"Haunted Hearts" Review- The Chicago Philharmonic performs the day before Halloween

On October 30, the day before Halloween, the Chicago Philharmonic presented a program entitled “Haunted Hearts”, concert #2 in their “Love” season, at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive. The concert was intended to conjure up “bittersweet past loves, nightmarish scenes, and the bug that got away.” The Philharmonic always presents thoughtfully curated and innovative programs, beautifully executed. This program was particularly cohesive, expansive and at the same time playfully holiday-centric and a lot of fun! 

In the lobby before the performance, expert theremin player Mysterion  (concertmaster Robert Hanford) performed “eerie pre-concert music” with friends; incredibly, he built the theremin Himself!Conductor Scott Speck at the baton led the Philharmonic with guest artists Jory Vinikour on harpsichord; Marie Tachouet on flute and David Perry on violin.

Chicago Philharmonic; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

 The afternoon opened with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Symphony No. 5 in B minor, 1773, written in the “Italianate” manner in 3 movements, fast-slow-fast. Mozart said of C.P.E. Bach, “He is the father, we are the children”. This piece begins with a movement full of violin runs, moves into a more gentle theme and ends with “outbursts” from the high strings, a vibrant and exciting opening piece.

Next on the program was Argentinian composer Astor Piazzola’s famous tango, “Oblivion” featuring stellar oboist Anne Bach. One of the composers most popular works, recorded often in different versions, it begins with an extremely melancholy yet simple melody. It then proceeds through a lustrous middle; it has a sophisticated yet traditional harmonic theme.

"Haunted Hearts" concert by The Chicago Philharmonic; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

The program continued with British composer Michael Nyman’s “Concerto for Amplified harpsichord and Strings”, 1994-1995. Described as a “minimalist” piece, by this librettist and musicologist, known for his film scores- especially the soundtrack to Jane Campion’s “The Piano”, 1993- the work featured Jory Vinikour, who is recognized as one of the outstanding harpsichordists of his generation. Vinikour delved in with tremendous enthusiasm; he has given other “important performances” of Nyman’s work. The addition of the amplifier added an otherworldly quality to the sound.

Apropos of the holiday to come, the next set of selections were four pieces from Bernard Hermann’s ode to terror, the score to the Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho”, 1960, called “perhaps Hermann’s most spectacular Hitchcock achievement”. Composed entirely for string instruments, “Prelude”, “The City”, “The Rainstorm” and “The Murder” largely eschew traditional melody and theme, and instead rely on fragments of dissonance, counterpoint and tension. They are dense, thrilling and dark- especially the segment where the violins famously shriek as the murder is accomplished.

Outside The Harris Theater before the "Haunted Hearts" concert; photo courtesy of Debra Davy

The penultimate piece of music of the afternoon was postmodern composer Randall Woole’s “My Insect Bride”, inspired by the film “The Fly”. During the piece, a clavinet, an electronically amplified clavichord was used to great effect, through a very specific amplifier chosen by the composer, who appeared on stage to take a bow!  Not surprisingly, the piece combines a soft sentimentality- after all, it’s a marriage piece for bugs!- with a relentless sophistication.

Finally, the concert closed with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major (BMV 1050) by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1720-21. Scored for flute, solo violin, obbligato harpsichord and strings, the harpsichord portion, performed in this concert by Jory Vinikour, is given a special prominence in the work. Exciting, lush and lovely, the opening theme returns throughout the concerto, heralding a lively and inspired last movement.

Robert Hanford, concertmaster, as "Mysterion" with his theremin and friends; photo courtesy of Debra Davy

Interspersed throughout the afternoon’s program, extremely effective readings were given by actor Tim Hopper of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, corresponding to the music they introduced.  The first was an excerpt from “Henry IV”, by Luigi Pirandello, 1922, the film adaptation of which used “Oblivion”in its soundtrack. Next was a spooky piece from “Psycho”, by screenwriter Joseph Stefano, 1960. The last reading was a narration from “The Fly” by George Langelaan, 1957, the inspiration for Randall Woolf’s “My Insect Bride”. At the end of that wildly descriptive portion, the Fly was essentially swatted!

A number of orchestra members appeared in insect antennae. Audience members were dared to come in costume, and many marvelous masks and hats were seen among adults. Philharmonic Marketing and Communications Associate Stefan Scherer-Emunds was dapper in a black opera cape over a black suit-shades of the Vampire!

Stefan Scherer-Emunds of The Chicago Philharmonic; photo courtesy of Debra Davy


Join The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players for “Handel and Eggs”, part of their Sunday Series at The City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, at Noon on Sunday, November 20th.

 Deb Stephenson on oboe, Thomas Yang on violin, Rose Armbrust Griffin on violin and Steven Houser on cello will perform “a heaping portion” of Handel, Mozart and J.S.Bach- and much more!

Jory Vinicour; photo courtesy of Hermann Rosso


For other wonderful concerts by the Chicago Philharmonic at the Harris Theater, Pick –Staiger Hall, City Winery, with the Lyric Opera,  with The Joffrey Ballet, and for information, go to the Chicago Philharmonic website





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