Once again, I thought of you as I strolled around an art museum looking at paintings that touched on music. The Renoir oil on canvas, Woman at the Piano, needs no explanation. For the Degas pastel, Ballet at the Paris Opéra, I may need to direct your attention to the bottom right corner, where you will see the heads of two string basses.
It was my second time at The Art Institute of Chicago and, aside from remembering the treasure house of Impressionist paintings, it has always lodged in my memory for the time I overheard a father speaking to his son in front of the series of Monet Haystacks and saying to him, “What is that?” The boy’s response was, “A muffin.”
I was in Chicago for an Old New Worlds author event at City Lit Books in Logan Square on Thursday evening, and decided to make a long weekend of it. Aside from the Art Institute, we took in a play adaptation of Charles Johnson’s National Book Award winning novel, Middle Passage, at the Lifeline Theatre—a fine ensemble piece that seemed almost cinematic in the way it flowed from land to sea and back again.
On Saturday, we went to hear the Chicago Symphony with Finnish conductor, Hannu Lintu (you may remember him from his times conducting the Baltimore Symphony), directing a program of Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. He gave credibility to the idea that national music is in the blood of its compatriots. Lintu brought such an intuitive insight to the well known Finlandia, which opened the program, that he made me hear it in a new a different way. He was joined by fellow Finn, Pekka Kuusisto, for Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, which I played on my shift a couple of weeks ago. It ranges from moody to buoyant, and when Kuusisto played a Danish song as en encore, enlisting the orchestra to hum a pedal note as he went from bowing to strumming, it was mesmerizing. Following the intermission was Nielsen’s Helios Overture, which perhaps I program too often on WBJC because I adore it so much. That musical picture of the arc of the sun from dawn, through the height of midday, to dusk is so gloriously evocative, and I found myself holding my breath as Lintu lead it. For one thing, it is an absolute rarity for it to be programmed on a symphony concert. The pièce de résistance on the program was Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5. I wanted it never to end. Lintu’s reading and conducting of it were heart-stopping, gritty, nuanced … actually, I don’t think any adjective can fully do it justice. What a privilege to hear this orchestra with this conductor creating such a sublime musical experience!
Tags:Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra