Felder plays Felder at Ars Viva’s opening concert

Thu Sep 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Hershey Felder as Beethoven. Hershey Felder as Chopin. Hershey Felder as Gershwin and Bernstein.

Chicago audiences have seen them all in the Canadian pianist’s popular explorations of musical portraiture at the Ravinia Festival in recent years. But Sunday and Monday in Skokie, the Ars Viva chamber orchestra will collaborate with Felder on something completely different—Hershey Felder as Hershey Felder.

Felder will be soloist in a piano concerto he wrote two decades ago titled Aliyah in concerts led by Ars Viva music director Alan Heatherington. Focusing on Jewish themes, the program also includes the U. S. premiere of Music of a People, a setting of well-known Jewish melodies by British jazz and film composer Stanley Black. The concerts open with excerpts from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo.

When Heatherington and Felder began discussing a program for Ars Viva last year, they had something different in mind. Inspired by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Felder started working on a piece titled City of Light. It was originally scheduled for these concerts, which will open Ars Viva’s new season.

“He got all excited about creating something brand new for a premiere with Ars Viva,” said Heatherington, recalling the conversation he and his wife, Gayle, had with Felder during a visit to Felder’s chateau south of Paris last Christmas. “As he began working on it, that piece got bigger and bigger and bigger until it turned into a typical Hershey Felder production. It outgrew the program, and there was no chance of it being completed in time.”

Heatherington and Felder were introduced by David Taylor, Ars Viva’s concertmaster and assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Felder was looking for an orchestra to record a demo CD of a piece he had written about Abraham Lincoln. Heatherington and Felder instantly warmed to each other, and Ars Viva made the recording. When plans for performing City of Light fell through, they turned to the short piano concerto that Felder, now 43, wrote in his mid-20s.

“In 1996,” Felder recalled, “I was one of the lead interviewers for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. My mandate was to interview survivors of Dr. Mengele’s twins’ experiments at Auschwitz. [Dr. Josef Mengele conducted brutal medical experiments in the Nazi concentration camp during World War II.] You talk about life-changing events. I thought to myself, ‘How do you tell this story in music’?”

The result is Aliyah, whose title means “rising up” in Hebrew and also refers to the pilgrimage to Israel made by Jews living outside the country. The piece, which uses Jewish musical themes, is in three movements. The first, “1939,” refers to the start of World War II; the second, “1945,” is a lament for the dead at the war’s end and the final movement, “1948,” refers to the founding of the state of Israel. Felder has conducted the concerto, but these are his first performances as its soloist.

Felder may be back in Chicago next year with City of Light, which runs more than an hour and requires a narrator, piano and orchestra. But he isn’t ready to divulge any details.

“It’s ready to go into rehearsal,” said Felder, “but the scheduling and the time have to be worked out.”

Hershey Felder performs Aliyah with Alan Heatherington and the Ars Viva Orchestra 3 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie. 847-673-6300.  arsviva.org

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One Response to “Felder plays Felder at Ars Viva’s opening concert”

  1. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm by Judith Lagona

    This sounds like a beautiful and unforgettable concert. I wish them all kinds of memorable moments, and that the audience will become involved in the music, as well.

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