Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

Backing the Bid

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Hello, CTA? I’d like to report a suspicious package. It’s a pro-Olympics promotional announcement that played on a No. 2 bus this morning. “How long have they been doing this?” I wondered, thinking – since I usually commute by bike – that I’m just out of touch.

Well, if ABC News is to be believed, the announcements are new. And they’re paid for by the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee, so presumably if the anti-Olympics people want their message heard, they can pay for bus announcements, too.

For that matter, if I want to read a 20-second message saying “read my blog and click on ads,” all I have to do is pony up, right? We all know the CTA’s in trouble (while waiting for that bus, I read a “route elimination” notice posted near the stop; so long, No. 173), so a little ad money for a PA announcement must come in handy.

A quick check of the CTA Web site makes me wonder. I can buy any size poster – can’t decide between the Ultra Super King and the Michelangelo – but the PA system isn’t on the list. Could it be that I just don’t pal around with the mayor enough?

I’m all for propaganda (read my blog, click on ads), but I don’t want to hear it on the bus. If I stood up and started talking about Jesus (or Cross Palms), the driver could usher me to the curb. Unless the rest of us can buy some of those 20-second slices of commuters’ time, I think the Olympic spots should be ushered to the curb, too.

‘Lickety-split!’

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

If this week’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Baroque Band wasn’t the smallest, fleetest ever given in Chicago, I’ll eat my hat.

Four violins, two violas, two cellos, a bass and a harpsichord. Plus two trumpets and timpani at key moments, with conductor/violinist Garry Clarke adding an occasional fifth violin. (The program credited Sally Jackson on bassoon, but neither she nor the instrument were in evidence last night, so I’m guessing the program slipped up.) The choir was 17 voices, and there were four soloists.

At the Grainger Ballroom in Symphony Center, the concert began with the band walking in, taking their positions (standing) and launching straight into the overture. They didn’t stop till the intermission: No pauses for tuning, for soloists to walk on or off, nothing. Same for part II, except for a pause after the “Hallelujah” chorus. It was as if they’d decided they were performing a play.

A drama, in fact. I’ve seldom heard a performance so rhetorical, that paid so much attention to the words, that was so adamant about telling the story, moving it along.

And move it they did. The tempos were fast, but the playing and singing so light and lithe it rarely felt rushed, and the violins’ skittering lines almost made me laugh at several points. The back-and-forth between strings and singers was a delight, a true dialogue.

Bass Benjamin LeClair and the fine trumpeter Bob Rieder gamely raced through “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” but again, despite the pace, the feeling was urgent more than rushing. The dead were raised briskly, but they weren’t tumbled out of — well, not bed, I guess, but Clarke gave them a couple of seconds to collect themselves.

I don’t envy Rieder having to go straight from the aria to “Worthy Is the Lamb” — most versions of “Messiah” give the trumpets a breather between the two. But Clarke wanted to recreate the “Messiah” first heard in Dublin in 1742, and to hear the early versions of several familiar pieces was fascinating, sometimes startling.

The soloists — in addition to LeClair, they were soprano Amy Conn, countertenor Chris Conely and Tenor Trevor L. Mitchell — were nimble and forthright in projecting the text. Conn and Mitchell embellished their parts to dramatic effect without sacrificing the music — not always the case. Mitchell in particular matched restraint and athleticism in presenting both what Handel wrote and what a soloist of Handel’s time was expected to add. Conely had one or two intonational problems, but was no less committed than his cohorts, and displayed a strong, attractive voice.

If the room’s sound was a bit dry, and occasionally unkind to the strings, it was good to the singers. The soloists were easy to hear; I’ve been to concerts where I could see the bass’s lips move, but strained to hear the voice. Here, he could have been sitting next to me.

The chorus was clear, the voices distinct, with no soprano-heavy edge. And I had the sense that they held something back till the “Amen”; there was power in all the choruses — and a dangerous edge to “He trusted in God” — but only at the end did it sound like they cut loose. Which makes sense.

“Messiah” is one of my favorite pieces. I’ve played in it (trumpet), sung in it (bass) and listened to it (LP, CD and iPod) for years. This was the most gripping performance I’ve heard; Clarke ripped through the thing as if he couldn’t wait to tell us the story. And he told it well. “Lickety-split!” said a guy in front of me in the audience at the conclusion, but he said it with a big grin on his face.

I don’t know what Clarke has in mind for the future, but his approach to “Messiah” makes me think opera is not far off, and if Chicago Opera Theater isn’t careful, he’ll eat their pre-1800 lunch. He’s got the verve, he’s got the musical chops, he’s got the core of a band — COT seems to be moving away from old instruments, unless it’s for early stuff — and I’ll bet he’s got the ambition. Well, more power to him. Let’s see what the next concerts (in June, with Australian countertenor David Hansen) hold.