Soviet Images and Sounds Review – CSO Chamber Music Series at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Chamber Music Series at The Art Institute of Chicago is a kind of hidden treasure that comes with a bonus.  Just stepping into the Art Institute is a bonus, but since concerts are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, it is convenient have brunch at Terzo Piano or to head to the Museum Café for informal dining.


From the patio outside Terzo Piano


There is always a short talk before the concert to set the stage for the gallery talk that follows the concert.  The music and artwork are selected for their historical relevance to one another.


It was a beautiful day on October 23rd and perfect for enjoying the view from the patio next to Terzo Piano before heading downstairs to the magnificent Fullerton Hall.  The hall is a wonderful setting for chamber music.  It is intimate and the sound quality is excellent. No wonder the concert hall has been filled each time I have been there.


Beautiful Fullerton Hall

The concert was a collaboration of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Art Institute of Chicago. This program was designed to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev's birth with musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Time spent near Georgia in southern Russia's Kabardino-Balkaria region moved Prokofiev to infuse his Second String Quartet with music inspired by the province's lively folk melodies. Bartók's String Quartet No. 4 featured rustic pizzicati and incorporates musical elements from Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. The introduction, slide commentary and gallery talk were presented by Giovanni Aloi, Lecturer, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Before the concert

Aloi set the tone for the tour that followed the musical presentation talking about photography that came into being. The world's first photograph made in a camera was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, but by the time the time both of the featured composers were coming into their own, photography was also common. Initially, a photograph was considered to show what was true.  Later photographs could show a photo that was manipulated and n did not always reflect what was being seen.  After the concert, a large part of the audience moved to the photography exhibition to learn about Soviet propaganda.


Prokofiev String Quartet No. 2 (Kabardinian)
Bartók String Quartet No. 4


Meridian String Quartet
Cornelius Chiu violin
Kozue Funakoshi violin
Danny Lai viola
Daniel Katz cello


The music was beautiful.  It was a treat to watch and listen to the performers who delivered a performance that was perfection.


In the Prokofiev piece, the music seemed blended and lyrical and not typical of the Prokofiev music I think of.  There are an unusual variety of sounds that generated.  Some sections are played with the wood of the bow rather than the hair and there are strummed pizzicatos.  Toward the end the music stops and the cello has a lengthy cadenza before the opening material returns and the piece comes to a sudden close.


The Bartók piece contrasted sharply.  The instruments were “at odds” with each other.  It was a very energetic piece and remarkable in the way the string instruments became percussive.  The program notes, “Comments”, by Eric Bromberger, says of Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4, “Over its brief span, materials that at first seem uncompromising are transformed into music of breathtaking virtuosity and expressiveness”.  The audience was thrilled.


A tour of Aleksandr Zhitomirsky's political photomontages followed.


Humanism+Dynamite Exhibition; Photo- Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago

A large number of audience members went to see the photomontages and had the chance to learn about the propaganda impact of these works.  In addition, the complexity of the techniques used to produce these results was discussed.


Approaching the Art Institue of Chicago

It wasn't until the day after we attended the concert that the Art Institute lions received their Cubs hats.

Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.

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