Though the theme of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival–birth and death–serves as the raison d’etre for this chamber concert by mostly Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, what makes it noteworthy is the inclusion of Duke Ellington in the program alongside Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and George Crumb, each an influential iconoclast of his generation of American classical composers. The connection to the theme, however, is really through Copland, who set 12 of Emily Dickinson’s poems to music, and more tenuously through Ives, whose monumental Concord piano sonata pays homage to Thoreau, Emerson, and other transcendentalists. Never mind that Dickinson’s texts and the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca used by Crumb for his ingenious 1970 fantasia Ancient Voices of Children brood over death more than birth, and never mind that instrumental compositions such as Ives’s sonata are notoriously resistant to extramusical interpretations. At the very least the concert promises intelligent readings of first-rate American chamber pieces grounded in the tonal systems of different eras. It helps too that conductor Cliff Colnot is so knowledgeable about contemporary music, jazz included. As the CSO’s informal new-music adviser, he’s overseen the premieres of numerous recent works, including those of Shulamit Ran and John Eaton, both colleagues of his at the U. of C. An expert arranger, Colnot also runs a prosperous business writing commercial jingles and TV and film scores. (He’s finishing up the music for Hoods, a movie starring Laurence Fishburne.) In fact, Colnot did the arrangement of Ellington’s Solitude, the melancholy hymn to life’s travails made famous by Billie Holiday, and also reorchestrated the selections from Copland’s Dickinson opus. Noted champion of American piano music Alan Feinberg will perform “The Alcotts,” a movement from the Ives sonata, as well as “The Celestial Railroad,” an early version of another movement from the same work. Other featured soloists include the well-regarded local soprano Julia Bentley and the enchanting jazz crooner Melodee Savage. Saturday, 4 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-435-6666.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Cliff Colnot.