Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.
But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.
If only that were everything.
First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.
Next, all of this:
- The Experimental Aviation Association cancelled AirVenture 2020, the huge annual fly-in that brings thousands of airplanes to Oshkosh, Wis. (Bonus: video of a brand-new Airbus A-380 landing at the small Wisconsin airport in 2009.)
- The New Republic on "the morbid ideology behind the drive to reopen America."
- Republican legislatures and governors made it harder to get unemployment benefits in general, which makes it needlessly difficult to get them in this current crisis.
- Trump whipped out his "very good people" trope to support the armed protesters who stormed the Michigan State Capitol this week.
- Paul Krugman: "Crashing economy, rising stocks: What's going on?"
- Megan Garber: "Groundhog Day was a horror movie all along."
- Bruce Schneier says Covid-19 contact tracing apps "have absolutely no value." Only "ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing" will make a difference.
- Alexandra Petri: "Heroes, we cannot possibly repay you for your sacrifice, so we will make no effort to." ("We will give you everything except PPE, and we will offer you all the thanks in the world but an increase in compensation.")
But some good news:
Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.
President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.
Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."
Last night I had the wonderful experience of performing Bach's Johannes-Passion with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. I say "performing" because, recognizing that we had already cancelled our performance on Saturday and would probably cancel Sunday's as well, this was our one shot. Three months of preparation, hours of study and practicing German diction, gone. And I'm on my second half-personal-day at home dealing with the cleanup, which has included a few hundred emails, changes to the chorus website and ticketing system, consulting with the rest of the Board...and grocery shopping.
We cancelled Sunday's concert in part because Illinois Governor JB Pritzker ordered all events with 1,000 or more attendees cancelled, and recommended events with more than 250 people also be cancelled. Since we have 100 singers and 75 instrumentalists on stage...well, there you go. No audience allowed.
This makes me no different than other performers and athletes all over the world right now. In Chicago alone, the list of local cancellations has dozens of items. Just now, the Chicago Teachers Union has demanded that Chicago Public Schools close as well. For parents and children who live with food insecurity, that could hurt a lot.
And yet, the thing that enraged me, and has generated near-universal opprobrium, was the President's speech on Wednesday night. Some reactions:
- "Trump’s 10-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but, in some ways, much of his presidency. It was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads."—Washington Post
- "This latest Trump speech was uniquely incompetent and inappropriate.... In my view it had three problems: how it was conceived; how it was written; and how it was delivered."—Former presidential speechwriter James Fallows
- "At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?"—David Frum
- "Rather than focusing on what we need to do here at home, the president focused on trying to ward off the evil that he insisted was coming from abroad."—Chicago Council on Global Affairs president Ivo Daalder
- "Donald Trump is panicky and clueless"—Kevin Drum
- "Trump is singularly incapable of addressing this credibly or effectively, with anything like the right mix of realism and hope the crisis demands."—Andrew Sullivan
We live in really weird times. If only we had a leader to reassure us.
We just sent this out:
After much deliberation, and in consultation with Music Director Stephen Alltop, the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, and both of our concert venues, we have decided to cancel our concert at St Luke’s scheduled for this Saturday March 14th.
The ESO has agreed that tickets to Saturday’s performance will be honored on Sunday at 3pm at the Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church performance. If you bought a ticket through our online system for Saturday’s performance and provided an email address, we will also be in contact with you directly.
The health of our members, our audience, and our communities is our first priority. We will continue to monitor this situation, and abide by requests from CDC and other government entities. Tonight and on Sunday, we will have hand sanitizer available throughout ECRC, and church staff and ushers will be wearing gloves on Sunday.
Thank you for your support of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago during this difficult time.
Let me just say that the board meeting we had a couple of hours ago had surprisingly little acrimony.
I wrote three versions of the release, one for our members, one for the community at large, and one for our ticketholders. It's been a busy afternoon. And we're still rehearsing tonight for Sunday's performance, just with more hand sanitizer than usual.
The Apollo Chorus performed Joby Talbot's Everest a few weeks ago, and to prepare for the opera I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (The opera is based on the events described in that book.) I concluded that climbing Mt Everest is insane.
That didn't stop about 100 climbers from attempting to summit on May 23rd of this year, contributing to one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history:
[T]wo decades on, the Everest experience often seems to have devolved even further into a circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion. In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal; this year three Indian climbers returned home to celebratory crowds after they supposedly summited on May 26, only to be accused of fraud after other mountaineers claimed that they never made it past 23,500 feet.
And then there are the growing crowds. For this year's climbing season, Nepal handed out 381 permits to scale Everest, the most ever. The Chinese government distributed more than 100 permits for the northern side. According to the Himalayan Database, the number of people summiting Everest has just about doubled in the past decade. And in that time the mountain has become accessible even to relative novices, thanks to a proliferation of cut-rate agencies that require little proof of technical skill, experience, or physical fitness. “Some of these companies don't ask any questions,” says Rolfe Oostra, an Australian mountaineer and a founder of France-based 360 Expeditions, which sent four clients to the summit this year. “They are willing to take anybody on, and that compounds the problems for everyone.”
On May 22—the day before Grubhofer reached the top—a long line near the summit had already begun to form. One of those pinned in the throng was a Nepali climber named Nirmal Purja. That morning, Purja snapped a photo of the chaos. The picture showed a near unprecedented traffic jam on the popular southern side: a column of hundreds of climbers snaking along the knifelike summit ridge toward the Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the top, packed jacket-to-jacket as if they were queued up for a ski lift in Vail. The image rocketed around the world and, as the events on the mountain were still developing, raised an urgent question: What the hell is going on atop Mount Everest?
I still think these people are crazy. If I ever see Mt Everest, it will be from the pressurized cabin of a transport-class airplane. I'm fine with that.
I will, however, see the opera again when it comes to the Barbican on June 20th.
Somehow, it's December again: winter in the northern hemisphere. Another 8 weeks of sunsets before 5pm, sunrises after 7am, and cold gray skies. At least it builds character.
For me, it also means two weeks of non-stop Händel. Rehearsals tomorrow, Thursday, next Monday, and next Wednesday; performances Tuesday, Friday, and on the 14th and 15th.
Two of those won't be Apollo performances per se. On Tuesday a few of us will visit a local retirement community and help out with their annual sing-a-long of Part 1. We go every year and apparently they keep asking us to come back. Then on Friday, some of us are volunteering for a local church's performance of Parts 1 and 2, another event they keep asking us to come back for. We must be doing something right. (Not to mention, this will be our 140th year doing Messiah, so we've had some practice.)
As Gordon Sondland throws the president under the bus (probably because (a) he's under oath and (b) the president would do it to him soon enough), there are actually a lot of other things going on in the world:
More work to do now.
Chicago Classical Review attended our performance of Everest and Aleko this weekend:
There are a myriad of reasons why an operatic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air should not work. And yet it does. Composer [Joby] Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer have crafted a compelling 70-minute opera adapted form Krakauer’s nonfiction book about the disastrous 1996 Everest expedition in which eight people died.
Scheer wisely narrows the scope to three mountaineers, alternating their increasingly desperate situation on the South Summit with communications with their concerned loved ones and the base camp. The large vocal ensemble in back acts as a kind of Greek Chorus, questioning the men, offering philosophical observations, and commenting on the climbers’ actions, and the fates of the many who have died attempting to reach the summit.
The Apollo Chorus delivered all the power, mystery and atmosphere of Talbot’s choral passages, directed by Stephen Alltop.
The Stage & Cinema blog also gave us a nice review.
Not to mention, we really enjoyed the works. And the performance. Plus, Scheer and Talbot came to the cast party afterwards.
The audience loved last night's performance of Everest and Aleko. Everest composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer attended, and I had the opportunity to meet them backstage at intermission. They both reported being overjoyed by our performance. Nice.
I discovered in researching this post that the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform Everest at the Barbican on 20 June 2020. Hell yes, I'm going.
If you don't want to wait until June, you can hear us this afternoon at Harris Theater.
In about four hours, I'll be warming up for tonight's double bill of Everest and Aleko with the Chicago Opera Theater. Chicago's last remaining classical radio station, WFMT, went to our rehearsal on Monday (when I was in London, unfortunately for me):
n this staging, both works employ a large chorus made up of over 100 members, including members of Apollo Chorus of Chicago. Their function, Yankovskaya explains, is akin to a Greek Chorus: "In Everest, the chorus serves as the voice of the mountain often or the voice of the people of the past who have climbed the mountain. In Aleko, likewise, the chorus is often commenting on the surroundings and creating an atmosphere."
In the piece "The lights have gone out" from Aleko, the chorus "creates a sense of time and place," Yankovskaya shares. "The lights have all gone out in the Roma tents. The travelers are going to sleep, and the two lovers, Zemfira and the Young Gypsy, are about to come out and have their duet. But before that happens, we hear this setting created by the chorus."
WFMT posted video from the rehearsal.
You want tickets? We got tickets. PM me for a discount code.