Rufus Wainwright

The rain held, and under a cloudless sky, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Rufus Wainwright performed at Ravinia today.

Conducted by Jeffrey Kahane, the CSO played Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, which started off lively and with a hopeful air to depict the triumph of Sicilian troops before getting more tumultuous with mixed in minor keys to show the complication of the plot due to a budding romance. Then, the orchestra switched to the Scherzo and Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn, with the Scherzo being a frenzy of fairy activity with twittering flutes and the fluttering of the timpani to draw the listener into Shakespeare’s imaginary world of fairies. The Nocturne is similar in style, but with the added mellowness of the strings in the background and the slower tempo, a quiet yet magical night is conjured up. I especially loved the skittering of the percussive instruments – it truly shows off the diversity of what one can express with instruments, especially when used in new and creative ways.

Rufus Wainwright came on next, and he performed Five Shakespeare Sonnets, which are basically sonnets put with orchestral music and sung in a haunting, tenor voice that is characteristic of the American-Canadian artist. The melodies were modern in style, jumping from minor to minor key, and contains a hint of inexplicableness that reflects the sonnet’s intricate structure. My favourite one he sang was For Shame (Sonnet 10), which stood out because it was more harmonious than the others.

After the intermission, Wainwright switched between playing on the piano and guitar, singing various different songs from his albums. The most famous ones (that I actually recognised) included “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”, and Cohen’s “Hallelujiah”. He also sang a new song he’s working on called “Barbara”, which I also enjoyed. Apparently he’s trying to work his way into the operatic scene, combining old traditions with modern styles and ways of making music. I could see this in his sung sonnets, and while I’m not sure how well this would do in today’s audiences, I definitely applaud his efforts at tackling such a challenge. Don’t give up, Wainwright – maybe I’ll even see you at the Lyric Opera someday!

And now I feel like watching Shrek again.

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