As I desperately fight for a place to sit in my favorite neighborhood café with free wireless internet, I find myself once again shocked by the sudden insurgence of people, correlative to the gorgeous spring-time conditions of Chicago.
Having been spoiled by the breezy, spring-like Texas winters for most of my life, I give myself props for obstinately braving all the gray and ice that contribute to Chicago winters and seasonal depression, marveling at the deserted streets and noting that my favorite Chicago locales are suddenly my own private territory: the café with the free wireless internet, for example; the Museum of Contemporary Art; the 24-hour diner on my street with the awesomely-pink dishware; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra box office with oodles of last-minute (and discounted) rush tickets…
Imagine my concern, as a brand new Rush Hour staffer, when I found out that Rush Hour’s Fanfare Committee decided to produce a pre-season event, dubbed “Rush Hour Tasting,” on April 29. The Fanfare Committee, comprised of Chicago-area young professionals, planned the event to raise friends and funds for Rush Hour. The concept itself was lovely – a house concert akin to Parisian salon society with various wines and beverages, hors d’oeuvres, and of course, world-class chamber music.
But with our precarious winter season not quite past us, in the back of my mind were nagging thoughts of, “What if it snows in April and nobody shows up?”; or worse, “What if everyone shows up but the musicians are stranded in a fit of raging sleet?”; or even more horrifying, “What if everyone somehow makes it to the event but inadvertently trashes the home with black snow and dirty shoes?”
I maintain that the last concern, no matter how histrionic it may seem right now, was a logical one. Friends of Rush Hour graciously and generously donated their gorgeous private home specifically for this event, and not enough superlatives or photos would do this home justice. Personally designed and decorated, this Lakeview house was a sanctuary in the urban Chicago neighborhood, fully equipped with modern architectural details; beautifully eclectic and contemporary furnishings; a grassy backyard with a spacious patio, swing set, and a wine-colored Japanese maple; and two of the most well-behaved four- and seven-year-old boys you will ever meet.
At last, armed with an RSVP list of 50-plus guests and many more gift bags, we braced ourselves for Sunday, April 29. A good omen for Rush Hour’s 8th summer season, which launches on June 5, the sky was clear and the sun was bright, and it turned out to be a beautiful, 80-degree day. Guests showed up sun-kissed and warm, and we knew we had created something quite special for everyone’s enjoyment.
Mingling over various drinks and foods upon arrival, the crowd the Fanfare Committee attracted was a handsome mix of 20- and 30-somethings. Rush Hour was created by pianist Deborah Sobol to accommodate busy and modern lifestyles of the hyper-internet age – from iPods and declining CD sales to stressed out urbanites trapped on Lake Shore Drive – by affording everyone the luxury to experience world-class music performances in a casual, relaxing and free setting (a no-cost “happy hour” meets “Paris salon,” if you will). To our satisfaction and great relief, our pre-season house concert experiment turned out to be a great reflection of Deborah’s Rush Hour vision.
Settling into the living and dining rooms, the guests were treated to performances by violinist Lei Hou and cellists Brant Taylor and Ken Olsen. Typical of Rush Hour’s summer concert format, the musicians spoke a little bit about each of the pieces on the program and entertained questions from guests. To say they played beautifully would be an understatement, as they are all members of the world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Our program featured:
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Selections from Forty-Four Duos
David Popper (1843 – 1913)
Suite for Two Cellos, Op. 16
IV. Largo espressivo
Jean Barrière (1705-1747)
Sonata in G Major for Two Cellos
III. Allegro prestissimo
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7
I. Allegro serioso, non troppo
With the late afternoon sun peeping through the windows and the spring currents streaming through the open doors and windows, our singular wish at the conclusion of the evening was for just a couple of the guests, many of whom are self-professed non-classical music listeners and newcomers to Rush Hour, to proudly wear their specially-designed, Rush Hour-branded American Apparel t-shirts, hibernate no more, and come see us again starting in June.
The most precious moment that day for me, after weeks of scrounging for funds, planning, and curling ribbons for the gift bags, was seeing four-year-old Jack Jack nestled in his father’s arms during the performances. (Have I mentioned how well-behaved the hosts’ two boys are?) It is immensely gratifying to meet a family so generous and supportive of the arts, and if a four-year-old can quietly sit through a performance of Kodály, then Rush Hour’s mission to integrate the arts into today’s world was promisingly and propitiously realized once again.