Nichols Hall celebrates 10 years of music in Evanston
The Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston will celebrate 10 years with concerts by some heavy-hitters the remainder of this year and in 2013.
In May of 2003, the Music Institute of Chicago opened a new concert hall in the meticulously repurposed Christian Science Church at the corner of Chicago and Grove in Evanston.
To mark that milestone, the hall’s 2012-13 concert season celebrates its 10th anniversary with a schedule packed with performances by world class artists, faculty members and alumni running through next July.
Among the stellar musicians performing this season are the Pacifica Quartet on Feb. 16, former Quartet-in-Residence at the MIC; alumnae violinist Rachel Barton Pine on May 18 and cellist Wendy Warner on Nov. 17, and internationally known pianist Sergei Babayan on April 21. The popular Brotherhood Chorale of the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, returns on Jan. 20 for its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday concert. And the Chicago Duo Piano Festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary season with concerts July 12 to 21.
“The first time I physically walked into the hall, it took my breath away,” said Mark George, who became president and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago in 2010. “I was being interviewed for the job, and I thought as a musician, you can’t ask for anything better.”
In addition to running the music school, which serves more than 10,000 students at all levels of ability, George collaborates on the concert schedule with Fiona Queen, director of the Music Institute of Chicago’s performance activities. “We consult constantly, then Fiona does all the work,” he declared without hesitation.
“She is very resourceful and has so many connections in the music world,” he added. “We are able to get great performers here.”
That is particularly important, he said, not only for the community but for the students who study at the Winnetka-based music school, one of the three largest community music schools in the country. “All our students can attend our concerts free of charge,” George said, with obvious pride, observing that until the young people can travel the world, the MIC can bring the musicians of the world to them.
As performance manager Queen is particularly proud of some of the innovative programs coming up this season. “There will be jazz festival Oct. 26, 27 and 28, celebrating the life and music Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s long time collaborator,” she declared. “Our own jazz program at the Music Institute is steadily growing, and on the festival’s opening night we’re screening the documentary ‘Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life.’”
The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu and filmmaker Robert Levi.
“We’ve got an exceptional faculty here,” Queen continued, “and they have put together a program called ‘Opus 10.’ On March 24 more than 20 members of our violin and piano faculty will play 10 Hungarian Dances by Brahms and 10 Chopin Études, Op. 10.”
“Our faculty delivers such a high level of performance,” affirmed George. “They could all play every piece on that upcoming program. In fact, the pianists are drawing straws to see which one they will play!”
This particular season needs a great deal of organization, as not only is the 10th anniversary of the hall being marked, but there will be celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the city of Evanston, which was incorporated in 1872, plus the 100th anniversary of the building, constructed in 1912.
The season opens at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3 with the Lincoln Trio, made up of three faculty members at the Music Institute of Chicago: Desiree Ruhstrat, violin, David Cunliffe, cello, and Marta Aznavoorian, piano.
The musicians are Ensemble-in-Residence at the Music Institute and have performed at Nichols frequently.
“It is a jewel of a hall,” said Ruhstrat about both the acoustics and the appearance of the interior. “It is one of the most beautiful we’ve ever played in. The ease with which you can play on that stage is amazing.
“It is intimate and warm,” she continued, “and we can hear each other play.”
Oh yes, it is the 10th anniversary of the Lincoln Trio as well, and they have accomplished a great deal in the last decade.
It was the late Frank Little, MIC’s president from 1983 to 2003, who gave the young collaborators the name Lincoln Trio. “That name has served us well,” Ruhstrat said. “We toured the State of Illinois as part of the Ravinia Festival’s celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009. And we have had a very strong connection with the Ravinia Festival ever since.”
The Lincoln Trio has recorded a CD of music by prize-winning female composers, titled “Notable Women” on the Cedille label. Their next recording will be of James Whitbourn’s “Annelies: The Choral Setting of the Diary of Anne Frank” on the Naxos label in the spring. They will perform that work Feb. 27 in Ravinia’s Bennet Gordon Hall.
The trio received the Young Performers Career Advancement Award last season, which gave them a performance in Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in January of 2012.
That award also came with an international tour, which included a five-city tour of the South American country of Colombia. “It was magnificent,” Ruhstrat said.”We performed as well as taught and gave master classes. It was a most amazing experience.”
Nichols Concert Hall was named in honor of Alexandra Nichols, chair of the fund-raising drive, and her husband John of Winnetka.
Many still remember the hall’s opening night, which included a sit-down pre-concert dinner in a vast white tent pitched in Raymond Park, just across the street from the hall.
After the guests had assembled in the hall and before the music began, the name of the building was announced, taking Alexandra Nichols completely by surprise.
The interior of the hall, with a flat front seating section and a fully banked balcony, provides everyone with good sight lines.
The opening concert is at 3 p.m. Sept. 23, a time when the architectural of the interior space renders it unique. “In the afternoon rays of sunlight come through the windows, giving it a very happy look,” Ruhstrat said. “There aren’t many performance spaces that have windows.”
For a complete list of the MIC’s programs in Nichols Concert Hall, visit www.musicinst.org/season-glance.