Monday, October 07, 2013

Mode - Knoxville: Summer of 1915

I recently went to a somewhat unusual event at the Ruth Page Center for Music and Dance.  The Mode Ensemble - a collection of a dozen or so talented musicians put together an evening of Early American and Civil War Era music in a constant flow of ever-changing ensemble on stage.

Offering era-appropriate food and very sweet cocktails while performers and audience members dressed the part, the evening was a lot of fun and felt transportive.

Ashlee Hardgrave did an excellent job with Alan Louis Smith's Covered Wagon Women Vignettes, and the Prairie Spring, Haymaker's Hoedown and Banjo & Fiddle performances at the end of the first half were energetic and skillfully played.  The second half of the evening though was where all the emotion came out.  Anthony Plog's Songs of War and Loss, sung by ????? (performer's names were not included in the program) was intense and it was followed by a dark reading of a Civil War Soldier's letter over Jay Ungar's Ashokan Farewell (from Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War).  Copeland's Quiet City and Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 made a fantastic end to a really well-rounded and enjoyable show.

The program could have been more complete and the initial words about the final piece, which lasted a good half hour, could have been left out, but the music was really the important part, and Mode knocked that out of the park.

Happy Birthday, Verdi!

Thursday marks the anniversary of the 200th year since Italian Romantic Operatic composer Verdi was born.  He is most known for his prolific opera composing (averaging one every nine months for a good decade of his life).

His operas are known for their grandiose style with prominent use of the chorus.  He also experimented quite seriously with developing a style of realism or verismo in his music composition.  He did experiment with all types of Italian operatic writing at the time and this can be seen throughout his works.

Many colleges, music festivals, and city orchestras are celebrating Verdi's oeuvre this season with performances, and I recommend checking a couple of them out!

If you're in Chicago, you're in luck.  Yet to be performed is Verdi's Requiem Mass (Thursday @7:30pm, CSO), which can be watched that evening online at (I'm definitely doing that with a glass of wine after work).  The Lyric is doing Verdi's Otello - my favorite of his operas (opened Oct. 5) and La Traviata - another of my favorites and one of his most well-known operas (Opens Nov. 20).   So, Chicagoans - GO!  (For opera neophytes, these are both very accessible and a lot of fun.)

Chicago musicians have been hard at work already though -

I had the pleasure recently of seeing Joan of Arc, performed by the Chicago Opera Theater.  The production was creative - a sect of fundamentalist Christians putting on a play of the famous story,
making the piece more apropos for today's audience.  The baritone was fantastic and the writing for the chorus was perfect and made sense given Verdi's penchant for grandiose declamatory choral writing.  I was having such a good time that I forgot to take notes and the time just flew by!

I also recently had excellent seats to see Macbeth performed without set by the CSO.  Aside from a very strange offstage recording at certain points of
the opera, I was enchanted.  Verdi writes soprano emotion so well - that even without costumes and a set, the listener could feel the palpable anxiety from the vocalists and the orchestra.  I have never heard a better performance of this opera - the cello solo in the third act, the beautiful chorus, and the exquisite and glittering orchestral playing - not to mention the voices made it an amazing evening!

If you've missed the above performances, the CSO, the Chicago Opera Theater, and the Lyric are always top-notch and you can't go wrong in attending a concert.