Chicago a Cappella–thanks to fine singing, an eclectic repertoire, and marketing savvy–has survived its first decade, and to celebrate, the nine-member group is kicking off the new season by reprising some of its greatest hits and premiering two new commissions. One of them is The Fall by bass Jonathan Miller, the ensemble’s artistic director; it’s a setting of a whimsical, sarcastic poem by Russell Edson. The other is The West Lake by Chen Yi. That Chen, one of the busiest composers around, agreed to write a piece for Chicago a Cappella is an indication of the group’s rising stature. Like many educated Chinese who came of age in the 60s and 70s, Chen, who’d played piano and violin since she was three, was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, but the vernacular works she learned there came in handy once she started to compose. She later enrolled in the Beijing Conservatory and in 1986 became the first woman in China to be awarded a master’s in composition. That same year she moved to New York City, where she got a PhD from Columbia University. Like her contemporaries Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, Chen has specialized in blending classical European and Chinese idioms. Her music tends to be vivid and assertive, punctuated with startling sounds from the Peking Opera. The West Lake, a setting of a poem by an 11th-century writer, uses Chinese recitation style and layers of voices to evoke brimming waves. Chicago a Cappella will sing it in Mandarin, a new language in the list of a dozen or so it’s learned over the years. The rest of the program is a mix of everything from part of a French Renaissance work to Nordic hymns to American spirituals. Saturday, September 13, 8 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park, and Sunday, September 14, 7:30 PM, Lutkin Hall, Northwestern University, 700 University, Evanston; 800-764-4969 or 773-755-1628.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lisa Ebright.