Fifth House Spotlights Great Music, Plight of Cats
By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2009 7:40PM
Don't be fooled by the kneading paws or the eighteen hours of sleep per day; cats haven't had it easy. In 1232 Pope Gregory IX declared them tools of the devil. They were burned alive as part of Queen Elizabeth I's coronation. Even today, conscientious animal shelters have strict requirements for adopting black cats in October because they're frequently used as Halloween party decorations and, even worse, for sacrifice in occult ceremonies.
Local music group Fifth House Ensemble uses another dark moment of feline persecution as the setting for "Black Violet," their three-part dramatic concert program taking place this fall and next spring. During London's last plague outbreak in 1665, the city ordered the killing of all cats (and dogs), the presumed source of the disease. This resulted in the death of 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats, as well as the rapid spread of infection as the rat population - rats being the actual plague carrier - skyrocketed without their natural predators around. Fifth House collaborated with Chicago-based graphic novelist Ezra Claytan Daniels to produce a story about Violet, a black house cat who's forced to fend for herself after her owner disappears. The first installment, "The Leagues of Despair," premieres tonight.
Like Fifth House, which has combined classical music with other areas such as dance and food, Daniels has worked in a range of mediums, including the interactive love story iPhone application "Ruben and Lullaby." Daniels's illustrations will accompany a typically varied Fifth House program: Walter Piston's Divertimento, Johannes Brahms's Horn Trio, and Heitor Villa-Lobos's “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6," as well as a couple pieces by entrants to Fifth House's 2009 Young Composer Competition, Jonathan Keren's "Hungary Is Far Away" and Greg Simon's "The Kites at Seal Rock" from his Piano Quintet No. 1. Fifth House will perform the movements of each piece in order, but they'll also occasionally mix it up, moving between works to augment the storyline.
Fifth House will present Act I tonight and Thursday. While tonight's concert at the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Cultural Center is free, Thursday night's show at SPACE in Evanston has an entrance fee. If you show up early to that one, though, you can indulge in free Goose Island Matilda and cheese from Whole Foods.
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, tonight at 7:00 p.m., FREE; SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, Thursday at 8:00 p.m., free beer and food at 7:30 p.m., $15 ($12 in advance), $12 students ($8 students in advance)