Music on the Midway Plaisance

Classical Music Critic

Today I catch up by reporting on two recent events for which there was insufficient space at the time I heard them to review them immediately. They each happened just off Hyde Park’s Midway Plaisance, but in two very different venues.

First, I was tempted to visit the Performance Hall at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St., when I was told there’d be an interesting piano four hands arrangement of the “Rite of Spring” at the end of June.

The event was a two-piece, multi-disciplinary performance with dance at the heart. Wendy Clinard of Clinard Dance was the choreographer and artistic director of the two long-form pieces that comprised this work. In the first, performed to Stravinsky’s “Rite” there was a wide variety of modern dance forms, often informed by flamenco. In the second, performed to original music by Steve Gibons, flamenco was the primary form. The three dancers, Clinard along with Andrea Petersen and Marisela Tapia, were always engaging, sometimes inventive, and in some perfectly timed moments, stunningly beautiful.

Not being educated in dance, it was the music that brought me to Logan. Duo-pianists Elena Doubovitskaya and Svetlana Belsky, performing as the EStrella Duo, offered a muscular and charged “Rite of Spring” in their own version, which relied primarily on the piano four hands arrangement but which they adjusted employing adaptations from the composer’s full score as well as the single piano reduction.

The dancing and music was augmented by a full screen display of film and video by Aaron Cahan. Often abstract and mostly in wondrous shades of gray, it added depth to the performance. There was also poetry and text, sometimes provided by recorded voice, sometimes shown upon the display screen. This was the least satisfactory element of the performance, as it was disjointed without punch and frequently either banal or childish (“help we, pain we, slow we”).

All these elements were joined together under the umbrella of the work’s title: “Chicago’s Watershed: A 156-Mile Choreography,” with the idea that from the Chicago River’s dependence on bacteria to the interdependence of the people who rely on the river we can see the “haves against the have-nots” and other vaguely political ideas. I certainly didn’t find that aspect of the performance either convincing or artistically interesting.

After the intermission was “From the Arctic to the Middle East: Broken Narratives by an American Flamenco Dancer.” This was anchored by the glorious original music by Gibons who performed on violin. Also in his ensemble were Jade Maze, who sang gripping vocals entirely on simple syllables; Alex Wing on stylish contrabass or oud and Javier Saume who offered sly percussion. Gibons’s third stream classical music was memorable, vivid and beautiful and there was fascinating interplay between musicians and dancers, including the musicians sometimes moving and interweaving with the dance troupe.

This work also employed spoken word texts, but again I found that these lacked focus and fluidity.

On the other side of the Midway, at International House, the Chicago Ensemble held their final concert of the year last month. Soprano Michelle Areyzaga offered some lovely vocal performances, starting with J.S. Bach’s “Ich esse mit Freuden” from Cantata No. 84, in which she found the joy the composer captured so well.

Her biggest triumph was found in songs by Ralph Vaughn Williams: three selections from Blake Songs (1957) and three more from “Along the Field (1927).” These small gems were performed with simplicity and naturalness. In the first set, Areyzaga was joined by oboist Ricardo Castañeda, and in the second by violinist Mathias Tacke, each offering superb collaboration.

In Mozart’s “Non più. Tutto ascoltai…” Areyzaga sang the parts both of Ilia and Idamante to tremendous effect. In some Brahms songs for soprano and piano, Areyzaga proved an apt storyteller and offered ravishing sound.

The Trio-Sonata in A minor by George Telemann saw Castañeda, Tacke and Chicago Ensemble artistic director Gerald Rizzer on the piano, finding all the gleam of the music with splendid pacing and dynamics.

Castañeda and Rizzer joined forces for Poulenc’s Sonata (1962), this composer’s final work. The oboe was supple, the piano was crisp and both players created a marvelous sense of tranquility in the final movement.

The concert closed with Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 526 for violin and piano. Tacke’s violin was buoyant and the spare, controlled approach the duo took in the middle movement was excellent. The final presto showed how accomplished both Tacke and Rizzer are in furiously fast music.

It was a rewarding end to the ensemble’s 37th season and was made all the more enjoyable by this group’s reception goodies: coffee, tea, and wine along with tempting cheese, fruits, and sweets, all enjoyed with interesting conversation with the musicians or fellow Hyde Parkers. I look forward to the Chicago Ensemble’s 38th season with great anticipation.