It is common knowledge that Chicago enjoys a rich and vibrant classical music scene. We can boast of having a world-class symphony orchestra, opera company and classical radio station (WFMT). Ensembles and choral groups covering every period from Early Music and Baroque to contemporary abound. In addition, there is a highly diverse group of top classical presenters ranging from Ravinia, the Harris Theater, the University of Chicago and Northwestern’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, each of which features internationally-known soloists and ensembles.
Yet, for many years, there was no place in Chicago outside the academy where young, unestablished, classical artists and ensembles could hone their talent and make their mark. This was the large musical void that Fredda Hyman set out to fill 20 years ago. Her mission was audacious but her indomitable determination and unerring musical taste enabled her to make a grand success of Music in the Loft (MITL). Unfortunately, Fredda passed away last December.
This Sunday, May 6th, supporters and many of the artists she discovered and helped launch on successful careers will pay tribute to her inspiring vision with a Champagne Reception and Concert at The Standard Club, starting at 3 p.m. “Fredda would want it to be a celebration rather than a memorial,” says Desiree Ruhstrat, violinist with The Lincoln Trio.
Among the artists who will appear are the Ying Quartet, a then-new group who were featured on MITL’s first season in 1992 and have gone on to enjoy wide success, The Lincoln Trio who have appeared on more than a half-dozen programs, Quartet Ventoso, pianist Adam Neiman, guitarist Goran Ivanovic and singers Patrice Michaels, Jonita Lattimore, Jessye Wright and Robert Sims. All artists Fredda championed.
The germinating seed that led to MITL was the move Fredda made in 1990 with her husband, Sidney, a best-selling author and historian. The couple moved from Hyde Park and settled in the West Loop when that area was still pioneer territory. They discovered that their loft apartment had superb acoustics which spurred the brainstorm to convert their living room into an impromptu concert space in 1992. I suspect that first concert was mounted as a lark for friends and that their favorable reaction gave Fredda the idea to turn it into a 5-concert series.
Fredda and Sidney’s presence and involvement at every concert, the intimate setting and informal reception with the artists afterwards gave a very 19th Century atmosphere to 21st Century performances. To hear top-notch talent in a room with perhaps 80 other listeners, the way audiences heard Mozart’s music, is a rare luxury in today’s mega-music world.
Once launched, Fredda, whose love of music was nurtured and deepened as a former dancer with American Ballet Theater, discovered her life’s new purpose. “She was able to identify groups who’d be successful before they became successful,” says Ruhstrat. Her roster of discoveries, made by attending concerts and listening to countless CDs, included The Ying Quartet, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, The Pacifica Quartet and The Amelia Trio, who perform with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road troupe.
Not only did she aid young musical performers but, starting in 1998, she founded an allied composer-in-residence program and gave composers an equally rare showcase for their work at MITL concerts. Among the composers who benefited from the exposure were Stacy Garrop, Lita Grier, Ricardo Lorenz and a then 16-year old wunderkind, Conrad Tao. “Fredda was just about the most wonderful supporter anyone could hope for,” Grier mentioned on a WFMT tribute, aired the day after Fredda’s death. “She was perpetually looking for opportunities for my works to be performed. She’d find these manuscripts and say let’s give a listen….in this way, a piano sonata that I composed when I was 17 got its world premiere performance at Fredda’s concert.” Similar stories by other artists confirm Ruhstrat’s verdict that, “she was the consummate matchmaker.”
Fredda’s modus operandi for discovering new talent was simple yet mysterious. “She actually went out and listened for herself and made her own judgments,” says James Ginsburg, founder and president of Cedille Records. “She was an independent person with a very good ear.” And once she made a discovery, she booked them and was not shy about telling many people how great they were.
She once did so with Ginsburg, comparing her latest find with an artist he favored who played the same instrument. He remembers her telling him, “My artist is better”. When Ginsburg went to hear her artist play, he had to admit she was right. Ginsburg recalls one wag saying, “Fredda was not one to accept received wisdom.” She blazed her own path and made her own judgments.
You can purchase tickets at MITL’s website, www.musicintheloft.org or by calling 312/919-5030. While tickets are priced at $150 (reserved seating) and $100, students can–and should–take advantage of a special $20 price. Do it for Fredda who did so much for music!