Can fashion be part of classical music? At the Chicago Sinfonietta concert, a violinist’s dress will transform onstage – Chicago Tribune

 Can fashion be part of classical music? At the Chicago Sinfonietta concert, a violinist’s dress will transform onstage – Chicago Tribune


Melissa White has lost count of how many times she has performed at the Chicago Sinfonietta. Founder Paul Freeman took him under his wing when he was a precocious preteen violinist, his mom driving him from Lansing, Michigan, to the Music Institute of Chicago for lessons.

Today, he is a founding violinist of the Harlem Quartet, a professor at New York University and a former winner of the prestigious Sphinx Competition whose performances have taken him around the world.

On May 14 and 16, he will return to his old stomping grounds for Sinfonietta’s “Limitless Horizon” event to play “The Butterfly Lovers,” a 1959 violin concerto written by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao that became an early which is the basis of traditional Chinese. and European classical stylistic fusion.

“It’s like coming back with the family to perform,” White said of Sinfonietta.

Except there’s a twist. White will perform at the concert in a dress specially designed for the occasion by local artist Carley Brandeaux. Like the split chrysalis-or like the Butterfly Lovers transforming the star into a butterfly at the end of the folktale-the dress changes shape as the concerto continues.

Brandeaux got on Sinfonietta’s radar after he won a Luminarts grant in 2018 for his work in the graduate studio at the School of the Art Institute. There, he studied with renowned actor Nick Cave, the subject of a retrospective MCA opening on the same day as the Sinfonietta concert. Before moving to Chicago from North Carolina, Brandeaux specialized in sculpture but found his calling in designing pieces for the human form, starting with rolled, wearable wood artwork.

“It’s a dream commission for me. And I want it to change a lot through the show,” Brandeaux said.

Her clothing design for White is the source of a unique linen and rayon blend made to her specifications at The Weaving Mill in Humboldt Park, run by textile artist Emily Winter.

“I picked these greens, these yellows, these browns, and put them on the quilt, then he helped me create this weaving structure that allowed us to play with gradients,” says Brandeaux, who showing scraps in his studio in Irving Park.

Stitched on the other side of the blend – and slowly visible to the audience at first – is hand -painted silk. The colors and patterns evoke the orange-and-tawny wings of the American Painted Lady, a butterfly native to the Chicago metro area.

Unless you’re a bug nerd, you’ve probably mistaken American Painted Lady for the more recognizable Monarch, at least at a quick glance. That’s a new step Brandeaux won’t be able to take anytime soon, thanks to the hours of lepidopterological study he put into the Sinfonietta commission.

“Now, when I’m outside, I can recognize different butterflies because of this research,” he said.

White says the idea for the show was almost completely formed when music director Mei-Ann Chen put it on her during the 2019 Sinfonietta gala. But, of course, the pupal stage of the project turned out to be longer than expected.

“It was originally intended to happen in 2020, then we tried to do it again last season.” White smiled. “Third time the beauty.”

Coincidentally, the deferred Sinfonietta concert came just weeks after the Guardian column last month criticized the generally monkish approach to classical music in fashion. Author Leah Broad’s argument that a soloist’s garb can – and even should – be considered part of their performance has sparked an enthusiastic debate among classical music fans. Soprano Rachel Nicholls ’subsequent letter to the editor criticized Broad’s tears in the heart for overweight women, who, unlike men, lack the luxury of a default option. (See: tuxes and black suit.)

Regardless of gender, many famous soloists have announced their collaborations with designers. Leif Ove Andsnes – who served a double role as pianist and conductor of Chicago Symphony programs last month when director Riccardo Muti contracted COVID -19 – was a famous sucker for Issey Miyake’s suits . Animated with her own youthful love for classical music, designer Jenny Lai created what she called “performance wear” for stars such as violinists Jennifer Koh and Leila Josefowicz, bass-baritone Davóne Tines and flutist Claire Chase. Perhaps most surprisingly, Vivienne Westwood has been the exclusive dress of pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet for 20 years.

Next week’s concerts will mark the first time White will wear a special costume on stage. However, she says she always ties her dress to her solo programs, if the shoes fit (pardon the expression). Recently, in a streamed concert with the Albany Symphony, he performed George Tsontakis ’Violin Concerto No. 2 in an elaborate cobalt gown, chosen for its resemblance to the deep blue of the Greek flag.

“I thought it would be perfect to wear this blue for a piece by a (American-born) Greek composer who was very strong in his nature. And when I go to Mozart, I envision a whole- os skirt, “White said.” I think about the piece I’m performing as well as what experience I want the audience to have as they watch me play it on stage. “

But this time, that’s a more creative vision than Brandeaux’s. White returns to Chicago for his fourth and final fit this week, where two will end the course of clothing changes-four for now, and counting.

“I want him to go wild with what’s on his mind. I’m open to anything, ”White said.

Anything, like you?

Looking at the dress in his studio, Brandeaux tapped a stiff ruffle fabric on its side. “I think I could add some kind of cape, really.”

“Limitless Horizon” also includes the world premieres of Michelle Isaac’s “Moshe’s Dream” and Derrick Skye’s “To Be A Horizon”. 8 pm May 14 at Wentz Concert Hall at North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave, Naperville, tickets $ 17- $ 62; 7:30 pm May 16 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., tickets $ 17- $ 101 at (312) 284-1554 ug chicagosinfonietta.org/horizon/

Hannah Edgar is a freelance writer.

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism helped fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune maintains complete editorial control over the works and content.



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