Audacious vision becomes reality for CSO musician

Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician portraits: Violnist Alison Dalton ©ÊTodd Rosenberg Photography 2010

CSO violinist—and my teacher—Alison Dalton. Portrait © Todd Rosenberg, 2010.

Today, a piece I’ve been hoping to write for a long time went live on the Chicago Maroon‘s website. It’s about longtime CSO violinist Alison Dalton, who is returning to the orchestra this season after vision problems forced her on 20 months’ leave. Hers is a story of perseverance and grit, not to mention a rather personal one: She’s also my violin teacher.

Read all about it here.

Salonen and SRSO make impassioned team in all-Finnish program


Maestro in motion. (Alternatively titled, “When life doesn’t give you press pictures…”)

It was somewhat by accident that, while spending a few days in Stockholm, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of the city’s Baltic Sea Festival. Musicians from the Baltic Sea region flock to Stockholm for this festival, whose mission statement marries music-making with environmental urgency.

In town were Valery Gergiev—with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in tow—and Esa-Pekka Salonen, classical music’s veritable Energizer Bunny. (I saw him last in May of this year and wrote about it on this blog.) Both men are cofounders of the festival, along with General Manager Michael Tydén.

I overlapped with Gergiev’s residency in the city of Nobel Prizes and ABBA for one concert. But it was Salonen’s program the following night—alongside the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra—that intrigued me enough to duck out of preexisting evening plans.

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Une déluge fantastique

Something magical happens on the Metra platform back from Ravinia. You mingle with other concertgoers on their way back to Evanston or Chicago, chat (or complain!) about what you heard. Ask politely and a baby-boomer couple will share their umbrella. You’re already soaked to the bone and quite chilly but make small talk with Michael and Joyce because mother raised you proper, dammit. They’re huge on opera, Lyric subscribers for the past decade, loved Don Giovanni to bits (you didn’t) and missed Radvanovsky singing Anna Bolena (the flu, alas). You convince them to catch her next season at the Met.

Looking through the downpour, you reflect on the charms of open-air music festivals. Hearing Mozart over birdsong and the tousle of wind through treetops: much Nature, very Romanticism, wow! Then it rains on your commute from avec to the Metra and from the train station to the concert shell and you sit in your pathetic UNIQLO tee and twill shorts dripping water in a nonplussed sort of way. You eye the shawl of the lady sitting in front of you, the Cecil to your Walter Palmer. She coughs.

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Diplomacy in music


Little more than a week ago, I had the privilege of speaking with pianist Frank Fernández at his studio in Havana—his first interview, I’m told, with an American journalist. An edited transcript can be found here, on

I couldn’t properly speak to him in Spanish, communicating instead through an interpreter. But we didn’t need an interpreter to discern the recognition and joy on each other’s faces as we swapped our favorite composer stories. Though I didn’t see this myself, my companions say he also lit up when I mentioned that I was 19—the same age he was when he made his orchestral debut playing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. That was the same piece Fernández played in concert with the Minnesota Orchestra three months ago during their triumphant and widely-publicized Cuban tour.

At the end of our conversation, Fernández reaffirmed his belief that music is a medium which is—and always has been—most poised to facilitate the friendship between our beleaguered countries. I could not agree more. It’s experiences like these which remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing—even if all the newspaper presses in the country chug to a standstill, even if our concert halls are pitifully half-full.

After listening to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that piece which has tied itself so inextricably with Fernández’s career, I keep returning to a particular stanza:

Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl.
Peace and joy advance in perfect concord,
like the changing play of the waves.
All that was harsh and hostile,
has turned into sublime delight.

July 2015 recap

Although the recent lack of activity on Dialoges wouldn’t lead one to think so, July has been an eventful month in the classical music world. Of note:

  • Friedemann Weigle of the Artemis Quartet passed away earlier this month at the age of 53. Artemis was scheduled to play in Chicago next April as part of The University of Chicago Presents concert series. Understandably, the quartet has not yet cancelled nor confirmed its future engagements, and has asked for “time to mourn, reflect, and regroup.”
  • On July 17th, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has established a fellowship to support young musicians of color on the professional track. The grant will support graduate-level string musicians in the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, who will be offered coaching from members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and get the chance to perform in subscription concerts five weeks per season. The program will launch in fall 2016 with the first class of fellows. Mentioned in the article is Anthony McGill, the recently-appointed principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic, who was the first African-American appointed to a principal position in that orchestra in its 173-year history. In January, McGill is performing in Chicago with the Musicians from Marlboro touring program.
  • On the same evening, “The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Eric Garner” took place in New York City to mark the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death. New Yorkers from all walks of musical life participated, from Broadway pit musicians to players in the New York Philharmonic. The concert on the 17th was the project’s most publicized concert, but you can read about The Dream Unfinished’s other projects and mission statement here.
  • Ravinia may soon be without a music director, according to this article by Wynn Delacoma of Chicago Classical Review. Delacoma spoke with Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman about what the future could hold for the festival post-Conlon. One enticing prospect—if done right—is Kauffman’s vision of a different “musical curator” per season, perhaps by 2018. Based on Kauffman’s thinking, that curator would have to be a musically omnivorous one, the kind who could “talk about pop programming and jazz programming, as well as chamber music recitals and what goes on at the CSO.”
  • Paul Freeman, founder and longtime music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, died on July 21st at the age of 79. He directed the Sinfonietta from its founding in 1987 to 2011, being succeeded that year by Mei-Ann Chen. The Sinfonietta is known for the diversity of its personnel and the eclecticism of its programming—two principles championed by Freeman since its inception.
  • Recently, Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its doors to WFMT and the Chicago Tribune for a sneak peak at composer Jimmy López’s new opera Bel Canto, commissioned by creative consultant Renée Fleming. Bel Canto doesn’t open until December, but next month, López’s CD Perú Negro will be released on Harmonia Mundi. You can sample some of the works on the album on López’s SoundCloud. Based on what I’ve heard from López already, I have to say that Bel Canto‘s premiere is easily the performance I’m most excited for next concert season, bar none.
  • If you have a Digital Concert Hall account, you can watch Kirill Petrenko’s 2009 and 2012 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic on its website for free until the end of August. (Plus, signing up is free!)