Archive for February, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Hot Heads Over Hot Pots

Ancient Egyptian potsLittle do millennial-old Roman, Greek, Chinese and Egyptian vases, pots, precious jade objects encased in museum vitrines know what trouble they have unleashed in modern times.  For at least the past 25 years, museums, dealers and collectors have found themselves under verbal and legal attack from archeologists and source countries, accused of encouraging looting and illegal trafficking in  ancient treasures. Read the rest of this entry »

PostHeaderIcon Lofty Music Indeed

Lincoln trioWhere can lovers in search of live music go to hear outstanding, award-winning performers?  Yes Lyric Opera, Symphony Center, Harris Theater, University of Chicago would qualify.  But here’s the kicker—where for just $20 ($10 for students) and a front row seat?  The only place like that I know of is a loft at 1017 West Washington Boulevard where Music in the Loft (MITL) presents 10 concerts each year featuring top musicians and chamber ensembles.

The impresario who has made this happen for 17 seasons is a tiny dynamo whose mission is, she says, to present “the magic of chamber music the way it was meant to be heard.” Fredda Hyman, a native of New York and a former dancer with American Ballet Theater, started the series soon after moving to her West Loop loft in 1991 where she discovered the space possessed superb acoustics.

The concerts not only let listeners experience chamber music in an intimate setting but provide a venue for young artists to gain valuable exposure toward building a career. Young doesn’t mean novices.  This season, Hyman has presented artists with exceptional promise, many winners of prestigious international awards such as the Naumburg Chamber Music Award (Biava Quartet), first prize winner of the 2008 Chicago Symphony Orchestra Youth Auditions (Gabriel Cabezas), a featured “Rising Star” at the Ravinia Festival (Benjamin Hochman) and the much-celebrated Lincoln Trio, who toured Illinois last year as part of Ravinia’s Lincoln Bicentennial celebration.

One Sunday last month, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the Lincoln Trio give mesmerizing accounts of works by Bloch, Chopin and a premiere by Conrad Tao, a 16-year-old “wunderkind” composer. I sat no more than 15 feet from the performers, felt the energy in their playing as well as a direct emotional connection to the music as each performer attacked the score with visible passion.

Tao is not only a five-time consecutive winner of the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award but Music in the Loft’s Composer-in-Residence. Hyman started the composer-in-residence program in 2002 and commissions’ scores with funding from the NIB Foundation and the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.

Hyman runs the whole operation out of her loft apartment.  She fields recommendations from artists’ agents locally and in New York, listens to countless CDs to make her artist selections. Then, at each concert, she handles reservations, and also moves through the usually capacity crowd of 100 guests and acts as hostess for a post-concert reception.

MITL is a Chicago gem and a venture worthy of support. You may find this up-close listening experience more moving than a night at a more traditional concert hall and also discover a greater appreciation for the chamber music repertoire. Concerts take place on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon.  The final program this season is Sunday, March 7 and features the Emerald String Quartet, the first prize-winners of the Jules M. Laser Chamber Competition.  Reservations can be made at

This is the second of my reports on rewarding alternative venues worth exploring. I reported last week on jazz artist, Spider Saloff, performing in a River North apartment. Next, I’ll feature an art salon series in a North Side restaurant where art enthusiasts, as poet T. S. Eliot, said “come and go, speaking of Michelangelo” with table partners, sharing good food and wine.

PostHeaderIcon Public Housing Success Story


Public Housing MuseumFew Chicagoans living today can remember when public housing was not a tragic failure.  Chicago’s infamous Robert Taylor Homes along with the Cabrini-Green and Lawndale neighborhoods were duplicated in every major metropolis from Boston and New York to Los Angeles.  Fortunately, most such human warehouses have been demolished or undergone major renovation. Read the rest of this entry »

PostHeaderIcon Two-Legged Spider Who Sings

One thing Chicago has too little of is cabaret clubs. Locals wanting to catch Ute Lemper, Ann Hampton Callaway or Patti LuPone must head to high-end venues, such as Symphony Center, Ravinia and the Harris Theater, or fly to New York.

However, our town is blessed with a renowned cabaret artist in its midst, jazz stylist Spider Saloff. Spider sports a finger-popping, figure-swaying delivery style all her own. Read the rest of this entry »

PostHeaderIcon Passionate Collector’s Peerless Collection

The year is only six weeks old but, last week, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., opened an exhibition that promises to be a high point of 2010.   From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection. Chicago’s serious collectors, connoisseurs and simply fans of mesmerizing paintings need to make a pilgrimage to Washington before next July 31. But don’t wait until next year to go. You will want to return for a second viewing. Dale’s bequest stipulates that the works can only be seen at the National Gallery.

Chester Dale was a dashing, hard-driving Wall Street financier.  He started on “The Street” as a lowly runner but, through shrewd instincts, amassed a fortune.  He began buying art as a hobby. However, once his wife, Maud, who was trained as an artist, saw that his passion for art was genuine, she took charge and guided the building of their superb collection. Dale purchased the bulk of his collection during a whirlwind period from 1926 to 1932. The Great Depression curtailed his feverish pace.  He made fewer purchases over the next twenty-five years with his final acquisition being Salvador Dali’s “The Last Supper” in 1956.

Dale was courted by dealers and museums.  At various times, he was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art besides the National Gallery. Both Chicago and Philadelphia wooed him in hopes of acquiring his collection. However, at his death in 1962, the entire collection went to the National Gallery.  He chose that institution because his collection would rest in the nation’s museum and add immeasurably to the new museum’s holdings. John Walker, a former director of the National Gallery, assessed its importance saying, “It’s not just the backbone but the whole rib structure of the modern French school.”

The collection consists of 306 works—223 paintings, sculptures and works on paper —of which 81 are on display.  Visitors can take an art history tour of stunning breadth including late 19th to early 20th Century masterworks by Degas, Manet,  Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt,  Redon, Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, Matisse,  Modigliani, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rousseau and Dali.

Kimberly Jones, who curated the show and authored its accompanying catalogue, admits to a few favorites in the show.  They are Manet’s “The Old Musician”, Henri Fantin- Latour’s “Portrait of Sonia” (his niece) and Braque’s still life, “Le Jour”. She says,”It’s been really wonderful for me to learn about what Chester Dale meant for the National Gallery, the nation and the history of collecting in general.”