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Nathan Cole

CSO Mercury Soul event

May 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM

The following originally appeared at

Last night was quite a rush! The CSO and Redmoon Theater collaborated to put on a show called Mercury Soul. This show has been performed elsewhere before (including Berlin and San Francisco), but this was the first time for Chicago, and my first time as a participant. You can check out my pictures from last night at the following link:

Mercury Soul gallery

Here's a preview, with an always gracious Yo-Yo Ma:Yo-Yo Ma and Nathan

What is Mercury Soul? You should check out their site,, but basically it's a 4-hour music event that takes place in a club or club-like setting. Last night it went from 9pm-1am at the Redmoon Theater space on West Hubbard Street. There's continuous music for the four hours, most of it by DJs working on an elevated platform. In fact, the whole show is the brainchild of Mason Bates, aka DJ Masonic, Benjamin Shwartz, conductor, and Anne Patterson, lighting designer. As a DJ, Mason provides most of the night's beats. As a composer, he writes link material to the more "classical" pieces. That's where I (and some CSO colleagues) came in.

Every half hour or so, the beats transitioned into a piece by a so-called classical composer. The first such piece was a group of movements from John Adams' Book of Alleged Dances. The movements we played, just to give you an idea of the flavor, were Judah to Ocean, Toot Nipple, Dogjam and Hammer and Chisel! As soon as we were done with the last of these, we immediately began Mason's "outro" which linked back to a half hour of his beats. The same thing happened for pieces by Anna Clyne, Igor Stravinsky, and Mason himself. All the while, the crowd (maybe 300 people or so) was free to roam around, talk, get a drink, take in the space. I should say, though, that the room was generally pretty quiet and still when instrumentalists were playing. That was a surprise! There was definitely a sense that when people had instruments out, something was "happening".

There were so many more strange things for me about last night: the act of walking off a platform and immediately having folks come up and say "nice job", for one. I'm used to going off stage, putting my violin away, maybe even changing clothes, and after 15 or 20 minutes of "coming down" from the performance, interacting with whatever audience members elected to stick around. Another oddity was playing with amplification and having to trust the DJs that our mix was good in the space. All we could hear was a jumble, which made ensemble pretty difficult! One more change from the usual was the opportunity to grab a beer immediately after playing! Not since I went to Cologne with the LA Phil this January have I been able to grab some suds with the violin still in my hand!

Of course, it was also a rarity to have my boss at a performance where I could be heard as an individual... Maestro Muti showed up at 10:15 or so and actually stayed until midnight, along with the CSO's soloist for the week, Yo-Yo Ma. Who knows if they felt obliged to come, since this was a CSO event, but we were touched by their commitment to this new project! After I performed Stravinsky's Concertino at almost 11pm, I was told that the Maestro had been only a few feet away! I was glad that I hadn't known that ahead of time.

You can see from the pictures that this was obviously a different beast from the concerts we usually play. From my vantage point, it was a success, and hopefully the start of a great project in Chicago. Of course, I won't be around to see it develop, but maybe the same sort of thing goes on in LA? After all, Mason lives just up the road in San Francisco!

Thanks to Akiko, Carol Cook and Ken Olsen for agreeing to work on the Adams! I hope everyone gets the chance to play something with an electronic accompaniment, as we did last night. It's definitely more difficult than it seems at first... a lot like playing with a metronome, but an ornery metronome that keeps changing its tone and dynamics. At times it felt like there was an invisible hand pushing me forward or pulling me back (or maybe those were just the sonic waves from the enormous bass). It's an event I won't soon forget; check it out if it appears near you!

From Christina C.
Posted on May 16, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Sounds like a wonderful experience. Great pic too!

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