Collaborative Works Festival a glorious blend of old, new

SHARE Collaborative Works Festival a glorious blend of old, new

The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago’sthird annual Collaborative Works Festival kicked off Thursday night. with Joshua Hopkins, baritone (from left); Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Susanna Phillips, soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor. | Elliot Mandel

BY ANDREW PATNER | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Of all the local musical visions thus far in the twentieth century, the one that tenor Nicholas Phan and his friends have had to make Chicago a center for resurgence of the song recital and other vocal chamber music certainly seemed an unlikely candidate to get past the category of a pipe dream.

That a new audience for what is short-sightedly seen as an antiquated art form would have to be built up was no small challenge. That young singers would need persuasion that while operatic aspirations are well and good they also need to give intimate performances of intricate solo works as a part of the whole life of an artist would require some serious evangelizing. That Phan and most of the other singers involved don’t live in Chicago or even the Midwest wouldn’t have seemed to make any realization easier.

Yet here they were Thursday night before a full house in the Poetry Foundation’s acoustically brilliant jewel-box auditorium at Superior and Dearborn launching the third annual Collaborative Works Festival of their Collaborative Art Institute of Chicago. And doing so with beauty and accomplishment.

After last year’s Benjamin Britten centenary theme, this year’s festival rolls the clock back to the Schumann Circle of mid-nineteenth century Germany: the piano prodigy Clara Wieck, her suitor then husband Robert Schumann and their discovery then colleague Johannes Brahms.

The singers recruited, among the leading lights of the younger generation of serious opera, oratorio and recital stars, included soprano Susanna Phillips, an alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center, a regular presence on the world’s stages; mezzo Kelley O’Connor, a go-to artist for such contemporary composers as John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov; Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins, who has made a big mark in New York and will have his Lyric debut this coming season in Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s much-awaited “The Passenger.” The gifted Myra Huang, returned as piano partner.

Each singer excels and is committed to the demands and rewards of poetry, word-setting, language connection and immediate communication. And to have a full quartet meant that both a range of works and real rarities could be presented in the intermissionless 90-minute program. Phan wove together the themes and chronology with cheerily delivered, informative remarks from the stage.

The development of Clara and Robert’s relationship in the 1830s was demonstrated in Schumann’s “Tragoedie,” Op. 64 No. 3, a cycle of Heine lyrics, leading into the happier time of the composer’s extraordinary “Year of Song” in 1840 with five selections from the more widely known “Myrthen” (Bridal Myrtles), Op. 25, including “Widmung” (Dedication) and “Du bist wie eine Blume” (You Are Like a Flower).

Performances were winning and attention was held, singers rotating through the selections and joining in duets as called for. But things really took off when Clara’s three contributions to the “Liebesfruehling” (“Love’s Springtime”) were included with three of her husband’s. Performers hunger for the new as much as they do at a chance to make a mark on established works.

And then the revelation, I’ve never before seen a live performance of Schumann’s later “Minnespiel” (Play of Love), Op. 101 from 1849, when his manic-depressive mental issues were already taking a stronger hold. Eight songs set from carefully chosen poems of Friedrich Rueckert (the author whose work inspired most of the selections on the full program), Schumann engages in an elaborate yet seductive braiding of changes in cast — solos, duets, quartets — mood, and harmonies with the piano as an equal presence in preludes, postludes and constant dialogue. O’Connor is a young old hand at this sort of material but Phillips came fully into her chamber-scale own here, too. Both Phan and Hopkins — the baritone, alas, gets no duets in this sequence — showed how to blend into and even embrace their colleagues’ voices. The effect of the near-half-hour work was both uplifting and haunting.

Mezzo Michelle DeYoung presides over an open master class with all of the singers and selected students Saturday at 7 at Pianoforte in the South Loop. Thursday’s opening five artists will be joined by a second pianist, Collaborative co-founder Nicholas Hutchinson, for duets, quartets and four-hand accompaniment in Schumann and Brahms, including another real rarity, Schumann’s second group of Spanish Love Songs, Op. 138 as well as the popular but too infrequently given by top singers Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52, at 2 p.m. Sunday at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center.

Mezzo Michelle DeYoung with pianist Kevin Murphy is this year’s big name solo concert presenter, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Harold Washington Library Center, with Brahms and Schumsnn plus Falla, Elgar and Joseph Marx. And DeYoung presides over an open master class with all of the singers and selected students Saturday at 7 at Pianoforte in the South Loop. Thursday’s opening five artists are joined by a second pianist, Collaborative co-founder Nicholas Hutchinson, for duets, quartets and four-hand accompaniment in Schumann and Brahms, including another real rarity, Schumann’s second group of Spanish Love Songs, Op. 138 as well as the popular but too infrequently given by top singers Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52, at 2 p.m. Sunday at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center.

Collaborative Works Festival

When: Through Sunday

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State; Pianoforte, 1335 S. Michigan; and Logan Center, 915 E. 60th

Info: Visit caichicago.orgThird annual Collaborative Works Festival opening

The Latest
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
With additions of USC and UCLA in 2024, conference will go from coast to coast — all in the name of money.
Minnesota scored four times in the 10th inning to drop the Sox 5 1/2 games back in the AL Central.
Reliever David Robertson walked in the tying run in the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 5-2 extra-innings loss to the Brewers on Monday.