Celebrating the month of May

Find springtime art, music, and more

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Beth Adler’s Cyanotyped photos of Ancient Vessels on the inside of food boxes, then reconstructed inside out. (Photo credit: Adina Keeling)

It is well past time to hide your puffer coat and boots. And it might just be the ideal moment to sing a line or two from a song in Camelot , the 1960 classic by the team behind many legendary Broadway musicals--lyricist Alan Jay Lerner (son of successful New York Jewish retailers), and composer Frederick Loewe (son of Viennese parents whose father was a noted Jewish operetta star).

As King Arthur's love, Guinevere, sings at one point in the show: "Tra la, it's May, the lusty month of May, that lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray." And while I have no intention of leading you astray here, I do want to lead you to some wonderful visual art and music events this month. (And, incidentally, if you happen to be in New York between now and June 25 you might want to catch the revival of Camelot at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center.)

First, the work of a visual artist

* Vessels and Boxes

Born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, and a longtime resident of Evanston, Beth Herman Adler studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a graphic designer for 25 years "before rediscovering printmaking" and exploring fresh subjects and techniques.

Her latest work, on view through May 21 at The Firecat Project, 2019 N. Damen Ave. in Chicago, is titled "The Ancient Vessels Project." Inspired by "the variety, ubiquity, and incredible durability of vessels from ancient cultures," her current exhibit features photographs of those vessels, which first caught her attention at the Art Institute of Chicago. Printed on contemporary food boxes (including those for matzah), she used cyanotype--a 170-year-old photographic printing process that produces prints in a beautiful greenish-blue hue. (The word "cyan" comes from the Greek for "a dark blue substance.")

"Each work in the exhibit notes the vessel's age and culture of origin, as well as the type of food box used," Adler explained. "I view this as offering a commentary on our disposable culture. In addition, many objects in my exploration for the project were shaped like or depicted women, and this suggested that from carrying children, to embodying the soul of their culture, women in particular are all vessels."

Note: At 2 p.m. on May 21 at the Firecat, Adler will be joined in conversation about this exhibit by Claudia Brittenham, a University of Chicago professor and author of Vessels: The Object as Container .

To learn more about Adler, visit hermanadler.com .

And now, on to music

* Renee Fleming and Evgeny Kissen in concert

If a remarkable American operatic soprano (and actress) like Renee Fleming needs an ideal partner, it just doesn't get any better than Evgeny Kissin, the Russian-born Jewish pianist.

On May 14 at Orchestra Hall, in a joint production with Lyric Opera, both of these exceptional musicians will join forces for a performance of songs based on poems that were composed by Rachmaninov, Schubert, Liszt, and Henri Duparc, a French composer of the late Romantic period.

Born to Jewish parents in Moscow in 1971, Kissin, now a citizen of Britain and Israel, was a child prodigy. In addition to his bravura piano playing, he is a writer and composer with a passion for Russian and Yiddish poetry. He also is an outspoken critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and composed a piano trio in response to it.

* A Work by William Kraft with Maestro Muti Conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

I confess that until I read about the CSO's upcoming concert at Orchestra Hall (May 25, 26 and 27), I was unfamiliar with the Chicago-born composer, conductor, percussionist and timpanist William Kraft who died last year at the age of 98.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia--who moved to California when he was three years old, and Americanized their name from Kashareftsky to Kraft)--he studied conducting with Leonard Bernstein and became a mainstay with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a timpanist. In this concert, David Herbert, the CSO's exceptional Principal Timpanist, will take on the immensely challenging "lead role" in Kraft's "Timpani Concerto No. 1," playing on five drums rather than the usual configuration of four. And to be sure there will be a great deal more percussive sound.

Balancing out the program will be performances of works by Mozart and Respighi.

* Emanuel Ax returns to Orchestra Hall with the Emerson String Quartet

Just a bit of advance notice here about a not-to-be-missed pianist, Emmanuel Ax. Anyone who heard his breathtaking April 2 solo concert at Orchestra Hall that featured works by Schubert and Liszt will unquestionably want to return on June 2 to hear him join with the Emerson String Quartet. The quartet is making a stop in Chicago as part of its "farewell tour" before it disbands from the concert stage this fall after a run of 47 years. Ax will join the quartet (which includes two founding member violinists--Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, both Jewish) in a performance of Dvorak's "Piano Quintet No. 2."

For tickets to all three of the above concerts visit cso.org or call 312 294-3000.

The return of a Sondheim favorite

If you missed the stunning production of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical Into the Woods produced at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora earlier this year, you can catch a different production of this irresistible and ingenious hybrid of familiar fairy tales thanks to Broadway in Chicago's national touring production of the show that will run through May 7 at the Nederlander Theatre. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com .

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for WTTW-TV's website and contributes to the Chicago Tonight program. 

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