Scenes from Chicago: Buildings, Art and Strads

March 22, 2017, 11:27 PM · I've been in Chicago over the past few days to check out the violin scene and enjoy this great city where I once went to school. I've had wonderful time, culminating Wednesday in a great recital that Kristóf Baráti gave for the Stradivari Society.

Arriving Tuesday, my first priority was to visit my alma mater, Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music, where a magnificent new music facility was built several years ago, called the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. I'd seen it only in the alumni magazine, and when saw it Tuesday, it was every bit as grand as described. Here is a side-by-side of the old building, on the left (it was derelict 30 years ago; now it stands empty because no one wants to inhabit it!) and the gleaming new edifice by Lake Michigan, on the right.


Views from this new building are jaw-droppingly beautiful, I can only imagine practicing or having a class in a room with this view:

NU view

Later on Tuesday, I visited the home of violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, who is now teaching at Northwestern. She and I share some things in common, such as living in Denver as a child and taking lessons from Harold Wippler. I had the great pleasure to hear her pre-college students each play their current pieces, which included movements from Brahms, Sibelius, Walton, Bruch concertos and more. Wow! Truly enjoyable music-making, and certainly they are in good hands!

Desiree studio

Wednesday I went to lunch with Desirée and her husband, cellist David Cunliffe, both part of the Lincoln Trio, and here we are in the lobby of the Chicago Arts Club:

Desiree, David, Laurie

With high temperatures in the 20s and 30s Wednesday, it was rather cold, especially for a Californian. But the sun was glorious, and though I should have taken a nap, I decided to take the windy walk to the Art Institute of Chicago instead. Here's how it looked, crossing the river. Note wind in the flags!

Chicago glare

I paid the price of admission at the Art Institute, just to visit an old friend: "Song of the Lark" by Jules Adolphe Breton. If you have not read the 1915 book by Willa Cather that was inspired by the painting, (and the book that inspired Emily Hogstad's excellent blog) it's one of my favorites and it certainly relates to music and the artist's life. (It is also called Song of the Lark.)

Song of the Lark

It's just nice to be at the Art Institute, even if for just a short time.

Art Institute

The evening was a wonderful treat: I attended a recital by violinist Kristóf Baráti, with pianist Marta Aznavoorian. Baráti plays the 1703 "Lady Harmsworth" Stradivari, on loan to him by the Stradivari Society, which puts on a recital series featuring their instrument loan recipients. He is holding that instrument here:

Laurie and Kristof

Here are Kristof and Marta, receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of their recital. The highlight for me was their truly exciting performance the Ravel Sonata. They also played Schubert's Sonata in A Major D. 574; Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen"; and Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo."

Kristof Barati and Marta Aznavoorian

I also had the privilege of meeting someone who has made many things possible in the Chicago music world, Mary Galvin. Galvin was a co-founder of the Stradivari Society (along with Geoffrey Fushi). And remember that new music facility at Northwestern that I mentioned above? It includes a gorgeous recital hall that seats 400 and looks out over Lake Michigan to downtown Chicago. It's called the "Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall."

Laurie Niles and Mary Galvin

Stay tuned, you'll hear more about all of these things!


March 23, 2017 at 02:38 PM · Thank you SO much for visiting our studio class and listening to us all play! It was a great honor to play for you! And WONDERFUL description about your Chicago experiences, I absolutely love your posts!

March 23, 2017 at 03:41 PM · Laurie, thanks for this travel(bl)ogue. I love the pictures -- keep them coming. I was at NU from 93-95 and I met my wife there. Evanston is a great place, too bad it is also rather expensive. Even with an NSF postdoctoral research fellowship (which paid me 50% over the "going rate" at the time), I went slightly into debt, so I wasn't really able to enjoy a lot of dining, shows, recitals, trips into the city and the like.

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