February 21, 2024

Project 88 re-launches True Unity Concert Series

BERWYN - More than 1,300 people from Chicago to Uganda tuned in Aug. 16 for the re-launch of Project 88's True Unity Concert Series.

The Berwyn-based non-profit launched in 2018 was on the cusp of an eight-concert season and the opening of its music academy when COVID-19 abruptly slammed the door on live music and forced musicians to radically re imagine how to share their art.

The free “American Composers” program marked the first re-imagined, post-COVID concert for Project 88. It was also a harbinger for the season, which continues 6:30 p.m. Saturday with a free, live-streamed concert of Slavic music featuring pianist Stephen Squires and flautist Anastasiya Squires performing works by Sergei Prokofiev and Zhanna Kolodub among others.

You can listen to the Aug. 16 concert athttps://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=637739506931495. [There are some preliminaries; the concert proper starts about 12 minutes in.] Saturday's concert will be streamed on Project 88's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

As with all True Unity concerts, the Aug. 16 all-brass tribute to American composers took place at Berwyn’s Unity Lutheran Church. Unlike previous concerts, it was performed before a live audience of precisely nobody – at least nobody in person. People showed up nonetheless. Facebook logged more than 1,300 listeners who delivered a steady stream of comments and applause emojiis throughout the 90-minute program.

The fact that Project 88 came back with a brass quintet is significant. Of all the musicians hit by COVID-19, it’s perhaps the saliva-spitting,mucus-maestros of the brass family who’ve been hit the hardest. Roof-top and in-the-park string ensembles have been popping up throughout the Chicago area since June. But where harpists and violinists and cellists can concertize with six feet of social distancing, the bravura-blowing of brass requires further.

For Project 88, some COVID challenges were made nominally easier. Artistic director Elidier DiPaula and operations manager Desirea Diehl, as well as trumpet player David Nakazono and trombone player Matt Flanagan, have been sharing a duplex in quarantine [along with a dog named Bartok] since March.

For Nakazono, a regular member with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, second trumpet with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra and section trumpet with the Wisconsin Philharmonic, the Aug. 16 performance was his first live quintet concert since lock down. Ditto trombonist Flanagan, band director and brass teacher at the Chicago School of Musical Arts and concert coordinator for Roosevelt University.

“Music is, like all the arts, a way to get in touch with your own humanity. You go without that for too long and you start losing – you start noticing something is missing,”Nakazono said. “This can maybe help is get just a little of what’s missing back.”

“I hope this concert brought some joy to people,” Flanagan said. “Are audiences more receptive because we’ve all been deprived for a while?I mean, maybe. It gets pretty monotonous sometimes under quarantine. You work, you cook, sleep, you get the groceries, repeat.”

Nakazono came to the trumpet at 6. He doubled majored in physics and trumpet at University of California, before earning his performance diploma in orchestral studies at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts.

“To me, the sound of a trumpet has this clarity and brilliance. It’s like when you see a streak of sunlight coming through a cloud. That’s the sound,” Nakazono said.

The ensemble came up with the theme for the post-Covid debut concert by consensus. The “American Composers” program included pieces by William Schumann [“American Hymn”], Kerry Turner [“Rocochet”], Alec Wilder [Jazz Suite]and Michael Kemen [“Quintet”] before heading into a finale of Leonard Bernstein’s pieces from “West Side Story.”

For Flanagan, the concert meant showcasing skills he’s been honing with an intensity befitting a world roiled by a global pandemic and the collapse of the live entertainment industry.

“Musically, I’m in the best shape of my life, musically,” Flanagan said. “Auditions have halted. Jobs that were interviewing, auditions that were happening – most of them are postponed or the jobs have gone away entirely. So I’ve been practicing. We all have. That’s what you can do. That’s what you can control.”

What: Project 88’s live streamed concert of Slavic Composers

When: 6:30 p.m., Aug. 29

Listen live at: https://www.project88berwyn.org/