New Yorkers may be hailing the return of Broadway, but Oak Park and River Forest residents have reason to celebrate the performing arts returning here. Whether your heart beats for Beethoven, your ears ache for opera or you desire drama, a live in-person performance will deliver.
The Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest has scheduled a full season, which opens Oct. 24, returning to their pre-pandemic venue, the Concordia University Chicago Chapel in River Forest, with “Celebrate Beethoven.” Concert-goers also have a virtual option. The Symphony found the pandemic protocols they adopted to be beneficial to the orchestra. The board, led by President and Symphony pianist David Leehey, who is also a doctor at Hines VA and Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, decided to require proof of vaccination for all orchestra and audience members.
“Loyola was the first major hospital in the Chicago area to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment,” Leehey said. “The VA subsequently became the first government agency to also do so. … Our Symphony board thought that it was only right that we should follow suit.”
Many musicians “were relieved that we had mandated vaccination,” according to Leehey. “I think we attracted our eight new string players, at least in part, because of this policy.” Wind players also applied, but their applications are on file due to lack of space in the orchestra right now.
Besides building up the orchestra, the Symphony has more to celebrate as they kick off their season, including a new logo chosen through a design contest; Music Director Jay Friedman is celebrating his 25th anniversary, and it is the orchestra’s 90th season.
This season’s programming includes music and several soloists originally scheduled “as part of our COVID-shortened 2019-2020 season or were planned for our 2020-2021 season which did not occur at all,” Leehey said. Concerts continue in Dec., Feb. and March.
An every-other-year choral and orchestral concert and fundraiser held at Symphony Center, which was canceled in 2020, is still on hold.
“We had initially hoped to reprogram our COVID-cancelled Symphony Center concert originally scheduled in April 2020 for this coming spring but had to abandon these plans because many choral directors were understandably unable to commit to a choral program with so much uncertainty on the horizon,” Leehey said. “We are still holding open the possibility of a choral concert performed locally next spring. We hope it will happen, but no one knows at this point.”
Singing on a smaller scale, with soloists or small groups, is possible, however.
Nineteenth Century Charitable Association
The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association (NCCA) returns to in-person programming this fall after providing a full slate of virtual programming during the pandemic. To kick off, “Lullaby of Broadway,” brings baritones Evan Bravos and Bill McMurray to the Nineteenth Century Club stage in their large ballroom on Oct. 4.
NCCA board member and Music Chair Diane Moses said Bravos, who just returned from performing in Europe, “could sing anything.” NCCA has cultural and educational programs every Monday afternoon October through mid-May, and among those, there are six other in-person musical performances, including jazz, the Three Tenors (all from the Lyric Opera chorus), and Gershwin- and Sinatra-inspired shows. October and March dates will be available virtually.
“It will be wonderful to have an audience again,” Moses said. “Music keeps us human.”
NCCA is also bringing back Henry Fogel Presents as an in-person, evening program that includes discussion of music and conversation time with artists. On Oct. 20, soprano Jonita Lattimore and tenor Alan Glassman perform live at the Nineteenth. Pianist Ann Chang is featured in March.
COVID-19 protocols for all NCCA programming includes socially-distanced seating and masks. NCCA plans to announce and follow Oak Park guidelines throughout the season.
Sundays with Beethoven
Church of Beethoven has returned to monthly in-person performances. While some recent concerts were done in individual River Forest outdoor spaces, a more permanent location is being sought, ideally by February, according to Bradley Schuller, artistic director. On Oct. 17, violinist Cara Schlecker and pianist Paul Dykstra will perform, and on Nov. 21, Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg sings with lute player Joel Spears. Schuller said those concerts will take place in a “church or an indoor space large enough to allow our audience to be socially distant.” Regardless of location, Church of Beethoven is following CDC and Oak Park Health Department guidelines when it comes to COVID safety measures.
While soprano Christine Steyer is booked for January, Schuller is waiting to fill other months to “get a more clear picture regarding the direction of the Delta variant.” For now, Church of Beethoven is not offering virtual versions of these live performances. “If the sound quality would be good enough, we will do this, but it’s difficult to capture the true acoustic beauty of live music in a Zoom call,” Schuller said.
The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park (EHFOP) is following state and local mandates and guidelines and remaining flexible in its scheduling. Fridays@Hemingway (F@H) kicked off last week with an outdoor performance by American singer-songwriter, guitarist and percussionist Mike Mangione at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum. October’s event is “Haunted Hemingway, Ghost Stories,” followed by the Ethan Philion Jazz Trio in November and Illusionist Jeannette Andrews in December. Executive Director Keith Strom said they are prepared to alter programming, such as switching “Haunted Hemingway” to virtual or cancelling a performance if it were unsafe to do so in-person due to a COVID spike.
NCCA, Church of Beethoven and EHFOP are not planning to check vaccine cards. “I don’t think we would get into vaccine proof or testing, unless it is required and guidelines are established to implement,” Strom said.
While EHFOP is working on a variety of programming for 2022, they are not rolling out announcements yet. “Our Friday@Hemingway series will continue, timing is tbd, again based on the pandemic outcomes, restrictions, etc. as we just don’t want to develop all of these events and then have to cancel, so we may have to hedge things slightly. We have an outdoor option for some of them,” Strom said.
Oak Park Festival Theatre, like the Symphony of OP/RF, is requiring proof of vaccination for their upcoming show, The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe, with previews beginning Oct. 13 at Pleasant Home. “Due to the immersive nature of this show, there can be no exceptions. … Due to the lack of availability of COVID vaccinations for those 12 and under, we unfortunately will not be able to permit children 12 and under at this time.” Like all indoor locations, masks are required. No other productions have been announced for the season at this time.
The Free Readers Ensemble has returned to presenting in-person monthly readings of plays at the Nineteenth Century Club. A full season through May is planned, beginning with The Love List on Oct. 17. Face masks are required for audience members, while performers won’t be masked but will be distanced from the crowd. All performers are fully vaccinated and they are “respectfully requesting” audience members to be vaccinated, too, according to Paulette Cary, founding member and PR director. Audience seating will be socially distanced. These free performances previously included coffee and cookies, which will not be available this season.
The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation is continuing their chamber music series. This season is being held in person at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Unity Temple with socially-distanced seating and mask requirements. Chicago-based groups who routinely perform in the area have returned too. Music of the Baroque has scheduled their Holiday Brass and Choral concert at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest in December. And Chicago a cappella will sing three programs at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park this season.
Performances for the 2021-2022 Season
Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest
Oct. 24, Dec. 12, Feb. 6, March 7
“Cheers to 90 Years” season tickets available
Concordia University Chicago Chapel, 7400 Augusta, River Forest
Nineteenth Century Charitable Association
Monday Enrichment Music Programming: Oct. 4, Nov. 8, Dec. 13, Feb. 14, March 14, April 4, May 2
Henry Fogel Presents: Oct. 20, March 23
Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave., Oak Park
Church of Beethoven
Oct. 17, Nov. 21, Jan. 16
Oct. 15, Nov. 19, Dec. 10
Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum, 339 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
Unity Temple Restoration Foundation
Unity Chamber Music Seeries: Nov. 6, Dec. 17, 2021 and Feb. 5, April 8, May 27, 2022
Unity temple, 875 Lake St, Oak Park
Oak Park Festival Theatre
Madness of Edgar Allan Poe
Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave., Oak Park
Wednesdays through Sundays, Oct. 13 to Nov. 7
Free Readers Ensemble
Oct. 17, Nov. 21, Dec. 19, Jan. 16, Feb. 20, March 20, April 10. May, 15
Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave., Oak Park
Chicago a cappella
Dec. 12, Feb. 19, April 8*
Pilgrim Congregational, 460 Lake St., Oak Park
Season tickets available
Music of the Baroque
Grace Lutheran Church, 7300 Division St., River Forest
*also available virtually