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 summer, the Rockefeller Chapel carillon will ring out in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a beloved tradition: the annual carillon concert series Bells of Summer.
Since 1965, visitors have come to Rockefeller Chapel with blankets and picnic baskets in hand to spend a summer afternoon listening to the music of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, the world’s second-heaviest musical instrument. The event features weekly performances from June to August by guest artists from around the world.
Johann Sebastian Bach's music is ever with us and, indeed, was much in evidence over the weekend in Chicago, what with Bach Week Festival performances at North Park University and at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, all of them involving ensembles of modern instruments.
But the relatively rare chance to hear Bach's Mass in B minor done with a chamber orchestra of period instruments and correspondingly reduced choral forces lured me to Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago on Saturday night to catch this monument of Western sacred music as performed by the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and Orchestra under James Kallembach's direction. It turned out to be a pilgrimage well worth undertaking.
“Intimate” is an unlikely word to describe a space as large and austere as Rockefeller Chapel, and an even unlikelier one to extend to its historic, 8,565-pipe E.M. Skinner organ. Fortunately for us, the Brian Gerrish Organ Performance Series is committed to reclaiming the intimacy of the organ, demystifying the instrument and introducing its magic to a new generation.
When I think of Rockefeller Chapel, I think Gothic. I think stone, gargoyles, arches, vaulting, wooden pews, red velvet seats, metal lanterns, and stained glass. I think strength, structure, and command.
You can imagine my shock, then, when I walked into Rockefeller’s east transept bay (the small section of pews off to the right) to behold Libby Chaney’s newest fabric installation, Seasons—a profusion of color, textures, and patterns. Not Gothic, to say the least.
This Cleveland-based fiber artist’s impressionistic compilation of chronological snapshots, broken up into four vertical panels, totals 450 square feet and covers all three walls of the east transept. Not only does this work feature each distinct season, but it also depicts those fleeting and elusive transitional periods between each season—that not-yet-quite-fall-summer, that baiting winter-spring warmth. Seasons is playful and unexpected.
James Kallembach led the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and the Decani in a concert titled Sacred Powers of Water, as part of the chapel’s Quire & Place series. The concert, which took place Saturday evening at Rockefeller Chapel, was true to its title, and consisted of water-themed pieces, with the first half devoted exclusively to a cappella repertoire.
Kate Pukinskis loves to sing in choirs, to be on stage with others enveloped by the “crazy, loud sounds” of Beethoven’s Ninth or Verdi’s Requiem. “Choral music comes very naturally to me,” said Pukinskis, a doctoral student in composition in the Department of Music who has sung in professional choirs since she was a child.
“There is great joy in making music with other people—and it’s such a cool thing to use your voice as your instrument and feel it resonate inside your body.”