Scratch That: In Sickness and In Health

Spektral Quartet violinist Aurelien Pederzoli opened up on the quartet’s blog yesterday about taking some time off for injury. Spektral is now the second Chicago quartet to go blog-public this year about a member’s performance injury. (The first, full disclosure, is Scratch’s own quartet; we’ve been without our founding violist since May of last year.) Both these musicians have shown tremendous honesty and vulnerability in their public writing—which, given the widespread ignorance and unfortunate prevalence of career-threatening injury, is a public service. Scratch wishes both of them speedy healing.

Unfortunately, the contemporary music program that Baroque Band was putting on—yes, you read that right—at the Museum of Contemporary Art has been cancelled due to “a sudden illness within the ensemble.” This cancellation only emphasizes the fact that while it’s possible to sub someone in last-minute on baroque rep, it’s less easy when you’re playing three brand new commissions. This was quite a big event for Baroque Band and Scratch hopes that recovery is swift and we’ll get a chance to hear the program soon.

If the above two items are any indication, Chicago musicians are feeling a bit beaten up by winter. The lengthening days are tempting us to think about spring, but we know it’s a long way off. There are a bunch of concerts this week to bundle up for and enjoy, including Mabel Kwan’s recital on Saturday; Maverick Ensemble on Sunday; and MusicNOW on Monday. Also on Monday is the Chicago Chamber Musicians—whose audience, according to young whippersnapper Allegra Montanari, is among the most blue-haired in the city—in a program featuring the music of Esa-Pekka Salonen.

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Cheer up, everyone! Musicians, in Scratch’s opinion, count as artists. And we’re all officially invited to the Chicago Artists Resource Creative Expo on March 1 and 2. We’ve heard great things about the learning and networking that happens at the Expo, and we’re delighted that this arts service organization exists in our city. Workshop topics include board-building, fundraising, business plans, and copyright issues; keynote speakers include a leader in “design discourse,” a chef, and the President of Pitchfork magazine. If you’re more into cocktails than keynotes, you could just go to the Chicago Artists Resource’s “re-launch” party—which hints excitingly at a newly energized organization, in addition to the spiffed-up website—on February 27.

Also, lighten up! Now that Scratch is moonlighting as a folk musician, we’re spending more time in the world of Chicago’s non-classical music blogs. Did you know there are lots of them? And that some of them are quite fun? We’ve especially enjoyed reading Windy City Rock, Loud Loop Press, and Faronheit. It’s interesting to observe the differences between the rock music media and the classical music media. Perhaps the biggest difference is the sheer enthusiasm, the shameless fandom of the rock blogs, their identity as an engine of discovery rather than criticism.

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More delightful proof that Chicago musicians don’t take themselves too seriously.

(Next week, Scratch will take a week off from the regular column and delve into George Friedrich Haas’s In Vain, which Dal Niente performs February 28. But don’t forget, Chicagoans, that you can email Scratch That with concert tips, news, gossip, and jokes.

9 thoughts on “Scratch That: In Sickness and In Health

  1. Concerned Reader

    You really must be pretty naive to think that “it’s possible to sub someone in last-minute on baroque rep.” Have you actually performed the Brandenburg concertos or do you just assume that because it’s Bach it can be done by anyone on a whim, let alone on period instruments. How offensive to anyone who devotes their life to historical performance.

    Reply
    1. Ellen

      Hello Concerned Reader — thank you for reading, and I apologize for any offense, which I did not intend! I love the baroque repertoire and have a deep respect for Bach in particular, since both of my parents specialized in his vocal music when I was young. I admire period performance, and aspire to perform much more of it myself. I did not mean to imply simply walking up and sight-reading. Rather, I meant that it might be easier to find a replacement performer who has done the Brandenburgs before than to find one who could learn the six new commissions in a day or two. I thought this issue was particularly relevant given that Baroque Band is a group that doesn’t often commission new work. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify what I meant! Warmest regards.

      Reply
      1. another concerned musician

        If you would have researched this properly, the Baroque band performances were cancelled due to not finding the proper experts on certain intruments in historical practice in time for the concerts due to late hiring practices, not an illness. Not the orchestra’s inability.

        The orchestra would have nailed the contemporary pieces for we found them much easier to play than the Bach. Your article has gone to the very core of me. Only those who have studied over 20 years of playing on historical instruments with gut strings, no shoulder rests and without chin rests and end pins would understand just how difficult the Brandenburgs are to perform.

        Reply
        1. Ellen

          Thank you for adding to the conversation. It is true that I do not have 20 years of experience with the setup that you mentioned, and it true indee that I do not understand the difficulty of playing the Brandenburgs with that setup.

          Let me again stress my deep respect for period instrument playing and for Baroque Band! Something must have gone quite awry in my writing, for all I really meant to communicate was regret over the program being cancelled when I had looked forward to hearing it.

          This whole item in my column was based on the reason for cancellation given on the MCA’s website, which is illness.

          As someone who has dealt with the sudden loss of players (due to injury), I was speculating about the difficulty of bringing players in at the last minute if someone had indeed fallen ill. Since, as you mention above, the reason for cancellation was in fact not illness, that changes the nature of the situation.

          My weekly column here has a lighthearted and slightly sarcastic tone (which you can see in past posts). In light of both of those things, I can certainly see how I might have accidentally offended.

          I truly hope to see the program when it goes up!

          Reply
    2. Very Concerned Reader

      What a bunch of rubbish! Of course it’s possible to find a last minute replacement to play Brandenburg. I’ve seen last minute stand-ins perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Esa-Pekka Salonen made his London debut as replacement (conducting Mahler 3 no less!).

      Reply
  2. Steven Cartwright

    I’m going out on a limb here because I’m not a musician, but I’m willing to bet that with a bit of effort it’s possible to find someone on short notice who not only has 20 years experience (drop that to 15 and the pool widens) but can probably play any given Brandenburg concerto better than you. A lot of people have been trained in this area. On the other hand, to do a cold reading of a new work sounds a bit more daunting, moreso if it uses idiosyncratic notation. And as a stylistic note, in the non-Internet part of the world “I’m offended” is not the same as “I don’t agree”. I suggest dialing back the umbrage to a state of moderate dudgeon.

    Reply
    1. Concerned Reader

      here is a little project for you “not a musician”….go find 3 baroque trumpet players within 100 miles of Chicago. Now, do the same for baroque flute, natural horn, recorder, gamba and baroque viola. I am sure the specialists that you find are just sitting on their hands waiting for a gig to come along…. not like they have been booked for months in advance for other performances.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    This has clearly hit a nerve with period instrument players. One reason for this is that the “illness within the ensemble” was not the real reason for the cancellation, but there is no way you would have known that. It is frustrating for group members to have that excuse publicized and repeated, when the truth was that the members were all eager and ready to perform both the baroque works and the contemporary works. Blame should not fall on the musicians, illness, or the difficulties of finding players, but on the administration alone.

    Another reason that offense was quickly taken is that there is still often a notion in Chicago that baroque music and period instrument players are somehow less-than modern players. I’m sure that it was not your intention to be insulting, but having heard uniformed insults toward the field of early music often, it is understandable that period instrument players are quick to defend their art.

    Lastly, I think it is silly to argue over which is harder- contemporary music or baroque music. Each has its challenges that are unique, and musicians and music of both genres should be equally respected.

    Reply
  4. Ellen

    Thank you so much for this comment, Anonymous, which definitely illuminates the situation for me and makes a lot of sense. It seems I stepped into a minefield with this specific situation (the unfortunate MCA cancellation) and general problem (period players feeling disrespected). I can definitely believe that people demean period instrument players as a group, and that this would create sensitivity. That kind of attitude is all too common in our field, I think. I really appreciate your comment and I wholeheartedly agree with you that trying to determine what is “hardest” is useless. I just played a program of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and two contemporary works and my head was spinning at how very different the challenges were in each work.

    Reply

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