#113: The DIY Orchestra, 2 of 3: Kathleen

January 16th, 2013

Kathleen hadn’t seen the oboist’s twin sister in 15 years.

“Our kids were in the sixth grade,” she said as we sat down at our table in the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Horticulture Room.

To clarify, the oboist’s twin sister didn’t have sixth-graders all those years ago — she was one of the sixth-graders. Also to clarify, Kathleen and I were complete strangers.

My 312 wheat ale and I had claimed a table to hear the third part of the Chicago Composers Orchestra’s Jan. 9 concert. The first part, which I wrote about on Monday, was an audience participation piece involving collaboration, improvisation and the concept that “Grandmother” is a unit of time.

The second part was a performance in the round in the Fern Room inspired by the piece that inspired the Fern Room.

The third part would be a more traditional symphonic concert, in that it we were sitting. The Chicago Composers Orchestra strictly performs works by living artists. The three pieces we gathered in the Horticulture Hall to hear – Bludgeon Me, IMAGES and the world premiere of Pos Metaphonos – were anything but traditional.

As my beer and I sat, I heard a “Can I join you?” and turned to see Kathleen. The scene and the line would be repeated as an old, bald man and an early-40s mom would join us.

Soon Kathleen and the mom were chatting about fingerless gloves as the old man and I joked about how dumb we were to wear sweaters to a greenhouse.

Bludgeon Me was a bright, discordant, Hitchcockian number I liked a great deal. Think the “North by Northwest” soundtrack. But the next work, IMAGES by composer Bruce Saylor, just floored me.

For the record, it wasn’t my kind of music. My kind of music involves more accordions and screaming about getting punched in the face (it exists, my friends). So my astonishment wasn’t the song speaking to my whims and preferences.

This work spoke to something else, something I’m not a good enough writer to pinpoint.

It spoke to something universal, something powerful and true. It spoke to something rich and full. It was a severe, beautiful work somehow made more touching by the fact it wasn’t a cultural relic. This wasn’t an old chestnut, brushed off and dappled up every few centuries for a sense of tradition and still-listening-to-thisness.

It had the resonance of a Haydn or a Vivaldi, but it was almost more personal because I knew the whole time the composer was alive. This was music of our time, as modern as a pop song.

I wasn’t the only one astonished.

“I grew up in Hollywood in the ’50s and ’60s,” Kathleen whispered to me in the moments after IMAGES’ applause but before Pos Metaphonos. “It just evokes those movie scores, that kind of unctuous emotionality. Oh my God, it was just fabulous.”

I remember mumbling “amazing” a few times, but beyond that I couldn’t say. The piece, and the Chicago Composers Orchestra, had taken me beyond words.

Come back Friday, as 1,001 Chicago Afternoons sits down for beer and punk music with the co-founders of the Chicago Composers Orchestra.

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