I had the opportunity of seeing the War and the Human Heart concert produced by Jeffrey Gettleman in November, 2018 at St. James Cathedral. I thought it was wonderful. I recently learned that Mr. Gettleman is producing something new, “The Chicago Nonet” (styled after The Czech Nonet, which has existed since the 1920s). The debut performance will take place on November 15th at the Cliff Dwellers, and is presented by Chicago’s DANK Haus German American Cultural Center.
Curious about the upcoming event, I asked Producer, Jeffrey Gettleman, to answer some questions and he generously agreed. Read on, and then plan to attend this exciting performance.
In what ways does the concert this year compare and contrast with that of last year?
There are major differences in the presentation. WHH was meant to honor all military veterans, was about war and its consequences, and was presented as part of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day. As befitted those very important purposes, that concert included a chorus, vocal soloists, a large instrumental ensemble, a narrator, supertitles and multimedia. The “spectacle”, so to speak, was meant to engage the audience and make sure the messages contained in the music—which were almost all songs, with words in several different languages—came across clearly. This year’s performance is on a much smaller and intimate scale, being chamber music for 9 instruments. However, there is a thread which connects the music of WHH with this concert: although wonderful music, most of it is unfamiliar to modern audiences.
What was the impetus for the concert this year?
Around the beginning of the 20th Century, the world was changing rapidly, due to industrialization, improvements in communication and transportation, and other factors. In Europe the old hierarchies of the nobility and monarchy were starting to weaken. This was followed by the trauma of World War I, which forever changed European society, and changed the way Europeans thought about the world. WWI has been called “a loss of innocence” and 19th Century Romanticism was replaced by harsher modernism, which reflected the view that the world was a harsh place. These trends manifested themselves in art, and certainly in music. Much Romantic and earlier music that had heretofore been popular was now regarded as naïve and passé. This phenomenon meant that many composers who were highly esteemed in the 19th Century were now neglected, almost “blacklisted” in favor of composers like Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartók, and others whose music the musical intelligentsia felt had adapted to the times. Most 19th Century music performed since then, even today, mainly consists of a relatively small repertoire of well-known “warhorses” that are performed again and again.
To be clear, I am not criticizing modernism. Humans change, society changes, and tastes change. However, many people still enjoy the Classical and Romantic idiom—the lyricism, the melodies, the harmonic structures. Yet, the economics and marketing imperatives of the live and recorded music business have conspired to limit what 19th Century composers and music the consuming public hears—which has had the unfortunate and unfair effect of relegating many fine composers and their music to obscurity.
I am one of those to whom music from the Classic and Romantic periods “speaks” clearly. The mental pictures and emotions that I experience are especially vivid when I hear music from these eras, and I’m sure I am not alone. It is a very real form of “communication” with the composer, in some ways almost like a séance! For instance, sometimes when listening to a piece of music my mind forms a picture of what I think the composer may have been experiencing, or seeing when he or she composed the work. The point is, this ability of the music to “speak” or communicate to the individual is not limited to the “warhorses”—there are many composers and much music that would evoke the same type of reactions and pleasure, but most classical music listeners have not heard this music, and are probably not even aware of it. To borrow a line from the UK record label Toccata Music Group, I see my mission as being resurrecting forgotten music by great composers, and great music by forgotten composers. That is the major impetus for the November 15 performance.
When and how did you become aware of the composers, Josef Rheinberger and Peter von Winter whose works will be performed?
In my quest to present undeservedly lesser-known 19th Century music, I owe a significant debt to the late German clarinetist Dieter Klöcker. He spent most of his musical life researching and performing the type of composers and music I have described earlier—wonderful music that the musical establishment has ignored. He (with and without the group he founded, the Consortium Classicum) extensively recorded previously unknown and unrecorded works. Klöcker spent countless hours in libraries and private collections sleuthing and learning about forgotten composers and locating their works, and, thanks to the internet, this music is now making some inroads into musical consciousness. I personally became aware of Rheinberger independently—he wrote both choral and organ works that I had heard performed. Peter von Winter, however, I was not aware of until I heard the Consortium Classicum’s recording (the only recording) of the von Winter Octet. The Rheinberber Nonet represents kind of the essence of Romantic music—flowing, beautiful melodies, in a wonderfully woven structure. von Winter’s Octet (which is really a nonet) is a late Classical-era piece, and I have to say it may be the happiest, most upbeat piece of music I have ever heard! It is almost guaranteed that the audience will be tapping its feet during the last movement (which is based on a Scottish dance).
What are your goals for this newly formed chamber music group?
I view this as part of my musical resurrection mission. Again, partly due to changing tastes and the economics of the music business, the trend for at least 50 years has been toward small chamber ensembles—the bulk of what audiences hear is comprised of string quartets and woodwind quintets: there is plenty of repertoire and a 4 or 5 person group is easy to manage and transport. However, there exist a wonderful body of works for larger wind ensembles (based on the 19th Century so-called “harmonie ensemble”, consisting of pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, sometimes adding flutes, contrabassoons and a brass instrument). So in the 1980s I founded a group in Chicago to perform these neglected masterpieces, called The Sheffield Winds, which enjoyed several successful concert seasons. But there is also a large group of pieces written for mixed string and wind ensembles: septets, octets and nonets, that are rarely performed in the US. And out of those relatively few performances, almost all are of Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (1800), which is a wonderful piece. Mostly neglected are all the other works. The Chicago Chamber Musicians had performed much of this repertoire, but that group has been dormant for a few years. So, to help fill that gap I thought that the Chicago audience would enjoy hearing the delightful Rheinberger and von Winter piece
For additional information and tickets
6 p.m., Friday, November 15 (Doors open at 5 p.m.) at The Cliff Dwellers, 200 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Located on the SW corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams St. (next to Symphony Center). Nearest public transportation: Adams/Wabash CTA L stop served by Brown, Green, Orange, Purple and Pink lines; Michigan/Jackson CTA bus stop served by ##3, 4, 26, 143, 147, 850, 851, 855 and J14 buses. Telephone Inquiries: Laura Engel, 773-561-9181
· Both pieces are for a string and wind instrument ensemble: violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, horns, bassoon
· Performers are members of the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Rembrandt Chamber Musicians, and other groups
· Hors d’oeuvres will be served; cash bar
· There will be a short oral introduction about the background of each piece before it is played
· There will be a printed program with extensive program notes
· The performance should end at approximately 7:15 p.m.
Photos not by Larry Okrent are from Wikimedia Commons