Where 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 www.musicintheloft.org.
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.