Morton Arboretum

The Arboretum at 4100 IL Hwy 53 has trails to explore,  a  Children’s Garden and the Ginko Restaurant. Visits are by timed tickets so see MortonArbVisit  and Tickets for more information.

Lollapalooza is back sort of

 

Lolla 17 aerial photo By Charles Reagan Hackleman
Lolla 17 aerial photo By Charles Reagan Hackleman

Of course, it had to happen. Calling itself Lolla2020, instead of drawing thousands of fans to Grant Park this year, the mega entertainment festival can be seen, enjoyed and danced to for four nights on YouTube beginning 5 p.m. CT, July 30, 2020.

Its free of charge but donations to Lollapalooza donate campaign for the Equal Justice Initiative, When We All Vote and the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund are appreciated.

 

What to expect

See classic performances from Lolla sets and new ones from more than 135 artists including Paul McCartney, Chance The Rapper, OutKast, Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metallica, Lorde, Kehlani, Alabama Shakes, Run The Jewels, LCD Soundsystem, H.E.R., Tenacious D, Tove Lo, Ellie Goulding, Vic Mensa, Kaskade, Alison Wonderland (Live Set), and others.

The full schedule, posted Wednesday, July 29 on the Lollapalooza subscription YouTube channel, can be found by clicking here .

In addition, Lolla2020 will feature conversations between sets from Perry Farrell, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, LL COOL J, Selema Masekala, and others.