Ralph Shapey Memorial Concert | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ralph Shapey Memorial Concert 

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University of Chicago composer Ralph Shapey, who died last June at age 81, wrote music that elicited strong reactions--positive and negative. Shapey abandoned the early 20th century's rigid formalism for something more grand and romantic, leading others to label him a "radical traditionalist" and an "abstract expressionist"--both terms he thought appropriate. He was fond of making statements such as "Great art is a miracle" and "Great music is not for the masses," and he often compared himself to Beethoven. Shapey's wildness has scared off listeners and performers alike: at the premiere of his Chicago Symphony Orchestra commission Concerto Fantastique, many old-timers fled, and some of the CSO players wished they could have too. But in his best work, huge, rough blocks of sound clash according to a precise and lucid order, and many of Shapey's compositions, from his fervent oratorios to his energetic piano variations, benefit from repeated listenings--it takes time for the initial jolt to give way to appreciation. Violinist Joel Smirnoff, cellist Joel Krosnick (both of the Juilliard String Quartet), and pianist Gilbert Kalish are among the most steadfast champions of Shapey's chamber pieces. Smirnoff met Shapey in the late 60s while playing in the U. of C.'s Contemporary Chamber Players, the noted new-music ensemble Shapey founded, and Krosnick and Kalish, for whom Shapey wrote solo and duo works, knew the composer almost as long. Smirnoff, Krosnick, and Kalish will be present next Tuesday at a memorial service, and in between eulogies from theologian Martin Marty, critic Tim Page, Shapey disciple Shulamit Ran, and U. of C. president Don Michael Randel, they'll pay homage to the man's music, performing Sonata for Cello and Piano (1953-'54) and three works from 1985: Duo-Variations for Violin and Cello, "Kroslish" Sonate for Cello and Piano, and Songs of Life. (The last will feature soprano Carol Meyer.) Tuesday, November 12, 7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068.

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