Saturday, April 5, 2014

Concert Reviews: Moody Symphonic Band and Salonen conducts Sibelius (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

When I began this week, I had no hard plans to attend any concerts, but I came to the end of the week having attended and enjoyed two very different musical experiences.

David Gauger II leads the Moody Symphonic Band
On Sunday evening, I attended a performance by the Moody Symphonic Band from the Moody Bible Institute at a church on the northwest side of the city. A member of the band is a fellow congregant at Calvary Memorial Church, and invited me when we passed in the hall after service that morning. I was pleased to be able to accept the invitation, as it had been some time since I had heard any of the Moody music ensembles.

The Moody Symphonic Band, under the direction of David Gauger II, performed a wide selection of repertoire, including a number of pieces I had played when I was in a college band. The concert was anchored thematically by the life of King David. In between selections, different members of the band would give a monologue, acting as one of the characters from that story – Samuel, Jonathan, and so on. It was a beautiful performance.

The concert poster outside Symphony Center
Then on Thursday evening, I attended a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I had this particular program, “Salonen conducts Sibelius,” and date on my calendar since last summer, but it was only that morning, realizing that I was on schedule with all my work and could take an evening off, did I buy a ticket.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of frequent guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, offered a program of three very substantial works, spanning from the Romantic to Contemporary eras. The program began with <<rewind<<, a tone poem by Anna Clyne, one of the CSO’s composers-in-residence. I heard a Clyne composition two years ago at the CSO (Night Ferry), and this one was similar in her use of “layering” (as she herself wrote in the program notes).

Second on the program was Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin. I became familiar with this piece about four years ago, when I used it in a research paper during undergrad. It was fun to hear it again without having to analyze it! Bruce Yeh was excellent on the clarinet solos – all the soloists on this piece were excellent, truthfully.

After the intermission was the piece I was most looking forward to: Four Legends from the Kalevala, Op. 22 of Jean Sibelius. Sibelius is one of my favorite composers, but, as I have discovered, his music is not among the most often performed (regrettable, in my opinion). I did not know the Kalevala set, and was interested to read in the program notes before hand that the finale, according to program annotator Phillip Huscher, was even more exciting than that of the Second Symphony. The ending of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 is one of the more exciting moments of Western music, I think, so I was even more interested to hear the ending of Kalevala to compare. And exciting it was! Though I am still a fan of that Second Symphony…

The Moody Symphonic Band has unfortunately given their last regular concert of the season, but the CSO will repeat their Salonen conducts Sibelius program tonight and on Tuesday. Read more about that program in John Von Rhein's review of the Thursday performance for the Chicago Tribune.

Have you heard any concerts lately? Share your reactions in the comments section below!

Monday, March 24, 2014

College and Education

Troy Boccelli, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago, wrote for the Chicago Tribune last week about the value of a college education. He makes the observation that, in today's thinking in America, "The outlook is that if you don't attend college, you're probably McDonald's-bound." He then writes that we should focus on "re-evaluating the purpose of education."

All well and good, to both points. Boccelli's observation on the way non-college grads are viewed is fair, and I believe that the purpose of education should always be re-evaluated, otherwise we as a society will take it for granted and not make an adequate investment (either in the public or private sector).

However, I believe that college is about so much more than education, if by education we mean the transfer of knowledge and skills (Boccelli contrasts the professionals of a doctor and a plumber, and the differences in how the knowledge and skills for each are transferred, noting that plumbers do not need a college education to learn their trade). College should be about having a structured season of learning how to pursue knowledge and skills, not just of a given field of study but of life as a member of society. Particularly at residential colleges, young men and women experience the highest degree of personal responsibility of their lives to date. Relationships (both social and professional) form and develop in different ways, more closely to the way they form among adults, and "learning experiences" are often deeper because students do not "go home" from them at the end of the day. I firmly believe that college is a worthwhile investment, and I hope every person of influence, from all levels of government to the private sector to the educational institutions themselves, will consider what he or she can do to make college available to every young person.

Anyone who knows me will be able to guess where I will take my argument next: to the value of a liberal arts education. A young person who receives a liberal arts education, I believe, will be able to pursue any profession, from medicine to plumbing, with a deeper appreciation for the relationship between all branches of human knowledge, and can use the ability to make those connections to serve society holistically. I wonder what Troy Boccelli thinks about liberal arts education, and if he might be planning to pursue it?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lenten Resources

Lent, the period of forty days (not counting Sundays) preceding Easter, begins tomorrow. As I did last year, I would like to share a few resources.

First, an essay from The Gospel Coalition on five benefits of observing Lent. The one the particularly resonates with me is the fifth, "Lent prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday."

Also, two devotional resources:

The worship staff at Calvary Memorial Church (myself included) will spend Lent reading through "God Is on the Cross," a collection of forty daily readings curated from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The first two daily readings are viewable with Amazon's "Look Inside" feature (follow the link in the last sentence).

Also, Ray Pritchard has written a Lenten devotional, "Lord of Glory," with forty daily readings focusing on forty different names of Christ. The link in the last sentence will take you to a PDF of the devotional that you can download.

Have you come across any essays/articles/blog pieces on Lent, or have devotionals you will use this year? Please share in the comments section below!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Nice and Pretty

It is my observation that many middle-class American Christians think, subconsciously, that the gospel is “nice” and “pretty.” We sing songs about the love of God, we have decorative art pieces in our kitchens and offices, and we Like and Retweet short statements celebrating how awesome God is.

As C.S. Lewis might say, all well and good. But the gospel is not “nice.” It is not “pretty.”

The gospel is scandalous. It says that the most corrupt, cruel, self-centered human being can be washed clean and stand before the throne of Almighty God.

The gospel is also terrifying, because it says that you and I are corrupt, cruel, and self-centered, unworthy to stand before a holy God, except for the blood of Jesus that washes us clean.

The gospel is not nice or pretty because we are not nice or pretty. We are broken, messy, fallen creatures, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. We are in a hole so deep we can no longer see the light of day.

But the grace of God is greater. The grace of God, in the form of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Word made flesh, has come down into our low estate, redeemed us, washed us clean with His own blood, and made us worthy to stand before the throne of God.

It is difficult, sometimes, to recognize the depth of one’s own depravity when one has a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, with clean running water, a paycheck every other Friday, and the police a quick phone call away should you hear a weird noise in the alley at two in the morning.

It is difficult, sometimes, to recognize how stained we are when we take a shower and put on clean clothes every morning, and arrive in our offices and classrooms to find that someone has come to sweep, mop, and take out the trash during the overnight hours.

But that depravity and those stains are real. The gospel is the lens through which it all becomes shockingly, horrifyingly real.

But the gospel is also the purifying, cleansing river of blood that flows from Calvary. The scene at Golgotha was not nice or pretty. But it was there, on that terrifying, scandalous night, that a way was made for us to be reconciled to our Creator. That night, the world experienced a cosmic shift in the war against sin.

And a few mornings later, the world experienced a cosmic shift in the war against death as well.

Lent begins next week, and in April will come Holy Week, and then Easter. Please resist the tendency to see these occasions as “nice” times to reflect on the story of those days. Instead, see them as occasions to celebrate the gospel.

The gospel. The beautiful, glorious, precious gospel of the grace of God.