The Chicago Sinfonietta concluded its 25th season on Mother’s Day in Wentz Concert Hall at North Central College in Naperville with a program entitled, “Identities”. I found the promise of the juxtaposition of Klezmer style music and Chinese music blending the guzheng, a Chinese stringed instrument that is plucked and strummed like a harp, with the orchestra irresistible. Knowing that Mei-Ann Chen is one of America’s most dynamic young conductors, who is sought out worldwide was an additional incentive. And, in fact, it was announced at this final concert of this season thatMei-Ann Chen will be leading The Chicago Sinfonietta for the next two years, which delighted everyone present.
I have heard Wentz Concert Hall advertised on the radio so often, that I was also interested in attending the performance there. Wentz Concert Hall is the current suburban home for The Chicago Sinfonietta and opened in 2008 with a capacity of 617. The hall is beautiful and the acoustics are excellent. There will be another performance of this program, which was fantastic, on Monday, May 12th -Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center. Do not miss it.
This program is the perfect reflection of the mission of this unique orchestra, which prides itself on being the most diverse in the country and has a mission “to form unique cultural connections through the universal language of symphonic music”. Tying East and West together through the Silk Road, the program began with “Shtetl Scenes” by Ilya Levinson whose early life was spent in the Soviet Union. The work was intended to bring into focus a time that was and is no more. The orchestra was enthusiastic in its performance of these beautiful and poignant melodies, and the energetic, happier rhythms.
The second piece also by Ilya Levinson was “Klezmer Rhapsody for Klezmer Band and Orchestra”. What a unique and fascinating work. The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band was scattered among the orchestra members. First, melodies were offered by the various Klezmer players and then “picked up” by the orchestra and then it was the reverse. It was wonderful. Maxwell Street Klezmer Band violinist, Alex Koffman, took a stance reminiscent of the fiddler on the roof, and brought forth a range of sounds to set off every emotion. As an encore, the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band “did their own thing” with so much energy and rhythm that the audience could barely remain in their seats and, in fact, they didn’t at the end of this piece. It seemed that the entire auditorium rose in thunderous applause in apprecition.
Returning from intermission, there was a very different look to the stage. The Guzheng graces the stage in preparation for the work entitled “Identity: Zhangshan Zhuang”, Concerto for Guzheng and Orchestra by Michael Gordon Shapiro and Victor Cheng. Soon Su Chang who is from Beijing took her place and began playing. Beautiful to look at and amazing to listen to Su Chang's melodies alternated with the orchestra in this work that was in stark contrast to that in the first half of the concert. While the Klezmer music felt as though it was grounded, part of the here and now, the Concerto for Guzheng and Orchestra felt “other worldly”. It was ethereal and felt as though it suggested an ideal, calm, beautiful existence, but also told a complicated story. I was transported, enjoyably. The skill and talent that Su Chang demonstrated was remarkable. I am convinced that watching her intricate manipulation of the Guzheng, clearly enhanced the experience. When this beautiful work was completed with “movement three”, once again, the audience rose in enthusiastic applause.
The final work was, to some extent, the inspiration for the first half of the performance. This was a familiar work by Georges Enescu, written when he was 19 years old, “Romanian Rhapsody, No.1 in A major, op.11”. As Mei-Ann Chen suggested, the melodies in this work had the same feeling and had some elements of the first half of the concert, bring the concert to a lovely balanced conclusion. And, again the audience rose enthusiastically, but more slowly. Being Mother’s Day, the mothers in the audience were recognized and then received a lovely single long stemmed carnation with a ribbon as they left. This was a remarkable experience.
Next concert: Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center
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Photos: Barbara Keer
Videos: The Chicago Sinfonietta website