Weekender celebrates spring with classical music, Shakespearean pulp and Nigerian beats

March 31, 2012

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What an odd doubleheader we’re facing this Sunday. The week will end just as the new month begins so you’d best be on the lookout for April Fools' tricks and pranks, including right here on Weekender.

It is also Palm Sunday, which for Christians around the world marks the beginning of Holy Week, leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

When I lived in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, home to a cluster of imposing Catholic and Orthodox churches, two signs always alerted me that Easter was just around the corner: Carved wooden eggs would show up at the local grocer and women bearing large branches of pussy willow would appear on the streets.

Local clarinetist James Falzone marks the arrival of Easter with a different procession – leading a performance of French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The story behind this work is fascinating – Messiaen finished composing and first performed the piece in 1941, while he was being held in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Falzone thinks that context could make us approach this music as “somehow haunting or negative.” After all, “[Messiaen] didn’t know if he would last a week, he was deprived of food and having hallucinatory dreams.” But to Falzone, there is “such great hope in writing a piece of music that literally stops time when you’re in captivity … time continues even when this time stops.”

That sense of time without end plays out on multiple levels. As Falzone explains, parts of the eight movements are performed very slowly – “at quarter note 54, which is almost off the left-hand side of the metronome” (check that tempo out here). And Messiaen “buried” rhythmic patterns in his music that function as hidden palindromes – small rhythms without beginning or end.

We may not be able to hear them, but the palindromes work as small gestures or gifts to a higher being: Messiaen was a Catholic mystic who expressed his theology – a belief in an infinite creator – through musical experimentation. What is audible - to the naked and perhaps more earthbound ear attuned to spring - are the songs of birds. Falzone told me Messiaen was “fascinated with bird sounds” and would both transcribe and manipulate them within his own music.

Messiaen’s sophisticated interweaving of aesthetic and spiritual beliefs in the Quartet obviously fascinates Falzone – this will be his fourth time performing the Quartet on Palm Sunday. You have two opportunities to experience it – Friday night at the Musical Offering in Evanston and Sunday at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Bucktown.

Other Weekender suggestions for saluting the spring season are below – get out there and enjoy!

 

1. Bard Fiction

Friday - Sunday

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is known for his way with words. So how does his Pulp Fiction sound in Shakespeare-speak? Commedia Beauregard finds out!

 

Greenhouse Theater Center

2257 N. Lincoln

 

 

2. Fela!

Friday - Sunday

A musical about the Nigerian musician - as famous for his Afrobeat style as his pointed politics.

Oriental Theater

24 W. Randolph Street

 

 

 

3. Green Healthy Neighborhood Public Meeting

Saturday 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Make your garden - and your community - grow!

University of Chicago - School of Social Service Administration

969 East 60th Street

 

 

4. 43rd Annual Chicago Biggest Liar Contest

Saturday 8 p.m.

Some of Chicago's finest - including WBEZ's Don Hall - spin tall tales just in time for April Fools' Day.

Herdegen-Brieske Funeral Home

1356 W. Wellington Ave

 

 

5. Bombay Streets at Dodo

Saturday 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Presented by Soul Cocina

Chicago-born chef Roger Feely developed his regional cooking chops on the South Side - now he applies them to Indian street treats.

Dodo

954 W. Fulton St

 

6. By A Whisker: A Kittenish Musical

All weekend long

Presented by Weekender

Kittens dance, drink beer and debate the merits of Fancy Feast versus Nine Lives.

 

 

 

 

7. Seun Kuti and Egypt 80

Sunday 8 p.m.

Seun Kuti channels his father Fela's fierce musical beats and political stance. Prepare yourself for a solid sonic experience!

House of Blues Chicago

329 N. Dearborn

 

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