Chicago, Ann Arbor & Interlochen
As soon as you drive out of Michigan the toll booths become especially common. With all the bills and coins being exchanged they must just sweep up the buckets of loose change that is surrendered during these cold winter months. Chicago would live up to it’s reputation as the “Windy City”, though maybe something like “The Chill Factor Arctic Blast City” might be more appropriate. Regardless, what a great place! It doesn’t take long to get used to the drivers in Chicago. I quickly realized to be alert, use my turn signal to squeeze into other lanes and turn a deaf ear to all the honking. In Chicago, honking means “Go!’ but also “Go faster!”. Speed limits on Lake Shore Drive are just a suggestion. Several cab companies with clean, smaller sized automobiles compete for fares. They know where they’re going, so someone with Utah plates is an easy target. We survived.
We met John Thorne, flute instructor at Northwestern, at his high-rise apartment halfway between Chicago and Evanston. Lisa and John were classmates at Curtis. The vista from John’s beautiful apartment on the 34th floor was really amazing. Chicago, Lake Michigan, Evanston and points beyond were all a part of the expansive panoramic view. John has beautiful photographs, furniture and various collections from his many travels. He said the sight of storms coming in from the lake was especially fun to watch. We had a nice Italian dinner (as well as lots of “flute talk”) at Francesca’s in Chicago.
Lisa and I had tickets for “Il Trovatore” at the Lyric Opera. The entire production was fabulous. They rivaled what we heard at the Met and kept our attention throughout the evening.
We met Lisa’s former student, Alicia Kim, for breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Evanston. Alicia is a graduate of the University of Utah and is getting a Masters degree at Northwestern. The restaurant has been in operation for more than 50 years. Stained glass windows, beautiful woodwork and antique lighting fill the multiple rooms. That’s not enough to make a restaurant successful, the food was great, too! Alicia gave us a tour of the new and the old at Northwestern. The new music building on the shores of Lake Michigan looks spectacular. Large sections of glass will allow the building to maximize the view of the lake and stand in stark contrast to the music building of old. The old building seems more like a factory, but so many of our colleagues went through Northwestern, so they must be doing something right!
Lissa Stolz, Utah colleague and Chicago transplant, gave us suggestions for things to see and do in Chicago. We were quick to take her advice. We explored Millenium Park, the Architecture Foundation Gift Shop, shops along Michigan Avenue and ate lunch at “The Gage”. The architecture in Chicago is both beautiful and varied. We spent much of our time outdoors looking up. The giant buildings have a uniqueness and character all their own. The walk along the river was a lot of fun, though we tried to face downwind. The cold winds kept us bundled up whenever necessary and it was always necessary.
Our Yelp app helped us find a good Chicago deep dish pizza close to our hotel on Ohio Avenue. Like the Original Pancake House, Lou Malnati’s has been dishing it out for more than 50 years. People cooking, serving and eating pizza are usually a happy lot and this was no exception. We’ll go back, if we get a chance.
The Chicago Symphony concert was conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado. The piano soloist was Alice Sara Ott. The hall where the Chicago Symphony plays is ornate and acoustically excellent. Or was it just that they are such a good orchestra? Former Utah Symphony musicians, harpist Sarah Bullen and tubist Gene Pokorny continue to shine. Individuals, like Jennifer Gunn on piccolo, Eugene Izotov on oboe and entire sections, notably the clarinets, the trumpets and the trombones, performed brilliantly. The program featured “Figures-Doubles-Prismes” by Boulez, Stravinsky’s “Four Studies”, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Debussy’s “Iberia”. The Chicago Symphony is loaded with star players, but the thing you notice is the collective cohesion and the unselfish pride. Nobody is “phoning it in”. Everybody gives it their all. John Yeh did an amazing job playing three different instruments from various spots in the clarinet section. The orchestra’s accompaniment in the Bartok was clean and understated. It seems to be an orchestra that listens carefully and balances itself. The Boulez involved a seating arrangement that placed musicians from like sections in different positions on the stage. All the sections made the most of their time in the spotlight. We noticed there were no plexiglass shields on the stage. This may be the result of an orchestra that plays with a round, darkened tonal concept. It seems to envelope without having a strong penetrating quality. There may also be a degree of fearlessness amongst the players. Full bows and active left hands were common with all the string players and an awareness of one another was noticeable among the winds.
The next morning we met horn player, Dan O’Connell, for breakfast. Dan free-lances in the Chicago area and has some rising stars in his horn studio. Lisa and Dan go back to their time in New World and like the best of old friends, they enjoyed every minute of their two hours together. I was happy to enjoy the scene.
Our drive around the southern end of Lake Michigan was uneventful. We arrived in Ann Arbor in time for an excellent dinner at the “Lunch Room”, a vegetarian restaurant frequented by mostly students from the University of Michigan. The pad thai was delicious.
The San Francisco Symphony played in Hill Auditorium and conducting was Michael Tilson Thomas. Gil Shaham was the violin soloist in the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 and like his Brahms in Denver almost six weeks ago, he really connected with his audience. We were happy to hear him again. Opening the concert was the Liszt “Mephisto Waltz No. 1”. Three stand-outs in the first half were oboist Jeffrey Rathbun (on loan from the Cleveland Orchestra), clarinetist Luis Baez and bassoonist Steven Dibner. Though I’ve seen Michael Tilson Thomas as a guest conductor in Utah, I had forgotten what to expect. His style is not flamboyant, but his orchestra plays with enthusiasm and spirit. I enjoyed seeing familiar musicians like harpist Doug Rioth and concertmaster Nadya Tichman from my school days and violinist Elina Lev and hornist Bruce Roberts former Utah Symphony musicians. But the reason we came to Ann Arbor was to hear Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe” and principal flutist, Tim Day. My association with Tim goes back to a summer at Interlochen and Lisa studied with Tim at the San Francisco Conservatory and even baby-sat two of his children. The orchestra sounded terrific and the flute solos were great. Tim has a way of bringing you in and taking you away. MTT gave him the freedom and we loved every note. Robert Ward had some stunning moments on horn repeatedly picking off notes in the extremely high register and the string sound was at times intimate and at times movingly passionate. The sold-out audience rose to their feet at the end of “Daphnis”.
The snow was falling on our drive back to Interlochen the next day, and we saw more than a couple of cars on the side of the road. However, some of those cars are there not because of icy roads but because it’s deer hunting season. We’ve seen at least six deer in the past ten days and many more casualties of cars on the highways leading north. My cousin’s son, Andy, hunts it and eats it year-round. With all the empty cars along highways #37 and #31, I’ll guess he’s not the only one.
The Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra played excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in concert on Saturday. Carolyn Watson conducted and did a splendid job. We sat with Dan Stolper and got to enjoy his student from Japan, Ryoei “Leo” Kawai. I may have heard a star of the future.
Back at Interlochen we didn’t have that bone-chilling feeling like we did in Chicago, but we were days into shoveling. Back in Salt Lake City shovels were still stored away. With two weeks to go and a long drive ahead of us, our eyes are on the extended forecast.
– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes