September: The season opener for the arts

A packed program for the fall

CSO September image
From left: CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen, Maestro Riccardo Muti, and Composer Philip Glass on stage at Orchestra Hall. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

When I turn the calendar page to September, I immediately start humming Kurt Weill's beautiful "September Song" and these lyrics: "Oh, it's a long while from May to December/ But the days grow short when you reach September." 

September days also grow exceptionally busy, with the post-vacation return to school or the office. But best of all, they mark the start of the action-packed fall arts season. Here is just a sampling of what you might want to note on your calendar: 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in world premiere of a Philip Glass piece 

Last year, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played its first performance of Philip Glass' "Symphony No. 11" (conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti), it generated a rousing response. Muti called the composer to the stage, the two men shared big hugs, and the intense applause of the audience went on and on. 

Glass--the son of Latvian and Russian-Jewish emigres who describes himself as "Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec and Buddhist"--is now 86. He noted that when he was a student at the University of Chicago, the city became his vital artistic home, and he attended many CSO concerts led by conductor Fritz Reiner.

In the wake of last year's immensely successful concert, the CSO commissioned Glass to write a new work, and its world premiere will be performed at Orchestra Hall on Sept. 28, 29, and 30. Titled "Triumph of the Octagon," the work is scored for woodwinds (flute, oboe, and clarinet), harp and strings, and is said to be rooted in Glass' lifelong fascination with mathematics and patterns, something that has continued to inform his music. And, according to the CSO, in this piece "he responds to the creative power of the eight-sided shape that is found in the design of the 13th century citadel Castel del Monte located in Muti's native Italy." 

Also on the program will be "Symphony No. 4" by Mendelssohn (a composer with a complex relationship to his Judaic family roots), and a work by Richard Strauss. 

For tickets visit cso.org or call 312-294-3000. 

Note: You can hear the CSO's performance of Glass' "Symphony No. 11" on the recently released CSO-ReSound recording Contemporary American Composers. Muti also leads the orchestra in "Three Lisel Mueller Songs" (by CSO violist Max Raimi, who also happens to be Jewish), and "Hymn for Everyone" by Jessie Montgomery, the CSO's gifted Mead Composer-in-Residence. 

'The Lehman Trilogy' tells history of fabled financial family 

The Lehman Trilogy, by Italian playwright Stephanie Massini (translated into English by Ben Power, and condensed from its original five hours to three) has been described as "the quintessential story of Western capitalism as rendered through the lens of a single immigrant family over 164 years." That family, the Lehmans, who came from Germany, also happened to be Jewish. 

Massini's Tony Award-winning play--in which three actors play dozens of roles--has been praised by many critics. You can judge for yourself as TimeLine Theatre presents its Chicago premiere at Broadway in Chicago's Broadway Playhouse. 

The play begins with the arrival in America of Henry Lehman, who established a dry goods store in Alabama while still a very young man. He was soon joined by his two brothers, and together they became known as the Lehman Brothers and thrived as successful cotton merchants. Over the years, and through several generations, Lehman Brothers (based in New York) became renowned as one of the largest and most powerful global financial services firms in the world. And then, in 2008, it made the stunning announcement that it had to declare bankruptcy. 

Professor Pamela S. Nadell of American University, whose current book project on the history of American antisemitism just received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholars Award, and who is a Past President of the Association for Jewish Studies, is serving as the play's Jewish studies consultant.

The Lehman Trilogy runs Sept. 27 - Oct. 29 (with previews Sept. 19 - 26) at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St. For tickets, visit timelinetheatre.com. 

 

Paintings evoking 'Rhythm and Resilience' 

Now on display at Oakton Community College's Koehnline Museum in suburban Des Plaines are the vivid oil paintings of Chicago-based artist Fern Valfer, whose Jewish family roots stretch back many generations to Barcelona, Spain. 

Her paintings, gathered under the title "Rhythm and Resilience," are notable for their strong sense of light, color, and motion, and are designed "to capture the resilience in both nature and the human spirit." Valfer also has been praised for the way "the sharp, piercing gestures of these paintings combine with sweeping lyrical movement" and suggest "dark turbulence that flies into reflective tranquility." 

Valfer credits the music of the great Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz--notably his beautiful piece "Asturia," which also serves as the title of one of her paintings--for inspiration. 

The artist's work is on display in the permanent collection at the Illinois State Museum, and is collected internationally. 

 The Oakton exhibit runs until Sept. 22. Visit oakton.edu. 

The Holocaust-era diary of Rywka Lipszyc

The Diary of Anne Frank has been published in 70 languages, has sold 30 million copies, and has been read by countless numbers of people around the world. But Frank was not the only teenage girl to keep a diary in the years before she was sent to a concentration camp and perished in that nightmare world. There also was a 14-year-old Polish girl named Rywka Lipszyc who documented her life in the Lodz ghetto between Oct. 1943 and April 1944, just before she was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau's concentration camp. 

Unlike Frank, there are no photos of Lipszyc. But in 1945 her diary was discovered by a Red Army doctor in the liberated camp, and it documents her life in the ghetto, the loss of her parents and siblings, and her remarkable ability to hold on to hope and faith. It took until 2014 before the diary came to the U.S., was translated into English, supplemented with commentary, and published. And now through Sept. 24, it is the focal point of an exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. 

For details, visit ilholocaust museum.org. 

A final note 

On Sept. 9, at Ravinia's Bennett Gordon Hall, the Black Oak Ensemble will perform "Silenced Voices" featuring string trios composed by six World War II-era Jewish composers. The works will be played on Violins of Hope, instruments that survived the Holocaust, while the musicians who owned them perished.

Visit Ravinia.org. 
 

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the  Chicago Sun-Times  from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for  WTTW-TV's website and contributes to the  Chicago Tonight  program. 

 


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