Written by Lauren Carrane

Yuan-Qing Yu, Wei Jing Wang, Kenneth Olsen, and Lawrie Bloom performing Hummel’s Clarinet Quartet

On May 23, we had the privilege of playing a live performance on Chicago’s classical radio station as part of its weekly series, Live From WFMT.

Even though we’ve performed on WFMT before, it is still exciting and a bit stressful each time because it’s live — we know we only have one chance to get it right!

This time, we decided to play three pieces that were part of our repertoire this past season — Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Clarinet Quartet in E-flat Major, Robert Mucyznski’s Fantasy Trio, and Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat Major. And, because Hummel’s Clarinet Quartet requires a viola, we invited violist Wei Jing Wang from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to join us.

The recording studio at WFMT is a rather large room with hardwood floors and a grand piano. There are windows on two of the walls that look into the engineering studios where all of the magic is made.

When we arrived at the studio, our chairs were arranged in a small semi-circle, with several microphones on tall stands pointing down at us. There were also two microphones set up inside the piano to be able to capture every note of Winston Choi’s playing. Yellow and green wires snaked from the microphones along the floor, so one had to be very careful not to trip!

In the corner, three more chairs were set up in front of larger microphones where host Kerry Frumkin was going to interview us in between pieces.

We rehearsed for a bit, and then about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to go on air, a few guests arrived to be our in-studio audience. They grabbed chairs and lined them up against the wall, eager for the concert to begin.

Just before we were about to go live on air, the show’s host, Kerry Frumkin, gave us and the audience a few last-minute

Host Kerry Frumpkin prepares to interview Civitas Ensemble on-air

pointers: Turn your cell phones completely off (because even the silent buzzing can be picked up by the microphones), do not move or make any noise until we go to a commercial break, and don’t clap.

“I don’t think we have enough of a critical mass for applause,” Frumkin explained. “It sounds very anemic if there’s not enough of an audience.”

Then suddenly the “on air” signs lit up on the wall, and we were live!

After an introduction by Frumkin, we started out with the piece by Hummel. It’s a beautifully written piece that’s trickier than it seems. In fact, the second movement is entitled “La Secatura,” which means “the annoyance,” because each player is performing in a different time meter.

As soon as we got to the end, we went to a commercial break and breathed a sigh of relief.

“That’s really hard, actually,” cellist Ken Olsen said during the break. “It’s stressful to play.”

Choi agreed. “It’s a very intricate piece.”

After a short break, we were back on air again, and Frumkin interviewed clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom about his connection with Mucyznski, who had been a faculty member at the University of Arizona while Bloom was getting his master’s at Arizona State. Bloom explained how Mucyznski had sent him the trio and how he had connected with the music, which was lyrical and approachable but also filled with intricate rhythms.

After playing the Mucyznski piece, Choi talked to Frumkin about some of the concerts we are playing this summer: one this Sunday, June 5th, at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Music Series and one on Aug. 16 as part of Rush Hour Concerts.

Then Yuan-Qing Yu spoke about what we have coming up for our 2016-2017 season, including a collaboration with Gipsy Way Ensemble from Prague, an all-American concert next winter and more.

Finally, we closed with the piece by Schubert, and took a deep breath when the “on air” sign finally went out. We had survived!

We look forward to our next concert on WFMT soon!

You can listen to a recording of the broadcast here.


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