Deborah Sobol Memorial

Kenneth Olsen, cello

Kuang-Hao Huang, piano

August 18, 2020

Rush Hour Concerts

Robbie Ellis, host


Robert Schumann – Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

I. Zart und mit Ausdruck

II. Lebhaft, leicht

III. Rasch und mit Feuer

Ethel Smyth – Cello Sonata, Op. 5

I. Allegro moderato

II. Adagio non tropppo

III. Allegro vivace e grazioso

Kenneth Olsen joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Assistant Principal Cello in 2005.

He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and a winner of the school’s prestigious concerto competition. His other awards include first prize in the Nakamichi Cello Competition at the Aspen Music Festival and second prize at the 2002 Holland-America Music Society Competition. His teachers have included Richard Aaron at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Joel Krosnick at the Juilliard School of Music and Luis Garcia-Renart at Bard College. He also has been a participant at the Steans Institute for Young Artists (the Ravinia Festival’s professional studies program for young musicians) and at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute.

A native of New York, Kenneth Olsen is a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a conductorless string orchestra comprised of young musicians from orchestras and ensembles all over the country.

Commended for his “perceptive pianism” (Audiophile) and “playing that is sensitive and wonderfully warm” (American Record Guide), Chicagoan Kuang-Hao Huang is a highly sought-after collaborative pianist whose performances have taken him throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  He has performed in New York City’s Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Merkin Hall; in Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center; and at every major venue in the Chicago area, including the Harris Theatre and Symphony Center.  He is often heard live on WFMT and has also performed on WQXR and on

A strong advocate of new music, Mr. Huang is a core member of Fulcrum Point New Music Project and Picosa.  He has also premiered numerous works, including pieces by Mason Bates, Jacob Bancks, Kyong Mee Choi, Stacy Garrop,  John Harbison, Daniel Kellogg and Shulamit Ran.

A dedicated teacher, Mr. Huang serves on the faculties of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and Concordia University-Chicago.  He has also taught at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Mr. Huang is Associate Artistic Director for the International Music Foundation and is the driving force behind Make Music Chicago (, a day-long, citywide celebration of music on the summer solstice.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Fantastiestücke, Op. 73 (1849) 

Born in Germany, Robert Schumann would grow to be one of the most influential composers of the Romantic era and also someone who was dealt more than his share of anguish. At the age of sixteen, Robert’s father died, followed in the same month by his sister committing suicide. He also suffered from bipolar disorder, though his manic episodes would lead to his most productive writing periods of both music and novels. Another positive in his life would be Clara Wieck, who was his piano teacher’s daughter and would eventually become his wife. Despite his loving wife’s presence, he was still troubled by his bipolar disorder–one of his low points bringing him to try to commit suicide by throwing himself in the Rhein River. He was rescued, but would never be the same, being put in an asylum for the remaining two years of his life.

In his short life he produced a stunning musical catalog of symphonies, concertos, choral and chamber works, and numerous songs and solo piano works. He was also prolific as a music critic, founding the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music) while only 24 years of age.

Program Notes:

Written during one of his self-proclaimed productive periods, the Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 was originally written for clarinet and piano, though also published for and equally performed by violinists, cellists and others. Conceived as a set of lyrical miniatures, this set like his earlier piano works, shows his strong connection to literature and story-telling, linking all three movements harmonically. The first movement titled Delicate and expressive is followed by an equally compelling Lively, easy second movement. The third movement wraps up the work energetically titled Fast and with fire.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

Fast Facts:

  • Dreamed of becoming a piano virtuoso but had to let it go due to one of his fingers being numb from either a splint contraption to strengthen his hand muscles, or from mercury poisoning from a syphilis treatment.
  • Was not a fan of contemporary composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner
  • The year after Robert married Clara he was so happy and in love that he couldn’t help but compose new songs, amounting to 140 lieders that year.

Fast Facts:

  • Through the suffragette movement Smyth befriended writer Virginia Woolf, claiming to have fallen in love with her, though they would just remain good friends.  
  • In 1903 Smyth’s opera Der Wald was the first and only opera by a female composer to be performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera until 2016.
  • Smyth was a huge dog lover, having dogs for over fifty years. She had a sheepdog named Pan and would end up having Pan II, Pan III, up to Pan VII. She wrote a collected biography of her dogs called Inordinate (?) Affection: A Story for Dog Lovers (1936).

Ethel Smyth (1864-1935)

Cello Sonata, Op. 5 (1887) 

Composer, conductor, author and suffragette, Dame Ethel Smyth was born during the Victorian era, but constantly fought against the societal norms saying women should not have careers. In protest, she insisted on an education, performance of her works, and on the publishing of her compositions. Born into a middle-class English family, Ethel’s only hope of changing her standing was to protest and rebel, starting against her own family when they forced her to stop teaching and studying. Eventually her father would give in after years of fights, letting Ethel study in Leipzig, leading to friendships with Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann, Dvorak and others.

From 1911 to 1913 Ethel worked tirelessly with the English suffragette movement, even composing The March of the Women which became the anthem for the movement.  In 1912, she was arrested and served two months in prison with over 100 other feminists for breaking the windows of congress members’s homes. Her friend Thomas Beecham wrote about his visit to her in prison when he found her conducting The March of the Women from her cell, sung by her fellow suffragettes in the yard.

The suffragette movement suspended their activities during the First World War, leading Smyth to work in a French military hospital. During this time she increasingly worked on her novels due to the troubling loss of her hearing. She produced an impressive eight volumes of memoirs entitled Impressions That Remained. In this last period of her life, she would be recognized for her talents being the first female composer to be awarded damehood as well as honorable degrees and becoming the first female to receive an honorary doctorate in music from Oxford University.

Program Notes:

Written at the age of 23 while in Germany, Cello Sonata, Op. 5 was written while under the influence of Brahms and Herzogenberg. Written to show her technical command as a composer, this work is much more than that, providing lyrical expertise and a truly profound piece, playing with tonal coloring.

Following a classical fast-slow-fast sonata form, this sonata starts with an Allegro moderato theme reminiscent of Brahms with hints of melancholy but not brooding. The second movement Adagio non troppo begins quietly and reflectively, in a sad and somber mood. The sonata ends with an Allegro vivace, which artfully plays with the melancholy and introverted melodies from the previous two movements but gives them a more upbeat dance style.

Notes by Ashley Ertz


This concert is generously sponsored by Norman and Cynthia Goldring, Dr. Rowland Chang and The Friends of Debbie Sobol.

The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts

and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

Don’t miss Neil Kimel, Robert Hanford and Andrea Swan

next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday August 25, 5:45pm

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