New concert series weaves together music, architecture for online audiences

While the past year has been challenging for musicians who normally perform before live audiences, it has also created opportunities for innovation.  

One result is SOUND/SITES, a virtual concert series that combines music with architectural landmarks on the University of Chicago campus. A co-production of UChicago Presents and the Department of Music , the quarterly series offers a new way for artists and audiences to safely connect amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an avenue for interdisciplinary artistic exploration.

Last November, the series debuted with pianist Clare Longendyke, who performed at both Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and in the penthouse of the Logan Center for the Arts. The next SOUND/SITES installment begins on Feb. 26 with cellist Seth Parker Woods , who will play at the Logan Center and in the Renaissance Society gallery.

"We created this program at a time of empty communal spaces, so that these accomplished performers could fill them with music, showcasing the deep resonance between tradition and innovation that animates the University as a place of listening and learning," said Prof. Berthold Hoeckner, chair of the music department. 

Although audiences can’t be physically present with the performers, the SOUND/SITES series offers a different kind of intimate performance experience: the chance to observing the skillful movement of an artist’s hands as they play their instrument, or the expressions on their face as they get lost in their music.

For each performance, a recording of classical or contemporary music is available to stream from Friday at 7 p.m. through midnight Sunday. In addition to Longendyke and Woods, the series will include a variety of other artists-in-residence from the UChicago music department-each of whom will play in architecturally significant spaces such as Bond Chapel, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, Botany Pond and the Robie House.

Tickets are free for students and $15 for general audience members.

In a set of performances that will be available Feb. 26-28, Woods will explore what he describes as the "unabashed celebration of the Black and Brown experience" through the music of Fredrick Gifford, Monty Adkins, Alvin Singleton and Nathalie Joachim.

An advocate for contemporary arts, Woods has collaborated with a wide range of artists across disciplines; his SOUND/SITES performances will extend this philosophy, featuring multimedia works that combine music and other art forms.

For example, Joachim’s piece, "The Race: 1915" is inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s "The Migration Series" of paintings depicting the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the industrial North after World War I. The piece combines solo cello and electronics with recited text sourced from the Chicago Defender. At the Renaissance Society, Woods will perform works by Gifford and Singleton with the backdrop of artist Haig Aivazian’s exhibit, "All of the Lights."

The SOUND/SITES series will resume in Spring Quarter with percussionist John Corkill, whose performance will stream May 27-31 . The program will also continue next academic year with performances by violinist Tricia Park and Eugenia Jeong, director of UChicago’s piano program.

Amy Iwano, UChicago Presents’ executive director, said the experience of putting on the virtual performances has been a learning curve for the producers-but one that has allowed them to imagine new ways of connecting audiences to music. 

"Usually, we put out chairs, turn on the lights and invite people in," Iwano said. "But with these virtual performances, we could also take into deeper consideration how different spaces inform the music, and how they might make audiences think differently about the music."

UChicago Presents has also offered Zoom receptions after some performances for an extra $5, giving audiences the chance to ask questions of the artists and lending a more personal touch to the initiative.

In addition to the SOUNDS/SITES series, UChicago Presents is also streaming performances by three musical groups holding the Don Michael Randel residency during the 2020-2021 academic year. These include the saxophone quartet ~Nois, which performed in mid-February, Axiom Brass ( March 5 ) and the Quince vocal ensemble ( May 21­­-23 ).


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