Critic’s Choice

Thu Apr 06, 2017 at 3:54 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Frederic Rzewski
Frederic Rzewski

What is the greatest set of variations ever written by an American composer? Time’s up.

In fairness, even many informed audience members–and a lot of musicians–have never heard of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! But Friday night at Mandel Hall, you will have a rare opportunity to encounter this extraordinary piano work performed by Ran Dank.

Taking its title and main theme from an anthem written for an anti-Allende, Chilean political party, Rzewski’s score opens by quoting the labor ode (“with determination”) before spinning off into 36 wide-ranging variations that span 50 minutes and are often as complex and audacious (including whistling) as they are musically ingenious. Click here for the first section of The People United performed by the composer.

Dank will tee up the event with a first half devoted to music of Chopin. Concert time is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mandel Hall.; 773-702-8068.


Less envelope-pushing but almost equally neglected is the Violin Concerto of Edgar Meyer. The American composer and double-bassist is still best known for his homespun Appalachian collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma. Yet Meyer’s 1999 concerto–written for and recorded by Hilary Hahn–is the real thing, a contemporary concerto that deftly mixes virtuosity and melody in a distinctively American idiom.

Soloist Tessa Lark will perform the belated statewide premiere of Meyer’s Violin Concerto Saturday night with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sean Newhouse. The orchestra’s final season concert will also include “Buckaroo Holiday” from Copland’s Rodeo and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9.

Performance time is 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln-Way Central Performing Arts Center in southwest suburban New Lenox.

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