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Listening in on a mosaic of musical styles

A variety of artists provide musical inspiration during the pandemic.

hedyoct image
of Michelle Lauro singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl for Porchlight's "Broadway by the Decade" program. (Photo courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre.)

As Stephen Sondheim so deftly reminded us in his masterful musical, Sunday in the Park with George , "art isn't easy." Yet rarely has it been as difficult and as dangerously thwarted as during this year of the pandemic. Nevertheless, artists and producers are not easily deterred. Consider just some of the ways they are even cautiously beginning to flirt with a certain degree of "live" performance in addition to the virtual. Music tends to fare best at the moment, and here are several examples:

Championing the blues

The pandemic certainly didn't give birth to the blues, but that great musical form seems custom-made for this moment in many ways. And that is what has driven Scott L'Wood Weil to develop an online showcase (and many related activities) aimed at compensating for the loss of live performance in Chicago's fabled blues clubs.

A passionate fan of the music, Wiel is a former student of the Chicago Blues Boot Camp (initially an "in-person" training project synchronized with the Chicago Blues Festival). Weil spent most of his life in the tech world; prior to retirement worked for a cyber security training organization. Now, as a labor of love, he serves as director of the Boot Camp, and has converted it from an "in person" model to a "virtual" model. He also has created the At Home Chicago Blues network that features live concerts performed by a vast range of Chicago blues masters and artfully filmed by HMS Media.

Weil, a Lincolnwood resident, also has incorporated the concept of tikkun olam --"repairing of the world"--into his project, raising funds and awareness among the blues community about issues of racial injustice. With every livestream concert comes the suggestion that a donation be made to "a virtual tip jar." Its proceeds benefit both the artists and The Firehouse Community Arts Center in North Lawndale. Weil met Firehouse's leader, pastor Phil Jackson, through his membership at Am Shalom Synagogue in Glencoe, where Jackson is often a guest.

The series, recorded at the Skokie Theatre (without an audience, and with everyone but the singers masked) can be seen in two different ways. The programs are initially available at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month on Facebook (for a $5 fee), and then aired for free the following Tuesday on YouTube at 1 p.m. (which is 8 p.m. in most European countries; Weil wants to engage the enthusiastic audience for the blues there).  For details, visit .  For the "virtual tip jar" go to: .


Gluzman aims to mix the live and virtual

Vadim Gluzman, the renowned Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist who, along with his wife, pianist Angela Yoffe, oversees the North Shore Chamber Music Festival, also is trying to find a balance between the live and the virtual in his programming. One upcoming example: "Charlie Chaplin's Smile," a multimedia concert featuring violinist Philippe Quint. The program, part of Gluzman's Onstage/Offstage series, will be performed for a carefully distanced live audience of 25 people on Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the recital hall of PianoForte Chicago, 1335 S. Michigan. (Tickets are $70.) It also can be streamed ($20). For details visit (Note: While the general opinion is that Chaplin was not Jewish, in 1940 he made The Great Dictator , one of the earliest and most brilliant film satires of Hitler.)

The music of Paul Dessau

Now to another artist who lived in the same era of extreme crisis as Chaplin--a time during which many artists perished, though some made it out just in time.

The legacy of Jewish composers who were either caught up in the Nazi onslaught--or, like Kurt Weill, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold, and others, were fortunate enough to make it to the United States and elsewhere--has been well documented in recent years. Among the less familiar names of those who landed on these shores is that of Paul Dessau (1894-1979), the prolific composer/conductor whose wide-ranging work included operas, ballets, symphonies, vocal music, film scores, and theatrical collaborations with fellow exile, playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Born into a musical family in Hamburg, Germany (his grandfather was a cantor in the city's synagogue), Dessau fled to France in 1933 and to the U.S. in 1939. Earlier this year the German-based MDG label released "Paul Dessau: Chamber Music," a recording featuring Ensemble Avantgarde performing a dozen pieces that range from the composer's early success, the "Concertino for Solo Violin, Flute, Clarinet and Horn" (1924), to his fittingly dissonant piano piece, "Guernica" (1938) -- inspired by Picasso's painting about the Nazis' infamous bombing of a Basque town in Spain -- to the exuberant "Jewish Dance" (1940).


Broadway scores courtesy of Porchlight

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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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