As Chicago a cappella approaches its 20th birthday, we're looking back at our favorite moments on and off the stage. Join us as we reflect on 20 successful years! Stay tuned for more from our singers and friends throughout the season.
Founder and Artistic Director Jonathan Miller
What has been your favorite Chicago a cappella concert to sing in (or music direct) and why?
As a singer, my favorites shows were Chicago, Chicago (just so danged much fun), The Intimate A Cappella (beautlful music, sung right after 9/11 in a way that affirmed life poignantly for me) and The Nordic Wolf (an amazing collaboration with exquisite repertoire).
As a composer, I love having my new works come to life, and the piece I’m the most proud of the ensemble for performing is my Old Testament Spirituals that we did on the Wade in the Water show in early 2012.
As music director, Genius in the Synagogue. It was wonderful to dig deeply into Max Janowski’s musical life and to paint a portrait of him with his own creations.
While I took none of these roles for Days of Awe and Rejoicing, but rather worked more behind the scenes in programming and Hebrew coaching, that show will endure as one of the best things I’ve done in my whole creative life. It was really special.
What was your favorite piece to sing with Chicago a cappella?
My top five list:
• Hoss Brock’s arrangement of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
• Bob Chilcott’s cycle about food, Fragments from his dish.
• My own “Where the Bee Sucks—Funk Version.”
• The Credo from Forestier’s Missa “L’homme armé.”
• “Prayers of Steel” by Jerry Troxell.
Tell us a favorite memory involving Chicago a cappella.
Being part of the Navidad en México performance at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village. It was a transcendent experience. Jorge Córdoba and the singers connected with that audience in a profound way, and I will never forget it.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2013-14 season?
Bringing old repertoire back with the current roster for our Best of CAC program this fall, which I’m directing. We are sounding so good these days – better than ever. To bring that sound to repertoire drawn from our whole history will be a delight for me.
From Executive Director and bass Matt Greenberg
What has been your favorite Chicago a cappella concert to sing in and why?
All About the Women was probably my favorite, because of the dramatic aspect of the show. The wonderful actress Barbara Robertson brought such humor and humanity to the performance, and the program that Betsy created was both fun and substantive. Also, it was just really fun music to sing!
Tell us a favorite memory involving Chicago a cappella.
I remember riding in the car with Jonathan Miller after a singing gig, which is how we had met, when he described this group he was hoping to create. This was probably 1992. He was envisioning a small ensemble of fine singers who could convincingly perform any style of music, from Renaissance to pop. His dream was to create a group that reveled in a wide variety of genres, created intimate performances, and had the highest possible musical standards. When he asked me, "Is that something you might be interested in?," I didn't miss a beat: "That pretty much describes exactly what I'd like to do!"
Get to know Paul Crabtree, the innovative composer whose music we've sung for over 10 years. We'll premiere his new commission at The Best of Chicago a cappella: A 20th Anniversary Celebration. He also joins us for free post-concert conversations after the Oct. 12 and 13 performances.
1. Why did you choose the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins for Chicago a cappella's new commission?
Chicago a cappella's 20 years of success means that they are doing something right, and so I was drawn to Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetic rendering of 'rightness'. He was weeks away from ordination when he saw a bird resting on the wind and then racing off with great assurance and beauty. This symbolized to him that the step he was about to take into the Jesuit order would transform him from The Crow, as he called his candidate-self, into a rapturous and celebratory bird, buoyed by the Spirit of rightness. The Windhover is his ecstatic response to this epiphany.
2. Describe your compositional process for The Windhover.
Since hearing the poem read or sung flattens out much of the ambiguity that is meant for the eye and inner ear of the reader, it's hard to set it in a way that adds rather than subtracts. So I set the text narratively, using a church equivalent of the message that the poet is initially struggling with; Es flog ein kleins Valdvoegelein is a German folksong that was turned into a hymn (reaching America as O Day of Rest and Gladness.) Beginning with exiting a church service and sighting the bird, the piece works to transform the folksong into a hymn, just as the bird-epiphany works to transform the poet into a priest.
3. What is your favorite piece that you've composed that Chicago a cappella has performed and why?
The Valley of Delight was an unwitting requiem for my brother, who died suddenly of brain cancer last year. The last movement is about deterioration; the repeating harmony slowly starts to break down and the imagery is about the onset of night. It's very simple, and 'less is more.'
4. If I weren't a composer, I would be…
A baker (which I have been) or a priest (which I have never been). Yeast symbolizes sin, bad behavior, evil in the New Testament, and yet yeast also produces the two central symbols of Christian redemption, the wine and the bread.
5. What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Joni Mitchell's 1976 Album Hejira, nine songs about her road trip from Maine to Los Angeles. I have listened to them about a thousand times, mining them for material for a set of liturgical choral pieces about loneliness. Wilderness time interests me right now; it often feels so arid, and yet it often leads to peak experiences. I am also stuck on some outdoor dance music from 1551 by Susato that makes me boisterously happy.
6. If I could change one thing about classical music, what would it be?
Only one? I would make today's new music more willing to engage with difficult subject matter. Contemporary art is fearless, and the modern art museums are full of people, but most contemporary music risks very little, and in the end says very little. Not that The Windhover is in any way a shocker; its message is that daily life can be full of divine fire.
In 1956 during the Civil Rights Movement, the late Christopher Moore founded the multiracial, multicultural Chicago Children’s Choir at Hyde Park’s First Unitarian Church. He believed that youth from diverse backgrounds could better understand each other—and themselves—by learning to make beautiful music together. Today’s Choir is fully independent and serves all of Chicago from its home in the Chicago Cultural Center. Christopher Moore’s vision of a choir combining high artistic standards with a social purpose continues to define the Choir’s mission.
The Choir currently serves nearly 3,500 children, ages 8-18 through choirs in 60 Chicago Schools, after-school programs in eight Chicago neighborhoods and the internationally acclaimed Concert Choir. Under President and Artistic Director Josephine Lee, the Choir has undertaken many highly successful national and international tours, received a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award for the 2008 documentary Songs on the Road to Freedom, and has been featured in nationally broadcast television and radio performances, most recently on The Oprah Show, NBC’s Today and the PBS series From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall.
The Choir’s dedication to musical excellence and incredible breadth of repertoire has resulted in life-changing opportunities for its singers, including collaborations with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Ravinia Festival, The Joffrey Ballet, River North Chicago Dance Company, and the Grant Park Music Festival. The choir has performed with or for the Dalai Lama, former President and Secretary of State Clinton, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Chinese President Hu Jintau, Luciano Pavarotti, Beyonce Knowles, Quincy Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin, Celine Dion, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
A Concert for Peace and Reconciliation commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, featuring both Jewish and Polish Music, will take place on Saturday, April 6, 8:00 PM, at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation at 1100 East Hyde Park Boulevard on the south side of Chicago. Admission to the concert is free. A free reception follows the performance. The concert is produced by the Lira Ensemble which specializes in Polish music, song and dance, and features members of Chicago a cappella.
Two works will be performed. The first piece is by Max Janowski, one of the major composers of Jewish liturgical music of the 20th century, who was based at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation for decades. This program continues the celebration of Janowski’s centenary. The Janowski piece for mixed chorus is sung in Hebrew. The second piece is the Holocaust Memorial Cantata commissioned by the Lira Ensemble from Polish composer Marta Ptaszynska, head of music composition of the University of Chicago. This is a cantata sung in English, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish. The text is a poem by Leslie Woolf Hedley’s “Chant for All the People on Earth” which begins “Not to forget, not to ever forget so long as you live ...”
The Holocaust Memorial Cantata will be conducted by Lira’s resident conductor, Mina Zikri, who was born in Cairo and often serves as guest conductor of the Cairo Symphony in Egypt. The Janowski work will be conducted by Jonathan Miller, founder and artistic director of Chicago a cappella. He will also serve as soloist in the Ptaszynska work. The concert will be narrated by Lucyna Migala, co-founder and artistic director of Lira.
This April, the symphonic version of the Cantata will be part of the official commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, Poland in a performance funded by the Ministry of Culture of Poland and Israel. It is most appropriate that the original chamber version be performed in Chicago, also in April of 2013.
For more information, visit the Lira Ensemble website, or contact them at 773-508-7040.
Jonathan Miller, Founder and Artistic Director of Chicago a cappella, will receive the 2013 Rabbi Hayim Goren Perelmuter Memorial Award from K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation on Friday, April 19, 2013, at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd., at 7:30 P.M. The special Shabbat service, The Art of Prayer, Poetry, and Music, will highlight the world premiere performance of a new composition by Jonathan Miller, Out of the Land of Heaven, set to a poem by Leonard Cohen, for four singers and composer as baritone solo.
Jonathan Miller is being recognized for his leading role in Chicago area Jewish music: he is principal guest conductor of Kol Zimrah, the Jewish Community Chorus of Metro Chicago; for many years on the guest faculty at the North American Jewish Choral Festival; and currently the High Holidays Cantor at Congregation Rodfei Zedek. He has composed more than fifty choral works in a variety of genres and languages, and his international accolades include the 2008 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal from Chorus America. Miller's compositions have been performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and heard on BBC Radio. In 2012, MacArthur International Connections Fund grant was awarded to support Chicago a cappella’s cultural exchange with Mexico. Mr. Miller holds a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Out of respect and love for his former mentor and teacher, the late Max Janowski, Jonathan Miller directed Genius in the Synagogue at KAMII in October 2012. Miller hold as a great honor his role as publisher of Max Janowski's Catalogue.
K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation created the Rabbi Hayim Goren Perelmuter Award to honor the memory of their beloved teacher, friend, and spiritual leader with an award in his name presented to an individual or organization that exemplifies the values he transmitted and represented in his devotion to the Jewish faith. Previous Perelmuter Award recipients: Robert “Bud” Lifton; Catholic Theological Union; Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer; Professor Michael Walzer, Ph.D.; Daniel C. Matt, Ph.D.; Samuel D. Golden and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; and Joel M. Hoffman, Ph.D.
It may be of interest that Rabbi Perelmuter, Leonard Cohen, and A.M. Klein, another poet to be featured in the Shabbat Service April 19, are all Canadian Jews.
There is no charge for attending the special Shabbat service, The Art of Prayer, Poetry, and Music, and the festive Oneg Shabbat (reception) that follows. For more information call (773) 924-1234 or visit www.kamii.org.
In the wake of recent tragedies such as Sandy Hook, and at a time when the need for positive action is so great, Chicago a cappella will use its upcoming concert performances of Spirit/Breath/Voice as a way to inspire community service to mental health and social service organizations. At each performance, Chicago a cappella will welcome an organization from the community to share the concert and use it as a platform for audiences to learn about the organization and its volunteer opportunities.Partner organizations will offer inspiration to audiences beyond the music, offering opportunities for community service and allowing audiences to reflect on what is truly important in their lives.
We invite you to learn more about each organization:
Chicago: National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago, providing information and referrals, education, support, and advocacy to those whose lives are affected by serious mental illness
Oak Park: Thresholds, Illinois’ largest and oldest provider of mental health services for those with a severe mental illness
Evanston: Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, an innovative and award-winning outpatient mental health center providing care and relief to residents throughout metropolitan Chicago
Naperville: 360 Youth Services, providing life-changing services to youth through prevention education, counseling and shelter.
We are excited that composer Gwyneth Walker will be coming to Chicago to hear us sing the Midwest premiere of her work Songs of Ecstasy. The three-movement cycle is a setting of texts by the Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton. Ms. Walker will join us for two performances of our concert Spirit/Breath/Voice on Feburary 15 (in Evanston) and 17 (in Naperville). Following each concert, she will join us for a question-and-answer session. We have performed a number of Gwyneth's pieces in the past, including a pair of works on our Red Carpet of Sound concert, and several performances and a recording of her wonderful "Christ-child's Lullaby." We are thrilled to give this early performance of one of her newest choral works
We are thrilled to be the recipient of a grant from the International Connections Fund of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation! This grant will support a cultural exchange project, bringing conductor/composer Jorge Córdoba Valencia to Chicago and sending our artistic director Jonathan Miller to Mexico. The first part of the exchange has already been a great success, with Mr. Córdoba preparing the ensemble for performances of "Navidad en México" in December 2012. He is returning to Chicago in early January 2013, and during that trip he will meet with choral composers and conductors from the Chicago area and attend an additional performance of "Navidad en México" in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Then, in 2013-14, Jonathan will travel to Mexico, meeting composers and conductors, researching repertoire, and sharing his own programming and choral music expertise. The overriding goal is to more fully connect Chicago a cappella with Mexican choral music so that it becomes a recurring part of our ensemble's musical repertoire. The work already supported by this grant has been very exciting, and we are looking forward to continuing this work in the years ahead. Thank you to the MacArthur Foundation for this wonderful opportunity.
Chicago a cappella will make a live "Impromptu" appearance on 98.7 WFMT on Thursday, October 11, at 3:00 pm (CDT). The ensemble will sing excerpts from Genius in the Synagogue: A Musical Portrait of Max Janowski as a preview of the concert performances October 13-21.
Be sure to tune in to 98.7 WFMT, Chicago's Classical Radio Station. You can listen online via WFMT's free streaming!
This fall Chicago cappella will present a concert in celebration of Max Janowski’s centenary year, Genius in the Synagogue. Janowski had a major influence here in Chicago, and his works continue to resonate in Jewish musical life all over the world. He is remembered for his great achievements and holds a dear place in many hearts. We invite you to share your personal memories, stories, thoughts and feelings about Max Janowski and his music. Your contributions will commemorate this important occasion and we will share some of your thoughts with our concert audiences.