The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an institution. And it always makes me happy when institutions get it right. Which they can only do when pressured by smaller, more nimble and agile organizations. And so the work by ensembles like eighth blackbird, Fulcrum Point, and dal niente has finally had a positive effect on the CSO, Chicago's most venerable Classical music institution, which presented its new music series, MusicNOW, on Monday at the Harris.
[Writing about Contemporary Music requires a great attention to capitalization.]
Unless you've been under Iraq, you've heard about Maestro Muti's coming and subsequent early withdrawal, but receiving a lot less press and fevered googling is the MusicNOW series which, quietly, unassumingly, and flawlessly opened Monday night at the Harris.
Nevertheless, the Harris was packed with more people than I've ever seen at a new music concert--all the usual suspects and many more.
The evening opened with Mason Bates and Anna Clyne, the composers in residence at the CSO, introducing the evening with their respective West coast and British mannerisms--Bates appropriately tan, Clyne predictably not.
As a continuing celebration of Mexico's independence, the program included pieces by 2 Mexican composers, of which Li Po by Enrico Chapela opened the concert. Chapela based the music on a Mexican poem about the Chinese poet Li Po and so included projections of the poem--in hand-made caligraphy--onto a screen behind the performers. The piece for chamber symphony and tape fused the two media symbiotically, which, like a happy marriage, were sometimes independent, sometimes joined at the hip. About 50% of the sounds on the tape part sounded rich and lush, electronic but acoustic, on the Harris's sound system; the other 50% sounded cheaper and more digital. The form of the piece, based on the structure of the poem, was indecipherable, for the poem itself was enigmatic and was in Spanish with no subtitles. Even if I spoke flawless Spanish, each verse of the poem flashed on the screen for a mere 5 or 10 seconds, not long enough to engage the imagery. And even if I had more time, the music drew most of my attention with its polyrhythmic activity and spatialized tape part. Overall, a good piece--not amazing. It didn't piss me off or insult me (except for the "seagulls" in the violins) and had plenty going on to keep me from getting bored. (6.5 / 10)
[Click here for Part II]