Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Recover from your Workday in just one graceful half hour: Rush Hour Concerts at the Cathedral of St. James

So here's the deal . . . Leave the office at 5:00 after a hard day, 5:15, have some Argo tea, snack's from Trader Joe's, perhaps even a little wine. 5:45, hear a chamber concert in one of Chicago's finest spaces, in one of its most historic churches. 6:15, applaud generously. Horrors of workday past now only a distant memory, head out, relaxed, refreshed, and primed to enjoy the rest of your evening.

That's the great concept behind the Rush Hour Concert series sponsored by the Cathedral of St. James. "Great music for busy lives," they call it, and with a reception and a 30 minute concert early every Tuesday evening through August 25th, and a superb roster of musicians that draws heavily from the ranks of Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera players, who's to argue?

St. James, itself, is a civic treasure, one of Chicago's oldest houses of worship. It was founded in 1834, just one year after the city's incorporation, the same year John Kinzie settled here. Along with another Chicago pioneer, Gurdon S. Hubbard and Margaret Helm he was considered the parish's founder, and early services were held in rented quarters in a wood building at State and Kinzie streets which he furnished. Kinzie would later donate the land at Wabash and Illinois where in 1837 a new brick church, costing $14,000, was dedicated. Pews were sold at auction, netting $13,862.

In 1856, at a time when most of Chicago's earliest churches were moving to south Wabash Avenue from present homes centered around the public square that's now the site of City/County building, St. James moved even farther north, to its present location a block south of Holy Name Cathedral, into a $100,000 edifice by architect Edward Burling, who would later bring a young, pre-Sullivan Dankmar Adler into partnership in his firm.

Just after the dedication of a new organ, the Great Fire of 1871 hit. As one eyewitness described it, "I saw the beautiful Episcopal Church of St James in flames. They came on all sides, licking the marble buttresses, one by one, and leaving charred or blackened masses. But the most wonderful sight of all was the white shining church tower, from which, as I looked, burst tongues of fire." That bell tower, along with portions of the facade, were among the few structures left standing in a city reduced to rubble.

As Chicago boomed in the last part of 19th century, St. James' congregation grew wealthy and elite. As quickly as the 1920's, however, the tide turned. The wealthy had moved on; their former mansions cut up into apartments as the neighborhood veered toward skid-row.

Now, of course, the neighborhood, renamed by developers "The Cathedral District" to help move the pricey condo's, is again thriving. A multi-million dollar 1980's restoration brought most of the St. James back to the Arts and Crafts, Victorian Gothic design of the 1890's.

The Rush Hour Concerts series kicked off June 2nd. Next Tuesday's event on the 16th features no fewer than eight cellists from the CSO and Lyric, along with soprano Maire O'Brien and conductor Michael Mulcahy. The programs are extremely varied and creative: Gershwin and Ives on the 23rd, a brass transcription of Shostakovich's String Quarter No. 12 on the 30th, Couperin for Bastille Day on July 14th, Poulenc on the 21st. On the 4th of August, there's CSO principal oboe Eugene Izotov with cellist Katinka Kleijn and organist David Schrader: 11 more concerts in all from now through the end of summer. Check out the full details here. St. James Cathedral is at Wabash at Huron.


Chuck JInes said...

Just wanted to let you know that you have a fantastic blog. I learn so much about our city from your site. Keep up the fantastic work!

Anonymous said...

I am afraid that my "younger" generation would find it difficult enjoying this event, the music just does not touch us as it does other people.
I remember the summerdance DJ series that was a weekly event on Balbo & Michigan. For the younger folks here in Chicago who enjoyed going to Grant Park and dancing to Chicago's own House Music... I am dissapointed to see that this event is no longer. This is what made me forget about the stress of the workday... if only the City of Chicago could allow it to return.

Richard in NY said...

I have always loved this building. But I have never seen representations of what the interior looked like upon completion in the 1850's, or as rebuilt after the fire -- at which time I assume it did not have the high arts & crafts look it acquired in the 1890's. Do you know of any available sources?

Thanks, and please keep up this wonderful blog - As a Chicago native, I never miss it.

Erik Maldre said...

Thanks for posting about this great series. Events like this are triumphs of the Chicago experience.

Terry Murray said...

A damned civilized way to recover from the workday. I wish we had that here in Toronto.

Twinkle Toes said...

Chicago SummerDance is alive and well and began this week. It runs through August.