Colnot, Civic Orchestra take a musical flight to Rio

Tue Nov 03, 2009 at 12:02 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

The Civic Orchestra of Chicago, founded in 1919 as a training ensemble to feed the ranks of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, didn’t survive to celebrate its 90th birthday by sticking to traditional ways of doing things.

Yes, the Civic’s season is rich with the kind of challenging repertoire led by distinguished guest conductors that has made its free concerts among the hottest tickets in town. But in recent years, the orchestra has expanded its horizons far beyond Symphony Center. Small ensembles from the Civic have traveled to neighborhoods all over Chicago, giving free concerts in park district field houses and other community centers. The idea is to take classical music out into the city and give Civic musicians the experience of playing in many kinds of venues for many kinds of audiences.

A concert of chamber music by Latino composers Sunday at the Peoples Music School didn’t exactly take the Civic players into unknown territory. The CSO and Peoples Music School have collaborated frequently in the past. But the performance was part of a citywide Latino Music Festival, a series of 20 concerts that began in September and runs through Dec. 15. The Civic’s involvement is one more sign that the CSO is serious about its oft-stated desire to engage more closely with Chicagoans beyond Symphony Center.

With the Civic’s principal conductor Cliff Colnot leading the opening and closing works by Villa-Lobos, the concert offered a lively musical mix. There were three pieces by the Brazilian-born Villa-Lobos: Choros No. 7 for flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, violin, cello and offstage gong from 1924; the Trio for violin, viola and cello from 1945, and the Sexteto mistico for flute, oboe, alto saxophone, guitar, celesta and harp, which had its premiere in 1962.

Complementing Villa-Lobos’ earthy textures and syncopated drive were two pieces by Chicago’s based composers: the world premiere of         Elbio Barilari’s Fantasia brasileiro, and Mobiles II by Gustavo Leone, written for clarinet, oboe, bassoon and alto saxophone and based on an earlier wind quartet.

Barilari’s Fantasia was full of charm, its mood both sultry and high-spirited. Pianist Sebastian Huydts set the tone with seamless runs up and down the scale, his phrases suave but faintly unsettled. As the other instruments joined in, their rich tone and expertly blended syncopations brought to mind the easy glamour of Fred and Ginger dancing down in Rio.

Dance rhythms were more emphatic in Leone’s Mobiles II. A compact, piece written in four continuous movements, it allowed its players to fly away into bright solo flights without losing a sense of tightly woven unison.
Colnot drew a fine balance between dark restlessness and optimistic energy from the players in Villa-Lobos’ Choros, which opened the concert, and the final work, Villa-Lobos’ Sexteto mistico.

The concert will be repeated Nov. 15 at Symphony Center’s Buntrock Hall.; 312-294-3000.

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