Grant Park Music Festival’s Apprentice Chorale with Project Inclusion String Quartet Dame Myra Hess Concert Review – Musical Poetry and More

All the works sung by the Apprentice Chorale were debut works for their group. Photo: Bonnie Rezabek


They are our fresh-faced neighbors.


The Apprentice Chorale and Project Inclusion Quartet had performed last year as well at the Dame Myra Hess concert series. Photo: Bonnie Rezabek


More specifically, they are our neighbors with the gift of song.


Throughout their performance, all Apprentice Chorale eyes were on Christopher Bell


Drawn from the ranks of DePaul and Roosevelt Universities’ pre-professional college students the Grant Park Apprentice Chorale is an advanced training program led by Grant Park Chorus Director Christopher Bell. 


Not quite the usual Dame Myra Hess crowd, the seats were full for this year's concert as last years. Photo: bonnie Rezabek


While Dame Myra Hess concerts always deliver that mid-week pick me up that seems to shorten the work week above and beyond the concert duration, this one was an especially joyful energy injection.


You couldn’t have asked for a better opening.  What an inspired idea by composer Veronika Krausas (b. 1963) to set some of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry to choral music in “The Language of Birds”!  How perfect too the orchestration which seems to bottle the talk aloud nature of  Ferlinghetti’s poetry and also capture the poet’s adamant rejection of straightjacketing grammar styles.  As if tied to Bell’s conducting hand by a string, the chorus would travel up and down, crescendo and decrescendo, almost spit out the precision of some of the poems’ lines, and most of all convey the whimsical heart of Ferlinghetti’s work.  How could you not especially love the finale from Quartier Libre--


“I put my cap in the cage

And went out with the bird on my head”


Project Inclusion accompanied the Apprentice Chorale for both the score of Ferlinghetti poems and a piece by Beethoven. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion, has never sounded better.  Then again, it seems to be the fate of this talented quartet to often do duty in Chicago Sinfonietta fundraising gigs and other events where they are barely heard above the sound of the crowd.  To hear them clearly in Preston Bradley Hall was to finally learn what we have been missing. They especially shined in Beethoven’s “Elegaic Song Op. 118”, a sweet and melodious counterpoint to “The Language of Birds” opener.


After the Beethoven piece the Project Inclusion members took a bow and left the stage to Bell and the Apprentice Chorale.  One can imagine that Irish-born, now Scotland local Christopher Bell usually conducts such works with singers who have had greater exposure to the exigencies of the Madrigals genre and also audiences that perhaps know Madrigals as part of their DNA.   With all their eyes on him the connection between the singers and Bell was palpable.  


The Apprentice Chorale's connection to Maestro Christopher Bell was apparent. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Hopping back across the pond the finale was “In the Gershwin Mood” including arrangements of “Summertime” and “I Got Rhythm”.  This was a chance to hear stellar soloists, as if to say, “We are also each rock stars in our own right!”  Perky and upbeat, it ended a delightful performance with just the oomph!


It looked like the Apprentice Chorale was having fun too, or as soprano Natalie Ingrisano put it, “What a blast!”  Talking to Ingrisano before the performance she shared how impactful her Apprentice Chorale  experience has been.  Speaking not only of this performance but of their chance to work alongside the Grant Park Chorus, Ingrisano says, “While Roosevelt University’s choral program provides excellent training in professionalism and musical preparation, this experience has certainly helped me get to the next level of how to present myself and what is ultimately required.  Just being around musicians that have such high standards, and that can read practically everything put before them on the first try, has been important to my growth as a musician.  The voices are beautiful, big and wonderful and it gives you something to aspire to and work towards. 


Natalie, when not singing, loves to dance. Photo courtesy of


“For example I am honing my sight-reading skills and can see the difference from two or three years ago.  It’s a lifelong battle.  Some musicians are born with this ability, but a lot of us just have to work hard at it.  We get training in our school programs but this experience has been a reality check.  We see how rehearsals are done when you are a professional, meaning you are expected to walk in knowing your stuff cold.  I’m pretty good now but I know that I can get better.


Natalie Ingrisano (front, left) singing with the Apprentice Chorale. Photo: Bonnie Rezabek


“I didn’t know before my work with the Apprentice Chorale whether I wanted to be a professional symphonic choral singer, despite the fact that I had enjoyed it in school.  I found this experience with Grant Park thrilling, though—the beautiful and powerful music, and the extensive range of repertoire.”


Apprentice Chorale Baritone Jeremy Kreitz echoes Natalie’s comments reporting, “It’s just a higher caliber.  It’s quick paced and a wonderful experience to take part in…


“It made me think a lot about where I want to go and what I want to be doing after school—especially working with a large chorus and a symphony.  


Jeremy Kreitz (center) singing with the Apprentice Chorale. Photo: Bonnie Rezabek


“Being on stage at the Pritzker Pavilian is an amazing experience for me.  There are so many elements working together at once; the orchestra, chorus and most often soloists. Feeling all of that energy surround me is the most rewarding. Each year there's a new group of individuals that keep me focused and motivated to strive forward in my musicianship and presence as a choral member. However challenging it may be the Apprentice Chorale has given me much to be grateful for.


“Sometimes I think it might not be understood that it’s so much energy that we have to put forth.  “The Language of Birds” was challenging—rhythmically.  It's not what you'd except to hear moving from movement to movement and with any choral piece it requires attention to detail and concentration."


Take a look at their pictures and you may think you’ve seen them before—perhaps on the CTA, perhaps spotting Natalie on a dance floor or Jeremy in a coffee house where he feeds his admitted java obsession. 


These are our Chicago neighbors.  They have been given a gift of a thoughtful career launch by Maestro Christopher Bell who says, “This is something I have a lot of experience in – for example founding the National Youth Choir in Scotland among other aspects of the strong education component to my work for many years.”


Many Chicagoans look forward to Maestro Christopher Bell's costumes when he conducts the July 4 concerts. When asked about the concert coming up he didn't give details, other than saying it will be red, white and blue. Here he is unveiling his Sweet (summer) Home Chicago spirit last year. Photo: Norman Timonera


Fashion plate, educator, and a Michigan Avenue beach regular during the summer months while Chicago is his home—Christopher Bell not only gives the gift of education to Apprentice Chorale members but also a chance for audiences to experience choral music at its best.  Bravo!


Most of all it was great to get a reminder of Ferlinghetti’s fun pen.  He may have been thinking of the likes of talents in the Apprentice Chorale in  “A Coney Island of the Mind”’s verse--


"Don’t let that horse

                                    Eat that violin


            Cried Chagall’s mother


                                                But he

                        Kept right on



And became famous


And kept on painting

                                    The Horse With Violin In Mouth


And when he finally finished it

he jumped up upon the horse

                                                   and rode away

                        waving the violin


And then with a low bow gave it

to the first naked nude he ran across


And there were no strings



Grant Park Music Festival concerts, many showcasing the Grant Park Chorus under Christopher Bell’s baton, continue until mid-August. For a schedule visit the Grant Park Music Festival website.


Dame Myra Hess concerts bring up-and-coming talents from around the world to Chicago audiences every Wednesday at 12:15 P.M in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan between Washington and Randolph).  For more information visit the International Music Foundation webpages on the concert series.


Both Grant Park Music Festival and Dame Myra Hess concerts are free to Chicagoans and visitors alike. What a wonderful city we live in!

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