CSO cellist to offer seven premieres based on hazardous cosmetics

Fri Nov 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Katinka Kleijn will perform “Oil-Free Blush” Sunday afternoon as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

The Chicago Humanities Festival has traditionally served up an array of varied and distinctive offerings across all artistic genres.

But this Sunday afternoon the festival promises to deliver one of the most offbeat musical events of the year when cellist Katinka Kleijn presents Oil-Free Blush at the Francis Parker School.

Reflecting this year’s festival theme of “The Body,” the concert comprises seven new works for solo cello based upon the carcinogenic properties of cosmetics.

Commissioned jointly by the Humanities Festival and Kleijn, the idea originated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist’s research into the healthy properties of various cosmetics.

“I’m interested in eating healthy, and at the time I had several friends, young and old, who were diagnosed with cancer,” says Kleijn. “And so I just became more aware of chemicals and environmental influences in health issues.”

At first Kleijn, a CSO member since 1995, found it hard to get reliable information until she found a website by the Environmental Working Group. The site contains a large database in which one can type in any cosmetic’s brand name to discover its potentially dangerous properties.

“There was this blush that I used for ten years that was rated 9 out of 10 as among the most hazardous,” said Kleijn. “And so my idea was to make the ingredients on this particular blush audible.

“Just like music, chemicals are kind of elusive and mysterious,” she adds.  “And so I thought it would be a cool subject for composers to write about while at the same time being an interesting way to bring awareness to this issue.”

Seven different composers (Phyllis Chen, Marcos Balter, Pablo Chin, Megan Grace Beugger, Nomi Epstein, Sebastian Huydts and Du Yun) have contributed. Each was asked to write a 3- to 5-minute work based on an individual property in this specific cosmetic, Oil-Free Blush. Several styles are represented: tonal atonal, theatrical, live and electronics.

In addition to playing standard acoustic cello, Kleijn will also perform on electric cello. In Fragrance by Beugger, Kleijn is required to play her bow itself as a musical instrument.

“She wanted to deconstruct the conventional image of beauty and create a new one,” says the cellist of Beugger’s piece. “And so she has the bow mounted on a stand with a contact mike. The bow is static and I’m actually bowing the cello on the bow. It’s visual and theatrical and very interesting sound-wise.”

Kleijn credits her membership in Chicago’s International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as a major influence for this project.

“I’ve always been interested in contemporary music but ICE has really opened up new avenues for me as a musician and as an artist,” she says. “It’s an amazing, inspiring group.”

Katinka Kleijn performs Oil-Free Blush at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. There will be a pre-performance conversation with Kleijn and several of the composers, moderated by Andrew Patner.


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