Chicago Chamber Musicians | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chicago Chamber Musicians

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The Chicago Chamber Musicians initially favored music by dead Europeans, but the Millennium Project--an impressive three-year exploration of 20th-century classics and new commissions undertaken in the late 90s--transformed them into avid champions of modernism. They've continued in that spirit with Composers Perspective, a set of three concerts this spring, each paying tribute to a living composer. Past recipients of the ensemble's attention have included establishment figures such as Pierre Boulez, John Corigliano, and Ellen Zwilich; this year the similarly pedigreed honorees are Gunther Schuller (this week), William Bolcom (May 30), and Bright Sheng (June 8). At 78, Schuller is an elder statesman of American music, being among the first inductees into the Classical Music Hall of Fame. A horn player and self-taught composer, he's best known for pioneering the fusion of classical and jazz idioms, a novel idea in the mid-1900s that now seems almost quaint. A jazz devotee, he collaborated with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet and authored the weighty Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-45. During his decade-long tenure as the head of the New England Conservatory of Music in the 70s, he encouraged performances of bygone American masters such as Charles Ives and Scott Joplin. Many of his works are heavily influenced by Stravinsky; the program of CCM's love fest features one of Schuller's more classically cast pieces, String Quartet no. 3 (1986), which contains allusions to Beethoven and Schubert, and the Woodwind Quintet (1958), an exemplar of third-stream fusion. The performers--the Chicago String Quartet in the former, and flutist Mary Stolper, oboist Michael Henoch, clarinetist Larry Combs, bassoonist Robert Barris, and hornist Gail Williams in the latter--are all top-notch. The other works are by composers who have also mined the third-stream vein: "Lament for Manos" by Theodore Antoniou, Quintet for Clarinet and Strings by Robert DiDomenica, and "Bluefire Crown III" by Les Thimmig, a saxist who teaches at the University of Wisconsin. Schuller will participate in a preconcert discussion at 6:30 PM. Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-397-4010 or 312-225-5226.

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