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'ChiScape' Pairs Music with Architecture for One-Night Symphony Performance

 Four composers lent their talents to compose music inspired by Chicago buildings.
ChiScapes: Soundtracks for Chicago Architecture
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THE LOOP — "Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music," 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling is thought to have said.

But what would Willis Tower's song sound like? Could you compose an ode to Union Station?

Chicago Sinfonietta is capping its 25th season with an unprecedented fusion of music and architecture titled "ChiScapes."

Part of a larger "CityScapes" concert that celebrates "the character of American cities through music," ChiScapes tasked four composers with creating short pieces inspired by a Chicago building of their choosing.

"It's a really unique idea; I'm not sure if I've known of another project like this," said composer Jennifer Higdon, who curated ChiScapes, choosing the artists and knitting their four distinct compositions into one piece.

"I've worked as a composer writing pieces in honor of buildings, and anniversaries of orchestras, but I've never done anything quite like this."

Higdon hand-selected composers Armando Bayolo, Vivian Fung, Jonathan Holland and Chris Rogerson, "a variety of really excellent composers whose styles I thought would fit well together," she said.

Each was sent a selection of iconic Chicago buildings to choose from, and sent a stack of photos for inspiration.

Puerto Rican-born Bayolo chose the Modern Wing of the Art Institute Chicago. Fung, who won the 2013 Juno award for "Classical Composition of the Year," selected the Aqua building. Holland composed for S. R. Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe's minimalist IIT building, and Rogerson chose the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Some composers drew on memories of past visits to Chicago and photos of their buildings, while others dug deeper.

"For the Aqua building piece, Vivian Fong contacted [Aqua's architect] Jeanne Gang and they started a ring of correspondence about the specific design of the building," Sinfonietta director Mei-Ann Chen said.

"With Chris Rogerson and the Pritzker Pavilion, he decided to go in a different direction, and make it a short fanfare. And it makes so much sense, because I remember my first impression of the Pritzker Pavilion, it's this sort of metallic and out-of-this-world feeling that hits you," Chen said.

Rogerson's resulting composition "is a huge ending that really captures that sense of open air. It's his own way of portraying something that feels bigger than what you can do in three minutes, in scope and in length."

Their four-part composition will join an excerpt from Higdon's piece "City Scape" and Michael Daugherty’s "Metropolis Symphony" on the June 9th concert lineup.

"What we're trying to do is just to find a different way to express that building," Chen said. "We will just present it like a new piece of art and see how the audience responds to it. And you know, they may love it, they may absolutely cheer for it, or they may say 'Hmm, that's interesting, I have to hear it again.' But that's art: We'd like to have a successful reception, but sometimes it's just important for us to present art as what it is."

"City Scapes" will have a single performance in Chicago at 3 p.m. June 9 at the Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets range from $26 to $50, with special $10 pricing available for students. Tickets can be bought online or by calling the Chicago Sinfonietta at 312-236-3681 Ext. 2.