Janáček, Grant Proposals, and Holiday Gatherings: Reflecting on December 3-31, 2018

Immediately following the Civic Fellows’ Purpose Over Pain project with Sara and Rex of the Irene Taylor Trust (read more here), we joined the rest of our Civic colleagues for an intense concert cycle with conductor Edward Gardner. The December 12 concert, titled “20th Century Innovators,” featured Janáček’s “Sinfonietta,” Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 4, and Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe. Also featured in the concert was a host of Civic alumni – in particular, the extra brass needed for the Janáček, which begins with and features both onstage and offstage brass (and nine extra trumpets!). I had a hard time resisting the urge to turn around in my seat to watch the brass play, especially onstage. They sounded amazing!

Civic Orchestra
ABOVE: A barrage of brass plays from the terrace during the December 2018 Civic concert, under the direction of Edward Gardner. | Todd Rosenberg Photography

Exploring the “innovative” repertoire for this concert was both a challenge and a treat, as was working with Maestro Gardner. At the same time incredibly exacting and inspiring, he urged the orchestra to test its limits, especially musically. The dense and varied textures of Janáček’s “Sinfonietta” kept us on our toes, as did its many mood and tempo changes, but it also made for an exhilarating performance. I think the fact that the “Sinfonietta” isn’t frequently performed made it all the more exciting for us to put together, and for the audience to hear.

Lutosławksi’s Symphony No. 4 was full of lush melody, countered by more angular, aleatoric music – “random” music, where sections or individual members of the orchestra would play small musical cells ad libitum within the structure shown to us by Maestro Gardner. Despite being quite modern, the symphony was equally musically compelling to both the musicians on stage and the audience, painting a vivid musical picture all Lutosławski’s own. Unlike the “Sinfonietta” and the symphony by Lutosławski, Ravel’s suite from Daphnis and Chloe is performed a lot. Nonetheless, Maestro Gardner’s direction with regard to orchestra tone and timbre, as well as beautiful and vivacious playing by Civic members and alumni, made for a performance that, at least personally, I know I won’t forget.


After our Civic concert, the fellows redirected our attention to the community engagement project proposals that we have been working on since early October. Divided into three groups – tasked with engaging communities on Chicago’s north, west, and south sides – and after workshops with Steven Wang and Gavin Chuck, we worked together to write a formal grant proposal for our project and to present our proposal to a panel of CSO administrators as well as guest panelists from local philanthropic agencies. Coming up with projects that will actually engage these differing and diverse Chicago communities was challenging enough, writing a grant proposal and making a compelling presentation even more so! However, as “civic” musicians, this work is very important to the Civic Fellows, and we know these skills (grant writing and pitching projects) will serve us long into the future.

To round out the month, the Fellows threw a holiday party for ourselves, where we exchanged “Secret Santa” gifts and ate a lot of delicious food. We also went around in a circle and chimed in a few things about the Civic and Fellows’ community that bring us joy, and for which we are thankful. This was truly an amazing way to start the holiday break!

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ABOVE: The Civic Fellows gather for a holiday party.

My holiday break was full of anxious practicing for my first professional audition. In late November, I sent in a pre-screening recording to the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra with absolutely zero expectation of an invitation to live auditions at the beginning of January. When I passed pre-screening, I was so panicked I almost cancelled! I’m so glad I didn’t – preparing the repertoire list for this audition was one of my most rewarding musical experiences, despite not getting past the first round of live auditions in Minneapolis. I struggle in auditions (as, I think, do most musicians) to feel as though I have represented myself or my musicality well, especially when I’m so nervous my whole body is shaking! The month I spent preparing non-stop for this audition was well worth walking into and out of my audition feeling like, no matter what happened, I’d done my best.

Of course, zeroing in on this professional audition (where I did not advance) had its detriments – I started the season feeling like I was playing catch up. January through March is a busy time for all student and pre-professional musicians, as most auditions for schools, training orchestras, and summer programs are at this time. For the fellows – as we work on CSO-Connect, our “big project” – things can be particularly hectic. After returning to Chicago, it took a minute for me to hit my stride. But I will say, I’ve never been more excited for the Civic and Fellowship projects coming up in the next six months!

Civic Orchestra
ABOVE: Civic Fellow Carmen Abelson with her fellowship sponsor Dr. Marylou Witz. | Photo by Todd Rosenberg

By Civic Fellow and violin Carmen Abelson


TOP: The Civic Orchestra performs on stage in Orchestra Hall during its December 2018 concert. | Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018