April’s arrival not only means breaking out of winter’s frosty grip but the approaching end of the 2011-12 cultural season. Yet, rather than winding down, the arts are kicking into high gear. This month and next feature such newsworthy events as Riccardo Muti’s return to the CSO, the Miles Davis Festival at the Auditorium, Steppenwolf’s newest, “Hot L Baltimore”, and that cornucopia of visual art, Artropolis (formerly Art Chicago). In this post, I search slightly farther afield and preview worthwhile discoveries. Like Spring’s blossoms, Chicago is blooming with arts programs outside the Loop that can prove as, or more, enjoyable than more heavily-promoted, marquee offerings.
After sorting through my pile of invitation and news releases, here are 5 local April events plus 1 attraction worth a special weekend getaway.
1. Chicago Chorale
You need to hurry to catch this superbly-trained 60-member choir perform what many listeners consider one of the supreme achievements of classical music, Bach’s Mass in B-Minor. They perform this Sunday, April 3, at 3 p.m. in the acoustically-rich surroundings of Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. The chorale is celebrating its 10th Anniversary season. If you are a fan of classical music or choral singing, I guarantee you a special treat. For tickets, go to www.chicagochorale.org.
2. Next Theatre
This Evanston-based theater company, celebrating its 30th anniversary season, is known for staging socially and politically provocative drama. I saw a production of “Killer Joe” there years before Steppenwolf discovered Tracy Letts’ Osage County. On April 8, Next offers the Chicago premiere of “The Metal Children” by Adam Rapp, fresh from a sold-out run on Off-Broadway in New York. The play dramatizes a NY writer’s struggle to keep his young adult novel from being banned by a small-town school board. It parallels Rapp’s own fight with middle-America family values in Muhlenberg, PA over his novel, The Buffalo Tree. For more information and tickets, go to www.nexttheatre.org.
3. Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMM)
If the last rock feature you saw was the Rolling Stones’ IMAX, “Shine a Light”, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” or the classic “The Last Waltz”, you can get your rock, reggae, hip-hop fix from April 14-17 as CIMM presents its 3rd annual festival and screens 70 films from more than 20 countries ranging from features, animation, documentaries, concert films and music videos. The world premiere of Fix: The Ministry Movie about the British band opens the festival on Thursday, April 14 with a guest appearance by Ministry bassist, Paul Barker. One that I plan to see is Sizzle about a businessman with operatic pretensions who hires a professional team of musicians to stage Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at his private country estate with him as the lead. The festival takes place at various venues around town. For comprehensive film and event listings and to purchase tickets, go to www.CIMMFEST.org.
4. “Illuminating The Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus”
Cineastes, Arise! The air will be thick with clashing opinions and dueling thumbs at an ambitious conference probing the state of film criticism to be held from April 21-23 at Northwestern’s Block Museum. The conference features four panels and four screenings plus appearances by renowned critics from across America like former Reader critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr (The New York Times), Karina Longworth (LA Weekly), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe) and Scott Foundas (Film Society of Lincoln Center). Chicago is fully represented by Michael Phillips, J.R. Jones, Hank Sartin, Ray Pride, Fred Camper, Bill Stamets and Ignatiy Vishnevetshy to cite just 8. The conference kicks off on Thursday, the 21st, with a screening of noted director, Errol Morris’ 2010 feature, “Tabloid”. All events are free and open to the public on a first-come basis. For a full schedule and more information, go to www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/blockcinema.
5. Vivian Maier Photographs
Is there any Chicagoan left who, in the past three months, has not heard the amazing story of this Austrian-born, Chicago photographer who toiled for many years as a nanny to North Shore families? Her recently-closed show at the Chicago Cultural Center was a huge success. Like so many figures throughout art history, Maier received no recognition of her work during her lifetime but is now being hailed as one of the 20th Century’s greatest street photographers. It was only as the result of an estate sale shortly before her death in 2009 that a trove of 100,000 negatives and 3,000 of her prints revealed her secret, second identity. Art consultant Russell Bowman will mount a new show of her work at his River North gallery, 311 West Superior on April 15th. An opening reception is scheduled from 5:30 to 8 p.m. By all means go and be spellbound by Maier’s astute eye which, like Weegee or Helen Leavitt in New York, captured the life and people on Chicago’s streets of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. To see a selection of Vivian Maier’s vintage photos, go to www.bowmanart.com.
5+1. Frank Lloyd Wright in Milwaukee
Frank Lloyd Wright was an iconic architect of the 20th Century whose fame endures in such stunning designs as Robie House, Fallingwater, Unity Temple, Johnson Wax HQ, Taliesin and the Guggenheim Museum. Yet the idea that his ideas hold lessons for contemporary times is the premise of a fascinating exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Six weeks remain to catch “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century” until it ends on May 15th. The show surveys more than 150 works, from scale models, furniture to newly-discovered home movies and 33 never-before-exhibited Wright drawings. You will also see Wright’s plans for Broadacre City, his 1932 futuristic design for a model suburbia, years before the age of the automobile. This year marks the centennial of Taliesin, Wright’s summer home, studio and school in Spring Green, Wisconsin and the 10th Anniversary of the museum’s stunning building designed by Santiago Calatrava. For more information, go to www.mam.org.
While the museum itself is worth the 90-mile trip from Chicago, you should also consider combining the visit with a sleepover. You might try County Clare, an Irish inn and pub that I can recommend based on a stay. Have a fine dinner at the delightfully atmospheric French bistro, Coquette Café, as I have several times. Milwaukee is an overlooked gem and nearly right in Chicago’s backyard. So, instead of heading east to New Buffalo some weekend in April, head north and discover Wisconsin hospitality.
Editor’s Note: Watch for a preview of highlights of events for May.