In wartime London when all concert halls were blacked out at night to avoid German bombers, a brave and industrious woman named Myra Hess began a series of lunchtime concerts to keep music alive.
Her memory persists not only in England, but also in Chicago, where denizens brave the weather, if not bombs, year-round to delight their senses with a weekly concert at 12:15 in the 3rd floor Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center located on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington Streets.
Free to all, they are simulcast on Chicago’s premier classical music radio station, WFMT—a cultural treasure for Chicagoans and the many world travelers to the city alike.
Future columns will cover many of the Dame Myra Hess concerts Spring, 2013.
Taking the chill off an unseasonably cold April noon today at the Cultural Center’s stunning Preston Bradley Hall proved yet another one of Chicago’s memorable music moments.
It was Chicago classic “big city sophistication meets cozy small town friendliness”. Fancy though the hall’s breathtaking ceiling ceramics may be, the hometown touch of lemon cookies welcomed hundreds in from the cold and to their seats.
Much as 2008 was the year when you always met someone whose child studied flute with Obama’s daughter or waited on his table, today was the day when the pre-concert murmuring crowd crowed with pride about how they knew cellist Benjamin Lash way-back-when and before he became one of the world’s up-and-coming cellists. Chicagoland native Lash reportedly began his cello career in Evanston at the age of 6! Neither he nor his accompanist—his one-time piano teacher and frequent collaborator with Chicago’s beloved Rachel Barton Pine among others, Matthew Hagle—did not disappoint!
First, was Boccherini’s “Sonata No.6 for Cello in A”, one of the many pieces the cellist composer reportedly created to raise the technical standards of cello performance. From the opening note Lash’s expert cello fingering brought the instrument’s song alive—at times plaintive and then with a rousing spirit. The two movements—1.Adagio followed by 2. Allegro—were rich in contrast while both showcasing the emotive range of the cello played at its best.
Beethoven’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4, Op 102, No.1” followed, allowing the duo to swing us through the work’s moods of deep chords, soulful adagio and memorable moments of perfectly synchronous flourishes of cello and piano. Reportedly composed by Beethoven when he was nearly completely deaf, this piece demonstrates the wonder of Beethoven’s genius that could overcome his failing hearing. Like other Beethoven cello sonatas, the piece showcased cello and piano equally, also giving the audience a chance to admire the artistry of Mr. Hagle, a faculty member of the Music Institute of Chicago, where he teaches piano and composition and is the head of the Musicianship Department.
Third, came Schumann’s “Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70” reportedly with the original name of “Romance and Adagio.” Indeed, the audience was treated to melodies suggesting the ache for true love soon followed by the jubilation celebrating its arrival.
Last but not least, Lash’s virtuosity in making his fingers fly over the entire cello range seemed to beg us “Love the cello as I do” and then answer for us, “Of course we do!” This was Chopin’s “Nocturne, Op. 9, No.2”, a piece that was part of the standard repertoire of Pablo Casals, among others.
Young talent and teacher on display were not only for the usual grey-haired suspects of the Dame Myra Hess crowd. Today there were about 60 visiting High Schoolers from Wheeling High School. One Wheeling High School junior, a would-be cellist and school orchestra member, Claudia Kitea, shared that her upcoming choice of college will probably include consideration of the music program to offer. A student could find no better inspiration for further study than Lash’s virtuoso performance today. THAT is the kind of music education that does our city proud!
Photos: Courtesy Dame Myra Hess Concert Series, Matthew Hagle and Benjamin Lash website. Videos courtesy of Benjamin Lash.