The Review from the Benefit Concert: Muti, CSO musicians offer 'bread for the soul' in benefit at reborn Studebaker.
by John von Rhein, June 14, 2016.
Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra set up temporary shop at one of downtown Chicago's most venerable theaters on Monday night to raise money for one of the city's most deserving charities.
The group, which incorporated last year as the Chicago Symphony Musicians, gave its first performance as a self-producing nonprofit organization at the Studebaker Theater, a recently refurbished small concert hall in the historic Fine Arts Building on south Michigan Avenue, as a benefit concert for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Everyone, including CSO music director Riccardo Muti, who conducted, was donating their services.
It was, as Muti observed in his postconcert remarks to the appreciative audience, an occasion "to make bread for the soul." Perhaps alluding to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history over the weekend, he spoke of the essential role played by musicians such as Chicago's as a counterforce for peace and benevolence in a world where terrorist violence has become commonplace.
"When I conduct concerts like this," he said, "I feel that studying music is a great privilege, because you have the sense of bringing people something of great beauty — with a capital B."
The Studebaker itself is a forgotten gem reborn. Built in 1886, the theater once served as a major downtown recital venue, but other halls stole its business, leaving it in disuse and serious disrepair. The renovation is ongoing but what's there is attractive. Freshly painted, with comfortable seating and a new air conditioning system, the "new" Studebaker is pitching itself as a rental facility for local performing arts groups.
Even with tickets priced up to $250, 653 of the hall's 720 seats were sold, according to bassist Stephen Lester, chairman of the CSO members committee. This represents a gratifying vote of confidence in the organization's mission to assist other nonprofits in ways the orchestra's corporate parent, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, is unable to do. Muti expressed his willingness to be a part of further player-driven benefit events helping those in need in the community.
The program was designed for broad popular appeal, drawn largely from repertory the CSO had performed earlier this season that could be quickly freshened. It held Rossini's "William Tell" Overture, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (with CSO principal clarinet Stephen Williamson as soloist) and Beethoven's ubiquitous Symphony No. 5.
Nobody knew beforehand what the acoustics would be like, since there was no opportunity for the musicians to test-drive the sound before their single rehearsal prior to the concert.
While dry, the sound proved to be clear and perfectly adequate for the purposes of the event. Without a shell to push the sound into the house, the brasses — situated at the rear of the deep stage — sounded remote against the rest of the ensemble, even if the strings and woodwinds had both presence and tonal quality. If the musicians decide to return to the Studebaker, someone needs to invest in an acoustical enclosure.
Some of the playing was less polished than one would hear on a good night at Orchestra Hall, but the unfamiliar acoustics no doubt had a lot to do with that.
Muti infused the Rossini overture with idiomatic warmth, and there was fine solo playing from principal players John Sharp, cello; Scott Hostetler, English horn; and Stefan Hoskuldsson, flute.
The Mozart worked better in this intimate environment. Williamson had played the Clarinet Concerto at CSO subscription concerts in February that were to have been directed by Muti but fell instead to Gennady Rozhdestvensky after the music director canceled his winter engagement to recover from surgery.
Monday's performance of the Clarinet Concerto felt more relaxed and genial. The soloist's burnished sound, his ability to articulate rapid passages with great dexterity and dynamic shading, bespoke musicianship of a high order. The finale brought a playful spontaneity that had been lacking in the earlier performance. The accompaniment Muti drew from the orchestra could hardly have been more sensitive.
The maestro's Beethoven Fifth stuck closely to the interpretive model of the performances of this iconic masterpiece he led to kick off the current CSO subscription season. Refined in multiple performances he and the orchestra gave in Asia in January, his interpretation was taut, lean and driving when it needed to be, glowing for the more lyric pages
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The programs for the benefit concert await the patrons who have come to support the Chicago Symphony Musicians' efforts on behalf of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
The patrons for the benefit concert, including the notorious "pig man", arrive for the beginning of the concert.
Retired Chicago Symphony Orchestra stagehand Pat Reynolds was one of the hundreds of people who donated their services for this wonderful event.
Principal violist Charles Pikler in a lighthearted conversation with violinist Simon Michal before the benefit concert. In the background, Scott Hostetler exams his English Horn.
Maestro Riccardo Muti stands with Kate Maehr, Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Stephen Lester, Chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Members Committee.
Stephen Lester of the Chicago Symphony Musicians and Kate Maehr, Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, welcome the audience to the benefit concert.
The Chicago Symphony Musicians cello and viola sections in deep concentration during the William Tell Overture.
Principal Clarinetist Stephen Williamson performs the Mozart Clarinet Concerto during the benefit concert.
A very happy Stephen Williamson and Riccardo Muti share their congratulations after the rousing performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.
Violist Catherine Brubaker relaxes during the intermission of the concert.
Concertmaster Robert Chen tunes the Orchestra before the performance of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony.
The horn section during the Beethoven Fifth Symphony.
Riccardo Muti shows the concentration and intensity of his entire being that he is so famous for during the benefit concert.
The violin sections hard at work during the benefit concert.
The audience erupts in cheers at the end of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony.
Following the performance several of the musicians, members of the Food Depository and guests join Maestro Muti for a toast to a wonderful evening.
by John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune. June 7, 2016.
Gary Stucka, from left, cello, Michael Henoch, oboe, James Smelser, french horn, Steve Lester, bass, Susan Synnestvedt, violin and Scott Hostetler, oboe, will be among the Chicago Symphony Musicians playing a benefit for the Greater Chicago Food Depository at the Studebaker Theater on June 13. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
In recent years, and without much fanfare, U.S. symphony orchestra musicians have taken steps to expand their role as agents of social and cultural service in their communities, in ways that push beyond their normal contractual obligations to the institutions for which they work.
This typically has meant making music as members of independent not-for-profit organizations that take on outreach and/or fundraising initiatives that normally would fall outside the purview of their parent institutions.
• Last June, the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra gave a benefit concert to raise money for Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates, a local nonprofit group of volunteers who advocate in court for children in foster care.
• In 2014, San Francisco Symphony musicians performed a concert to raise funds for the SF-Marin Food Bank, one of the Bay Area's most prominent charities.
• Players from the Minnesota Orchestra gave several self-produced concerts during the corrosive, 15-month lockout that ended with a new contact settlement in January 2014.
Now, the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are taking their music beyond Orchestra Hall to raise money on behalf of one of the city's most important social service organizations.
For their inaugural concert as the Chicago Symphony Musicians, the players will present a special concert to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository, June 13 at the historic Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building on south Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.
CSO music director Riccardo Muti will conduct Beethoven's iconic Fifth Symphony, and CSO principal clarinet Stephen Williamson will be the soloist in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Everyone, including Muti, the musicians and the stage technicians, will be donating his and her services.
Tickets for the event are $100-$250 and are being sold at the venue's website, www.studebakertheater.com All proceeds will go to the food depository, a nonprofit, founded in 1979, that provides food for more than 800,000 individuals across Cook County and works to end hunger through a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and programs for children and adults. Last year, the organization distributed 68 million pounds of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, dairy products and meat, amounting to 155,000 meals per day, according to its website.
As board president of the Chicago Symphony Musicians (founded last summer) and one of the main organizers of the event, Michael Henoch, the CSO's assistant principal oboe, praised the "fabulous work" of the food depository as ample reason for the Chicago Symphony Musicians' broaching the idea of a benefit concert with depository officials. "They were initially very surprised but very grateful," he said.
The project is perfectly in keeping with similar concerts and outreach events Muti — a tireless advocate for music's humanitarian and spiritual role in bettering society and the lives of its citizens — has led in Chicago and key areas around the world.
"The maestro has been enthusiastically on board with this from the start," Henoch said. "When we announced the event at a press conference at the food depository in April, he toured the facility and was very impressed with what they are doing to help people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. He spoke of the importance of artists feeding the bodies as well as souls of people, and how we musicians can use our talents and the power of music to achieve further goals in the community."
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