“Improvisations…reaffirmed why the musician-governed Chicago Philharmonic is fast becoming the savviest programmer in Chicago’s symphonic firmament under the leadership of new executive director Terell Johnson.”
—Hannah Edgar, Musical America
READ THE CONCERT IMPACT REPORT HERE.
On April 15, 2023 our momentous 22/23 Symphonic Series ended with a sold-out concert with moments of reflection, remembrance, empathy, and ultimately joy: Kishi Bashi’s Improvisations on EO9066. The six-movement multimedia piece for Kishi Bashi, full orchestra, recordings, and imagery grapples with the legacy of the Executive Order placed in WWII that incarcerated over 120,000 Japanese Americans.
We were honored and humbled to see nearly 1,500 audience members pack the sold-out Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and elated to hear the cheers of the crowd. The concert felt electric, thanks to the energy and talent of our brilliant musicians, Artistic Director Scott Speck, and the incomparable Kishi Bashi.
Telling Stories that Matter: Improvisations on EO9066
“This transcends religious inference and adds dimension to the many meanings of love…it is remembrance, empathy, and giving meaning to the experience of being incarcerated.”
– Kathy Hey, Third Coast Review
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, immediately incarcerating 120,000 “persons deemed a threat” who were largely West Coast Japanese Americans. Those incarcerated people were interned in camps across America including fairgrounds, horse racing tracks, and inhospitable desert areas.
Decades later, indie artist Kishi Bashi grappled with the impact of this dark period of American history. He traveled to the incarceration sites, recording the raw improvised melodies that later became Improvisations on EO9066 for Kishi Bashi, full orchestra, and images by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange.
“The piece smartly weaves broad appeal with social impact, all without condescending to the audience—too often a side effect of genre-agnostic programming. Even those familiar with the history of Japanese–American incarceration but unfamiliar with Ishibashi’s music (this correspondent among them) stand to find the suite edifying, moving, and musically rich.”
– Hannah Edgar, Musical America
Opening the concert on April 15 was local ensemble Tsukasa Taiko with a rousing performance of the traditional Japanese drums and choreography. The ensemble is a Chicago-based program of Asian Improv Arts Midwest that offers taiko drum instruction, education, and performances. With a 2,000 year-old history, taiko is rooted in Japanese court, theater, religious/ceremonial and festival music, where the taiko was just one instrument of many that comprised the ensembles that performed this music. Taiko has gained tremendous popularity as a celebrated symbol of heritage and culture for the Japanese American community.
Introducing Chicago Philharmonic’s Mezzanine Club: Sold-Out After Party
Following the concert was a sold-out after party celebrating guest artist Kishi Bashi, the talented Chicago Philharmonic roster, and the launch of the Mezzanine Club. Guests met Chicago Philharmonic musicians, Maestro Scott Speck, and Kishi Bashi, enjoying complimentary drinks from Solemn Oath and bites from Modern Asian Kitchen, while DJ Van Paugam played Japanese “city pop” disco.
One lucky guest won the raffle for Chicago Philharmonic’s concert poster, signed by Kishi Bashi, Scott Speck, and the Chicago Philharmonic musicians!
Transformative Concert Experiences: Students & Families
With a sold-out concert, panel discussion, and after party, Chicago Philharmonic maximized the weekend’s community impact by providing meaningful experiences to hundreds of students and families.
On Friday, April 14, over 90 band and orchestra students from Old Orchard Junior High School and Niles North High School attended the Philharmonic’s first rehearsal with Kishi Bashi. Many of the students were participants or graduates of Chicago Philharmonic’s student mentorship program, Chi Phil Academy of Music Performance (AMP), and were excited to see their former musician mentors in the orchestra. Maestro Scott Speck joined the students for an open Q&A where students asked questions about conducting, Kishi Bashi’s music, and more.
On Saturday, April 15, students from Chicago Bulls College Prep received a backstage tour, interviewed Kishi Bashi and Chicago Philharmonic musicians, and attended the full concert as part of their new podcasting class. Chicago Philharmonic has provided mentorship to Chicago Bulls College Prep students through Chi Phil AMP since 2017 and proudly supports this new education effort from the school. Also attending on April 15 were leaders from Root2Fruit, a grassroots youth empowerment non-profit based in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
Kishi Bashi in Conversation: Panel Discussion
On April 14, Chicago Philharmonic hosted a panel discussion with Kishi Bashi and local jazz musician and teacher Tatsu Aoki (leader of the Tsukasa Taiko Ensemble that opened the April 15 concert). Moderating the discussion was Chicago Philharmonic Board Director and violinist Lori Ashikawa, who shared her connections with Chicago’s local Japanese American community and her own family history.
The discussion took place between improvised sets with Tatsu Aoki (performing on the shamisen, a traditional Japenese stringed instrument which Tatsu reworked as an electric instrument; and then later his double bass) and Kishi Bashi on violin and pedalboard.
Tatsu, Lori, and Kishi Bashi discussed their individual relationships with their own Japanese American heritage, the nature of improvisation as jazz artists, and the lasting impact of EO9066 and what it means for future political action.
“I think a lot of classical music has been political and historical…I think artists have to be passionate,” said Kishi Bashi. “In order to be inspired, you have to dig into what you believe in. This piece [Improvisations on EO9066] was appropriate for the time. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing something like this 10 years ago. I think the climate of America is in such a way that I can write a piece like this and not be ostracized, not be ignored.”
Thanks to you, our loyal supporters and followers, this has been another momentous season and thrilling finale. We are so grateful to our community, and we can’t wait to see you again in concert soon – coming up next on May 6, 2023!