Review: Summer music at Hyde Park landmarks

By M.L. Rantala
Classical Music Critic

The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon in Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago is the world’s second largest musical instrument. The largest is its sister carillon (also named for Laura Spelman Rockefeller) at the Riverside Church in New York City.

This year, the University of Chicago marks half a century of carillon festivals. The 50th annual festival, titled “The Bells of Summer,” runs through August 23. Every Sunday beginning at 5 pm, there is a free, one-hour performance open to the public. Most folks sit on the spacious lawn of Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave., while some sit inside the chapel to enjoy the music and the interior architecture at the same time. There is also a large screen television that offers a view of the carillonneur, who performs from the bell tower, 271 steps high into the chapel.

This past Sunday, along with an appreciative audience, which appeared to span ages two to 82, I heard a truly splendid recital by Gijsbert Kok, the city carillonneur of The Hague in the Netherlands.

I have heard the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillion played over the years more times than I can count, beginning from the time I was a U. of C. student many moons ago. This was, without question, one of my very favorite performances. Kok had it all: a varied program of interesting music, ranging from the old and familiar to the new and fascinating. He has a marvelous ability to create engaging dynamic contrasts, offer clarity and perform rapid passages with seeming ease. His recital displayed an uncommon musicality and is one I will not soon forget.

The performance opened with the Toccata, Lied and Fugue from “Daar staat een klooster in Oostenrijk” by Staf Nees. It had fascinating chromaticism and Kok had nice interplay between the low and high bells.

This was followed by an arrangement of an Aria from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” with meaty sound and some surprisingly spry moments. Mozart’s Laudate Dominum had wonderful contrasts: anchoring drones in the low bells and rapid, lighter sound from the high ones.

Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega had memorable ascending passages which rushed by breathlessly.

“I’m in the Mood for Love” was good fun while “Heart and Soul” had surprising elements of lightness. The counterpoint was expertly realized in Stefano Colletti’s Sonatine (2001).

Last on the printed program was an inventive arrangement of the ballet suite from Gounod’s “Faust.” Kok waltzed easily through the Valse and offered a bright and eager realization of the Variations de miroir. The recital took place on July 5, so it was pleasing to hear this European artist offer a rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as his encore. The final carillon recital of “The Bells of Summer” will feature Wylie Crawford, the fifth university carillonneur. His performance on August 23 will be his last in this role, as Crawford will retire on October 1, thereafter holding the title senior university carillonneur.

For more information about this summer’s carillon festival, visit the Bells of Summer webpage.

Published on July 15, 2015 by the Hyde Park Herald.