38th Anniversary Dame Myra Hess Concert Review – Melody Enriched Memories

 

The stunning Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center seemed to be filled to capacity in anticipation of the performance by world-renowned Israeli cellist Amit Peled playing the famous Goffriller cello of Pablo Casals

 

 

Some in the audience were apparently foreign tourists, but it was also easy to spot the many regulars in the crowd,

 

Earlier this year, Mary Lou Schoenegge warms the crowd with her basket of cookies in the pre-concert hall.

 

and especially the warm and welcoming Mary Lou Schoenegge passing out cookie treats before the concert

 

Earlier this year, Chicago artist Nelida Victoria presents her drawing of the performance to fellow Latin American and violist, Luis Enrique Vargas

 

and local artist Nelida Victoria settling into her first row seat to get the best view for the pencil-drawn portrait she would later give to Amit Peled as she does for all Dame Myra Hess concert soloists at their concert’s end.

 

Photo courtesy of Amit Peled

 

As an anniversary concert, the much anticipated Amit Peled performance was infused with memories for many. 

 

Fortuitously, we were sitting next to Caroline Cracraft, an international public affairs consultant and former member of the British Consulate in Chicago

 

Ann Murray with the late Al Booth

 

In our six-degrees-of-separation world, we can all thank Cracraft for being the one who introduced the Dame Myra Hess concert series founder, Al Booth, to Ann Murray, then a fellow member of her current events discussion group,  in 1989.  Ann later took over as the Director of the International Music Foundation (IMF) when Al Booth retired and has, with the help of IMF staffers Maria Valdes-Vargas and John Lee, nurtured IMF activities in the schools, the yearly Do-It-Yourself Messiah, and the ever stimulating showcase of up and coming talents at the Dame Myra Hess concert series.

 

Caroline P Cracraft, who first introduced International Music Foundation founder Al Booth to Ann Murray

 

The memories that Caroline brought to the concert in fact reached back farther still.  She commented, “My mother went to the Dame Myra Hess concerts during the war in London.  Mum said it was a lifesaver—a much needed morale booster…”

 

How fitting that the program book for this concert showed a picture of Dame Myra Hess with Pablo CasalsCasals’ widow, Mrs Marta Casals Istonin had personally handed her late husband’s cello to Amit Peled, who has since been on a 20-city US recital tour titled “Homage to Pablo Casals”. 

 

Unlike the usual Dame Myra Hess concerts this was one of the milestone occasions for which Murray invites well-established musicians like Peled to perform, instead of the relatively new-on-the-scene talents that are the usual focus of the Dame Myra Hess series.

 

Amit Peled was at one time one of these up and coming musicians whom the Dame Myra Hess concerts helped launch.. Part of the story he tells of this experience is “…through the series I grew up both as a cellist and as a human being. For quite a while, once a year, I had this legendary experience.  I was very young and inexperienced when I began, and the pieces that I played became bigger, harder and more ambitious. I also began to attract a regular crowd--that was really amazing.  (Read the full story of Amit Peled and the Dame Myra Hess Concerts here.)   

 

Amit Peled playing the Geffriller cello as the wife of the late Pablo Casals looks on. Photo courtesy of Amit Peled

 

For her part, Ann Murray is very reticent to speak about any one concert as a favorite, in keeping with her role of helping to nurture so many emerging talents.  But when asked which prior Anniversary concerts stand out in her mind she brings forth a moving account of one saying, “In 2007, at the 30th Anniversary of the Dame Myra Hess Concerts, the Vermeer Quartet had just announced that they were about to disband as a group.  It was so like the Vermeer to choose a free venue like ours for their farewell performance.  It was so emotional, as was the music they chose to perform—from Beethoven’s Late Quartets.   It was very powerful music and very moving.  It was also the first anniversary concert without Al Booth as he had passed away that year.  I was very emotional thinking about how Al wasn’t’ there to hear it.  We had lost him and now we were losing the Vermeer.  It was a fabulous concert too.”

 

Amit Peled, on the rich-toned Goffriller cello and with his frequent collaborator, pianist Stefan Petrov, injected sumptuous melodies –from pensive to bright and crisp- into this memory filled concert hall.

 

Their varied program included:  Handel’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor”; three pieces by Fauré (Élégie, Op. 24, Sicilienne, Op. 78, and Papillon, Op. 77); Beethoven’s “Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen; and a finale of Saint-Saëns’ “Allegro appassionato, Op. 43”. 

 

From the opening notes of the Handel sonata first movement (Grave) it was clear that we not only would hear exquisitely sensitive interpretations played on a magnificent instrument and in perfect balance with the piano, but also were in for a visual spectacle that our fellow audience members listening on WFMT sadly missed.

 

For starts, tall-framed Peled made the famed cello seem like a petite treasure that was using its long metal stand to reach into his wide wingspan arms. 

 

More, it was Peled’s ever so physical engagement with the music that captivated. 

 

 

His mouth would silently sing the notes and at times he seemed to almost grimace in agony at the exquisite beauty of the score, the cello and what his hands wrought.  When one of his arms was freed by the score he would sweep it into the air as if inviting us to listen in on heaven. 

 

 

At one point, at the conclusion of Fauré’s “Élégie” Peled put his hands up in the “Hey, what do you think?” gesture to which the audience gave loud applause, triggering Peled to smile broadly, nod, and then turn back to his performance.

 

Like so many duos on the Dame Myra Hess stages we could see the intimate collaboration of pianist and cellist at work.  With Peled and Petrov though, they not only tilted their heads towards one another but as each took a solo turn at a phrase the other seemed to be unable to suppress their smile of approval. 

 

Transported-- one moment we were in the midst  of butterflies energetically flapping their wings (Fauré’s “Papillon) and soon we almost wanted to jump up and dance when a gypsy music flourish filled the hall (Saint-Saëns’ “Allegro appassionato”). 

 

 

It was predictably a standing ovation, but Peled helped bring our focus back on history by offering the famed cello that Pablo Casals had played up for its own bow.

 

(For more information and to listen to videos of Amit Peled playing,  visit his website here.)

 

38 years and counting, there is no sign of the Dame Myra Hess concert series waning or changing.  Murray says, “We will be doing more of the same because it is what keeps our audiences coming back.  They cleave to the Hess brand reliability which they know will not disappoint them….We’re presenting the best emerging talent from across the country every week, for free.”

 

This past year the crowd at each Dame Myra Hess concert has been noticeably larger

 

Summing up her feelings for this Anniversary moment, Murray says, “Isn’t it wonderful that we’re still here after 38 years.  One thing that I always feel is a deep sense of gratitude to the loyalty and sense of ownership that the audience has to the series.  They are a vital part of making it the rich experience that it is.”

 

You can hear the Dame Myra Hess concerts every Wednesday at 12:15 Central time on Chicago’s WFMT station (98.7 FM).  But, if you are traveling to Chicago or are a Chicagoland native, you can’t beat coming to the live concert in the stunning Preston Bradley Hall of Chicago’s one time Public Library and now Cultural Center.

 

Chicago Cultural Center

78 East Washington Street

Chicago

 

-30-

 

Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated 

 

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