A weekend of music Classical and contemporary

Classical Music Critic

Hyde Parkers made their voices heard this weekend in two very different concerts. International House was the scene of a concert of piano trios by famous composers while Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall was the site of new music by four living composers.

The Chicago Ensemble, formed 42 years ago by Hyde Park native Gerald Rizzer, opened its 2018-19 season Sunday afternoon at I-House with music by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Joining Rizzer, who is the group’s artistic director as well as pianist, was violinist Stephen Boe and cellist Andrew Snow.

They began with Haydn’s Trio No. 25 in E Minor. The opening was brisk and breezy and the players easily alternated between the light and serious moments. The middle movement featured delicate and coy pizzicato from the strings and pretty piano evoking a cheery music box. The racing pace of the Rondo was exciting and well done.

Mozart’s Trio No. 4 in B-flat Major, K. 502, opened with ingratiating music where Rizzer displayed his ability to switch effortlessly from light touch softness to firm touch power. The music featured playfulness as well as a touch of melancholy.

The final work was Beethoven’s Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3.  The theme of the first movement was passed between the instruments, each giving it color and shine. The three players handled the variations expertly in the Andante, and there were luscious piano flourishes in the Menuetto. The Finale was exciting and rendered at breakneck speed but never stinted on the dynamics. It was an exciting afternoon of music.

The 6 Degrees Composers is a collective of women who write contemporary music in a variety of styles. Their latest concert took place Friday night at Ganz Hall and featured compositions by four composers.

Hyde Park composer Janice Misurell-Mitchell offered the most unusual work on the program. “After the History” was written for flute and voice (Misurell-Mitchell) and percussion (John Corkill). The title comes from a poem by John Shreffler, which is a brief meditation on war, rather like “Where have all the flowers gone?” but less linear and more ironic.

Bertold Brecht was a major influence on Misurell-Mitchell in writing the piece, and it has his bite as well as his comic influences. The music was at times familiar, drawing on quotations from famous “war pieces” such as the theme to “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” but also included more abstract and understandably gruesome original music. Misurell-Mitchell alternated between playing the flute and using her voice. She sang, spoke, employed a kind of Sprechstimme, thereby serving as musician, singer, actor, and commentator. Corkill, on a raft of percussion, added depth and his own humor. It was funny and disturbing. Most notably, it was thought provoking.

Also on the program were excerpts from the opera “Black Hawk Speaks, an American Tragedy,” which tells the story of the Sauk leader, with libretto by Sharon and Richard Carlson and music by Patricia Morehead (who studied composition here in Hyde Park at U of C). Soprano Alicia Berneche was delicate and pretty with the music of the Singing Bird. Baritone Brian Burkhardt was sturdy if a bit dull as Black Hawk, and mezzo-soprano Adrianne Blanks was engaging as the Trickster. The singers were joined by a fine ensemble: Caroline Pittman (flute), Kate Eakin (oboe and English horn), Philip Morehead (piano), and Brandon Runyon (percussion).

There were several small and works by Regina Harris Baiocchi. Most powerful was the closing piece of the concert, “Gullah Ghost Drumming.” The composer was one of a large number of drummers (Michael Adams, Carlos Pride, Eddie Mason, Susan Ward, Michael J. Taylor) who created spirited music danced to with great flair by Imani Amos.

The program opened with a brief video, “Tender Spirit II” with music and visuals by Kyong Mee Choi, who has a deft sense of how to incorporate electronic music into contemporary composition.