Cold snaps Civic concert, but provides silver lining

It takes extreme weather for things to be cancelled in the Midwest. Growing up in Texas, I would get snow days if there were a little ice on the ground. In Chicago, people trudge through snow, wind, and cold throughout the winter to get to work and school, scoffing at the states that cannot handle extreme weather. Therefore, it was a surprising turn of events when the Polar Vortex hit the area, and Chicagoans got not one, but two days off due to extreme cold temperatures.

Unfortunately, those two days occurred during scheduled rehearsals for our February 5 Civic Orchestra concert.  There was no way we could safely bring ourselves – or our instruments – outside to get to Symphony Center. So, Civic administration made the difficult decision to cancel the concert.  Fortunately, we were able to continue with the cycle, albeit in a reimagined way.

The Front of House artwork that accompanied the ill-fated concert.

Civic was planning to premiere nine new works written by composers from the University of Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition.  Although the concert was cancelled, we still wanted to work with these composers and have a chance for the music to be performed.  Instead of a concert, we turned our remaining rehearsals into a recording project.  With our remaining time, we rehearsed each piece and had a chance to discuss the pieces with the composers, who were present, and Cliff Colnot, our conductor for the cycle.  This process can be very tiring for the musicians, who have to play many extended techniques and technically difficult passages.  The process was incredibly valuable for the young composers, who listened to the entire rehearsal process and heard what worked and didn’t work in their pieces.  Not many composers have the opportunity to have their piece performed by a live, full orchestra.  At the end of the rehearsals, we recorded each piece so the composers could submit the pieces for concerts in the future with reference recordings.

Although we would have loved to perform this concert for the public, I think that given the circumstances, the end result was very successful.  Not only did the composers get to workshop their pieces, but also the orchestra got a chance to work on some challenging and innovative new music.  Playing contemporary music is not something every orchestra values, so it’s refreshing to see it be such an important part of the Civic Orchestra’s season.  In the upcoming months, Civic members will perform several concert featuring new music, including:

In each of these concerts, we will be exploring or creating new music, drawing upon our experiences working with the UChicago composers.

As a horn player, new music has never been my thing.  I love the heroic, lyrical horn writing of Strauss and Mahler, and contemporary music strays far away from my comfort zone.  However, Civic is helping me appreciate and understand the importance of performing Contemporary Music.

By Civic Fellow and horn Laura Pitkin

TOP: Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (2006) at Millennium Park in Chicago. Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images.