Today we enjoy a wealth of ways to listen to music, from concerts to Internet radio. However, for many centuries, only three real options existed: in church, in a concert hall (or palace) and in the home, which was by far the most common way to enjoy music. Musical parties in the home often brought together a few semi-professional musicians, sometimes just family members. The family of J.S. Bach held many such soirées, and in general, they were common until the early 20th century, when the gramophone began to replace the home concert with something a bit scratchy and tinny, but performed by professionals with charming foreign names. Now, with fewer people trained in music, home concerts are a rarity everywhere, including Chicago.
Music in the Loft is one of the few ways one can experience the intimacy of a home chamber music concert in Chicago. Here, performance takes place in a luxury loft just west of downtown, kitty-corner to Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios. In addition to the uniqueness of the small environment (seating a maximum of 105 people), Music in the Loft limits the age of its performers to 35 and younger. Many have won major national and international prizes; notable past performers include violinist Rachel Barton, The Ying, Corigliano, The Avalon String Quartet, The Pacifica String Quartet, The Amelia Trio, The Lincoln Trio, pianist Adam Neiman and soprano Michelle Areyzaga, to name but a few.
A season consists of approximately ten performances over the course of a year, spread over Friday night concerts, Sunday matinees and the occasional special event to commemorate the birth of a great composer or to celebrate a holiday. The musical selections include generous helpings of standard repertoire, including Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, Bach and other 19th century masters. The works of 20th century composers like Shostakovich, Bartok, Ravel and Debussy are also represented, as well as a smattering of works by living composers who work on commission from Music in the Loft. The Music in the Loft Composers in Residence are given a one-year term and have included Pierre Jalbert, Ricardo Lorenz, Carter Pann, Vivian Fung, Zhou Tian, Matthew Tommasini and Chicagoan Lita Grier. All write music that is consistently moving and interesting.
Part of Music in the Loft's charm is its location: The glittering view of downtown Chicago is one of the best in the city, and it's accented nicely by the post-concert reception with wine, various sweets and savories, and a chance to chat one-on-one with the musicians. Music in the Loft Director Fredda Hyman makes her audience feel welcome, greeting them personally before every concert. Her engaging manner and smile set the stage for a very familial atmosphere, which makes perfect sense as the audience is sitting in her expansive living room. The space is very attractive, with paintings, strategically placed sculptures and objects d'art framing a performance area in which the furniture has been banished and replaced with comfortable folding chairs arranged with an aisle down the middle.
"We started organizing concerts many years ago in Hyde Park, although we weren’t called Music in the Loft yet. Then we moved to this new location in the West Loop area," Ms. Hyman said. She noticed that her new home had superb acoustics and decided to begin hosting music performances. "We want our audience to be relaxed and able to just concentrate on the music at close range," she said. "People are never more than 25 feet from the musicians and usually a lot closer than that. They can hear and see every nuance."
On many occasions, the performers will speak to the audience and share some of their experiences with the music they are about to play. Occasionally, Music in the Loft concerts will be broadcast on WFMT (98.7 FM), and Ms. Hyman notes that many who have heard the on-air broadcasts have subsequently become regulars at the live performances. An individual admission costs $20.
For more information about Music in the Loft, including performance schedules and music CDs, see their Web site at http://musicintheloft.org.
Video production and photography by David Heidt and Malcolm Taylor.