Nicholas Phan, artistic director and co-founder of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, was researching for a previous installment of the organization’s annual art song festival and discovered the wide range of compositions in the form of past composers and present from Chicago.
So he and his collaborators decided to make Chicago’s fertile musical history the focus of the 2022 episode of the event, known as the Collaborative Works Festival. Performances of “The Song of Chicago” are scheduled for September 7 and 8 at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan, and September 11 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave.
“Chicago has a very rich history of producing a ton of composers and poets who have done extraordinary work,” Phan said.
Well-known classical composers from Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms to Charles Ives and Ned Rorem wrote art songs. But these intimate concert works, usually compositions of poems with piano accompaniment, do not enjoy the same visibility or popularity as other vocal forms like opera.
“CAIC’s mission is to promote the repertoire of artistic song,” said Phan, “and the art of vocal recital, and this festival of collaborative works aims to do so by choosing a theme each year and exploring this theme through the song.
The Sept. 7 program, “Chicago’s Own,” features a look at composers who were born or spent time in the city, including Rorem, Joseph Schwantner and Reena Esmail. Chicago’s rich history of black composers will be featured on September 8 with works by composers such as Florence Price and Nora Holt, who became the first African American to receive a master’s degree in music in 1918.
“I’m excited about all three programs, but I’m especially excited about this program,” Phan said, “because it shows a story that has been overlooked, and it’s a really important story.”
The festival ends on September 11 with a tribute to Carl Sandburg, who, in addition to writing poetry, also collected American folk songs in a 1927 anthology called “The American Songbag.” This concert will feature arrangements of some of these songs by composers such as Ernst Bacon, Ruth Crawford Seeger and George Walker, as well as settings of several Sandburg poems.
In keeping with the festival theme, all performers except Phan will be based in Chicago, including tenor Lunga Eric Hallam, mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams, baritone Robert Sims and pianist Yasuko Oura.
Here’s a look at 11 other classical music events worth checking out:
Sept. 9-Oct. 1, “Ernani” by Verdi, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Enrique Mazzola, conductor, Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Upper Wacker (lyricopera.org). Based on a play by Victor Hugo, this dramatic opera centers on a messy love quadrangle, with one of three suitors for the same woman being the king. First performed on the Lyric Stage in 1984, this work is the fourth in a series of Verdi operas led by the company’s musical director, Enrique Mazzola.
September 18, “Jephta” by Handel North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; and September 19, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, Music of the Baroque, Jane Glover, conductor (baroque.org). Handel’s Christmas and Easter oratorio, “Messiah,” is widely acclaimed, but the great Baroque master wrote more than 25 other oratorios, including his latest, “Jephtha,” based on a biblical story. These concerts are the first performances of this work by Baroque Music in more than three decades, and they inaugurate Glover’s 20th season with the group.
September 22-25, “L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea)” by Monteverdi Jarvis Opera Hall, DePaul University, 800 W. Belden (haymarketopera.org); and October 16, Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610”, Apollo’s Fire, Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, 1870 Sheridan Road, Evanston (apollosfire.org). Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) did not invent opera, but his groundbreaking creations significantly defined the medium as we know it, and they continue to be regularly performed. Haymarket will offer its first-ever historically informed production of ‘Coronation’, the composer’s last opera, and Apollo’s Fire will present its earlier musical version of the Catholic evening prayer service known as Vespers.
September 22-24 and 27, “Solemn Prelude” by Coleridge-Taylor Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan (cso.org). To kick off its 2022-23 season, Riccardo Muti’s last as musical director, the CSO will present a program that includes the US premiere of “Solemn Prelude”. (Other works differ on the September 24 lineup.) The manuscript for the long-lost work was discovered in the archives of the Three Choirs Festival in Britain, where it debuted in 1899 and was again played last year. Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), who had an English mother and a Sierra Leonean Creole father, won considerable respect in England during his short life, including the early support of the famous composer Edward Elgar.
October 15, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Music Institute of Chicago and International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston (musicinst.org/nch). Classical music may have originated in Europe, but this continent does not have a monopoly on the genre. This is the message of this 40-year-old ensemble from Mexico City, which commissions new works and champions famous Latin American composers like Héitor Villa-Lobos, Alberta Ginastera and Silvestre Revueltas, all of whom will be featured in this program.
October 20, Yunchan Lim, pianist, Skyline Piano Artist Series, Galvin Recital Hall, Northwestern University, 70 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston (music.northwestern.edu). The fact that conductor Marin Alsop reportedly wiped away tears in June after conducting Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition with competitor Yunchan Lim was a good indication that he would be the winner. And, indeed, the jury selected the 18-year-old as the youngest pianist to win the gold medal at the famed competition in Fort Worth, Texas.
Oct. 26-28, “Music of Paris”, Quatuor Diotima, University of Chicago Presents, Performance Hall, Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, 915 E. 60th (chicagopresents.uchicago.edu). Formed in 1996 by graduates of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, this ensemble has become one of the most sought-after string quartets in Europe. This three-concert series was originally scheduled for last season when the band was in residence at the University of Chicago, but the event had to be postponed due to “unforeseen difficulties with international travel”.
November 3, “Falling Out of Time: A Tone Poem in Voices” by Golijov, Silkroad Ensemble, Harris Theater Presents, Harris Theater (harristheaterchicago.org). Based on a book by David Grossman about the grief of parents over the death of a child, this song cycle “depicts a musical and mythical ride that traverses vast and varied emotional landscapes,” according to the Silkroad website. The work, which premiered as part of a US tour in 2019, was the first in a decade for the celebrated composer who sank into creative malaise.
From November 9 to 25, “Don Carlos” by Verdi, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lyric Opera (lyricopera.org). Although Verdi wrote his original version of “Don Carlos” in French, most modern stage productions feature an Italian translation known as “Don Carlo”. With this production, Lyric Opera will present for the first time the Modena version of 1886 in five acts in French. A slightly different five-act French version was presented last year by the Metropolitan Opera in New York to considerable success, and Lyric is clearly hoping for similar success with its production with the same director, David McVicar.
November 18 and 20, “King Roger” by Szymanowski, Chicago Opera Theater, Lira Ensemble and Apollo Chorus, Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor, Harris Theater (chicagooperatheater.org). Written in 1918-24, “King Roger” by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski is partly inspired by the mixture of cultures and religions around the Mediterranean basin. Performances of the work were relatively rare after its debut in 1926, but this opera has been rediscovered in recent decades and productions have become more frequent. This will be his first in Chicago.