Rush Hour Concerts, the annual summer series founded by Deborah Sobol in 2000, offers free, half-hour chamber performances that, as the name implies, can be enjoyed on the way home from work. “The primary mission is to break down barriers to access for people who are curious about the concert experience,” said Anthony Devroye, the series’ artistic director. “We call it great music for busy lives.”
Another hallmark of Rush Hour series, which continues this summer each Tuesday through Aug. 28 and is presented by the International Music Foundation, is showcasing top area musicians, including members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “We’ve always been close with a handful of CSO players,” Devroye said. “We love having them on our series, and the audience loves to hear them in the spotlight outside the body of the orchestra.”
Although there will be fewer CSO musicians showcased this summer because of more overlapping dates than usual with the Ravinia Festival, listeners still will have the chance to hear four members during two concerts. Assistant principal cellist Kenneth Olsen and cellist Brant Taylor — two Rush Hour veterans — will be featured in Russian composer Anton Arensky’s String Quartet A Minor, Op. 35, on June 12. “It kind of flips the string quartet on its head,” said Devroye, who will perform the quartet’s viola part. “So instead of two violins, viola and cello, it’s two cellos, viola and one violin.”
Olsen also will participate July 10 when the Civitas Ensemble presents a program of Roma- or gypsy-inspired music with Czech violinist Pavel Šporcl. In addition to Olsen and pianist Winston Choi, the group includes two other CSO members: assistant concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu and clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom. The program, one of five in July incorporating other art forms, also involves locally based author Rachel DeWoskin, who teaches at the University of Chicago.
As part of its 2018 lineup, Rush Hour Concerts joins classical presenters throughout the world in marking the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, one of the most influential musicians and humanitarians of the 20th century. The series-opening concert on June 5 featured Arias and Barcarolles, an eight-part song cycle that Bernstein composed in 1988, and the finale on Aug. 28 will showcase his Chichester Psalms with conductor Stephen Buzard and the St. James Cathedral Choir. On June 26, the Fulcrum Point New Music Project will present Bernstein’s Orbit, a program that combines Bernstein’s Fanfare for Bima with works by William Bolcom and Michael Tilson Thomas, two composers associated with Bernstein.
“Practically half our concerts will have American music, including Bernstein and including other composers who are reaching significant milestones like Amy Beach at 150,” DeVroye said. “Some of that was kind of happenstance, and some of that was a direct tie-in with the idea of Bernstein’s centennial.” Indeed, the July 3 program is even titled “Americana.” It features the Fifth House Ensemble performing Beach’s Piano Trio and Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, a popular 1986 piano trio that features a pastiche of musical styles.
Rush Hour Concerts take place at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays in the St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron, and are preceded by a conversation at 5:15 p.m. For a complete lineup or other information, visit imfchicago.org/programs/rush-hour-concerts or call (312) 670-6888.