The Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation is again celebrating Franz Schubert (1797-1828). In the tradition of European Schubertiade, a day dedicated to the music of the Viennese composer — with a few departures — it is being held at Unity Temple on Leap Day, Saturday, Feb. 29. The last Schubert Festival held here was in 2018.

“It’s wonderful to see an event devoted to the music of a single composer,” said soprano Christine Steyer, who is performing at the event. “Schubert was prolific, and to fully experience this composer, it’s special to have multiple recitals throughout the day that each feature a different aspect of his music from vocal to piano to instrumental.” 

Besides the musical experience, which includes Grammy-nominated operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee, concert-goers will have the opportunity to spend the day in the newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Unity Temple is a gorgeous venue both acoustically and visually,” Steyer said. “Those attending the whole festival will have the added experience of seeing the interplay of light and the colors from the stained glass changing during many different phases of the day and evening.”

The program, divided into four parts, begins at 2:30 with Steyer singing alongside Lyric Opera Orchestra clarinetist Susan Warner, accompanied on piano by Jeffrey Panko. Both Steyer and Warner are from Oak Park. When they appeared together in 2018, the interplay of the two musicians felt more like an effortless musical conversation that the audience was drawn into than a staged performance. This is followed by Warner performing and then Steyer singing lieder (song), both with piano accompaniment.

Part 2 unites Warner with seven members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including her husband and French horn player David Griffin. The ensemble, which also includes Brant Taylor, cello; Youming Chen, viola; Alex Hanna, bass; Dennis Michel, bassoon; Gina diBello and Stephanie Jeong, violin, will play Schubert’s Octet in F Major.

While Schubert wrote symphonies, operas and piano works in his short lifetime, his main focus was lieder and chamber music, such as the Octet, which is not frequently performed because of the length (one hour) and number of musicians involved.

Seating in the sanctuary is no more than 43 feet at any point from these world-class artists. The intimate setting is reminiscent of early 19th-century performances held during the composer’s lifetime, put on by wealthy merchants and civil servants in their homes in Vienna.

Pianist Winston Choi plays solo works during Part 3. Choi, an Oak Park resident, is also the artistic director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation’s Chamber Music Series with MingHuan Xu, who is his wife. Choi is head of the piano program at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts.

The evening concludes with operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee singing Schubert lieder, arias from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, Bizet’s Pearl Fishers and Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and La Fille du Regiment. Brownlee concludes the program with gospel and spirituals. He is accompanied on piano by Grammy Award-nominated pianist Myra Huang.

While Brownlee has toured the world to critical acclaim, performing in operas at the Lyric in Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and elsewhere, he is currently touring the U.S. and performing Cycles of My Being, “a song cycle that centers on the black male experience in America today.”

Attend the Schubert+ Festival, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Unity Temple. $150. Add-on Austrian meal, $50. Tickets/more: 875 Lake St., Oak Park.

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