After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
– Aldous Huxley, Music at Night
Last spring, Chris Nemeth and two fellow musicians played a fundraiser at Unity Temple to help plug the porous dike that the Oak Park landmark has become after a century of withstanding the elements.
Their concert of Argentinian tango music was enthusiastically received. To raise this year’s concert to yet another level, Nemeth wanted to give listeners “a look behind the veil.”
To that end, the trio turned the show into a four-part event, culminating in the actual concert this Saturday in the aforementioned temple. But the music-making – an evening of Russian romanticism – will be punctuated by a documentary film about the three musicians, shown in segments between pieces.
Part 1 of “Expressing the Inexpressible” took place a couple of months back at House Red, a boutique wine shop in Forest Park that Nemeth and his wife, Tara, co-own with Chicagoan Neb Mrvaljevic. The wine-tasting was combined with an exhibit by photographer (and fellow sommelier) Isaiah Estell, who captured the three musicians as they rehearsed and performed. Part 2, also at House Red, introduced documentary filmmaker Jeremy Gershfeld, who is telling the stories of how they reached this artistic juncture. Part 3 involved a preview concert held at Nemeth’s home in North Oak Park, several weeks ago, during which the threesome performed a portion of Tchaikovsky’s rarely played Piano Trio in A Minor as a tantalizer.
The story of how Nemeth reached this juncture differs somewhat from his two colleagues, who grew up in Russia and the Ukraine and studied at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory. Pianist Mikhail “Misha” Yanovitsky and cellist Nazar Dzhuryn are “big-time players with big-time technique,” Nemeth says. He describes playing with them as “harrowing,” but one of the lessons he’s learned is that “we all have different gifts, different struggles, different demons. If we can put those aside and just focus on the creative process, interesting things are possible.”
Two years ago, Nemeth, then a “former violinist,” was absorbed by work.
“I was a million miles away from the violin and performing,” he says. “But there was a deep longing and sadness because that part of my life was closed.”
Thanks to the encouragement of people like Marty Swisher, music director at Unity Temple, Chris began playing occasionally at services. Now he has a different struggle, trying to balance his musical performances with work and family life. “But that’s a better quality of problem than giving up altogether,” he notes.
Gershfeld, a musician himself (viola), is on his maiden voyage as a documentarian. His challenge is telling the story of the musicians’ struggles with their “cruel mistress.” While Nemeth’s is more existential, Gershfeld says, the struggle is more economic for the other two, who have been trying to make a living in a new culture.
“They were groomed for this from the moment they showed talent,” Gershfeld says. “Playing music is inextricable with their identity. It’s how they find meaning in their lives.” Dzhuryn is a cello professor at Northeastern Illinois University while Yanovitsky teaches privately and plays the concert circuit as a “Steinway artist.” He just returned from a concert in London.
The film, he says, asks the questions, “Why do we play?” and “What do we want to express?” Gershfeld, meanwhile, wants to create “a dialogue with the audience, a multimedia experience that creates a connection. This is our first shot at it.”
Nemeth won’t know till after Saturday night if the experiment was a success, but he does know “if you’re going to be frantic and preoccupied with something, it’s good to be with something like this.”