"On the Edge of Silence" Review- MusicNOW 2016 - 2017 Season Finale

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra closed its 2016-2017 MusicNOW series with the performance Monday evening, May 22, 2017 of a program entitled “On the Edge of Silence” at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive. Introduced by Mead Composers-In-Residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek, and featuring musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Elim Chan conducting and Benjamin Beilman, guest violin, the program consisted of two works, Djuro Živković’s ”On Guarding of the Heart”, 2011, and the world premiere of Elizabeth Ogonek's “In Silence”, 2016-17. Chan, who will assume the title of Chief Conductor of NorrlandsOperan in 2017-18 for three seasons, held tight and expressive control over the CSO in ensemble, producing a pair of very special works of “new art music”.

Mead Composer-in- Residence Samuel Adams greets guests at a post-concert reception on 4/13/2017; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Serbian-born Žipkovic was awarded the 2014 Grawemeyer Music Prize for this 20-minute piece for chamber Orchestra and piano. He was in the audience to take his bows after the performance, and discussed on tape beforehand how both the work of J.S. Bach and a rare collection of ancient Eastern orthodox texts (The Philokalia) inspired his  “instrumental cantata”. With quiet fervor, Žipkovic described a form of mystical perfect love that paves the way for inner transformation, and a release from the inclination to protect or hide ones soul.  The deeply stirring piece of music seems to take the listener on a journey that feels expansive with a touch of the eerie. There are unusual string transpositions rising and dying away. It never feels contrived or atonal, but suggests a harmony, if not an obvious melody. The piano leads with clarity; there are aspects of the terrifying; finally, all the CSO members came to a single note/chord, and the concentrated focus ebbed into respectful silence.


Elizabeth Ogonek; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Ogonek's piece, featuring “rising-star” violinist Benjamin Beilman along with 8 CSO musicians, offered a fitting next to the above. Her taped interview revealed a disarmingly personal and cerebral explanation of the motivation of its construction. Scored for solo violin, with 6 strings and percussion, it was inspired by “The Mystery Sonatas” of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, a unique “forward thinking” Baroque composer, who introduced “extended string techniques”. She talked about spending a great deal of time in church as a youth and stated, “It’s about the flights of imagination that can come from silence”.  The strikingly different and mysteriously lovely piece is an exploration of sonority, an exposition on resonance and pitch. Elegant, spare, charged, it was comprised of 3 differently tuned movements, “Nocturne”, “Variations on Many Themes”, and “Armed With Suspension”. Beilman offered a poetic and emotional accompaniment to this unusual yet melodically lovely work.


Mead Composers-in-Residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek on 6/6/2016; photo by Todd Rosenberg

 MusicNOW will celebrate its 20th Anniversary in the upcoming 2017-2018 season, and has just announced the highlights of that season to come. The series incepted in 1997, the brainchild of then composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas, who has since become recognized as one of the most prominent/significant composers in the world whose works are constantly performed. The focus of the composers/curators has always been to present contemporary work by established and emerging conductors.

The new season will consist of four carefully-selected and ingenious programs taking place on 4 Monday evenings at 7PM, the first 3 at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. The dates and a brief outline of the scope of each concert follows:


Composer Vijay Iyer; photo by Lena Adasheva

 -Monday, October 2, 2017: This opening concert will feature works by past Mead Composers-in-Residence, and will be conducted by MusicNOW Principal Conductor Cliff Colnot.

 -Monday, November 13, 2017: The second concert in the series will feature the work of Guest Artist Vijay Iyer, a composer and pianist who works in multiple genres.

 -Monday, April 2. 2018: The penultimate concert will feature the world premiere of “Savior”, a MusicNOW commission by Chicagoan Amy Beth Kirsten. “Savior” has been described as “a work of composed theater” scored for 4 instruments and 3 women’s voices and will be performed by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as guest artists from the  “HOWL” performing arts ensemble co-founded by Kirsten.

 -Monday, May 21, 2018:  Renowned Guest Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead a very special season finale at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.

Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen; photo by Clive Garden


The MusicNOW concerts, always innovatively curated, always intriguing, offers a not-to-be-missed series for music lovers of all ages and interests and provides a forum of direction, education and inspiration for contemporary musical expression. The evenings also offer opportunities to meet the artists and talk in informal gatherings afterwards.


For information and tickets to MusicNOW and all the great programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to the CSO website





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