CSO Musicians Bring Message and Music to Rogers Park

Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) violist Max Raimi joined the ensemble in 1984. He’s worked under legendary icons in music history: Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti.

In the 35 years since, he’s experienced three strikes — one in 1991 lasting about a couple weeks and another in 2012 which lasted about a couple days.

Now, musicians have been on strike for more than a month, but that hasn’t stopped the music for a quartet of CSO musicians called “The Musicians of the Striking CSO.”

Raimi, violinist Rong-Yang Tan, cellist Karen Basrak and flautist Emma Gerstein performed a free show Saturday in Rogers Park hosted by Flatts and Sharpe Music Company (6749 N. Sheridan Road).

CSO musicians went on their seventh strike since 1970 over contract negotiations with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) and board of trustees. Two key points of contention are the musicians’ base pay and their pensions.

The strike, which began March 10, canceled or postponed concerts through April 30, according to the CSO website.

CSOA spokeswoman Eileen Chambers shared a press release detailing its final offer to musicians with The Phoenix. In the release, CSOA President Jeff Alexander said management has continued to listen to musicians to create a new contract.

Although the strike interrupted scheduled performances at Symphony Center, the musicians continued to play. There have been several free CSO concerts across Chicago, including a show with the full orchestra at the Apostolistic Church of God (6320 S. Dorchester).

Flatts and Sharpe owner Chris Bell said Raimi suggested the Saturday performance to help raise awareness about the strike. The music shop has had a good relationship with the CSO, and Raimi’s son is taking music lessons there, Bell said.

A full crowd packed into Flatts and Sharpe’s small space while some watched through the storefront window. The musicians were clad in black on the store’s small stage.

The quartet played four pieces in the hour-long concert: Mozart’s Variations on Ah Vous Dirai-je Maman K. 265; Mozart’s Quartet for Flute and Strings K. 285; Beethoven’s Serenade for flute, violin and viola in D Major, Opus 25; and a composition Raimi wrote.

Chamber music is performed by smaller groups compared to a large symphony, and they tend to showcase the composer’s emotions more, Raimi said.

“I think of a Beethoven Symphony — that’s like Lincoln giving a big speech … but a Beethoven quartet, that would be like having dinner with Lincoln [and] having a conversation with him,” he said.

Raimi said the Beethoven piece was especially significant. Serenades were written for wealthy people, opening with a march and followed by easy listening, Raimi said. Beethoven didn’t grow up in a wealthy family and wasn’t respected by the upper class.

Raimi said Beethoven’s serenade was written to command the attention of the rich and powerful.

“On the surface it has these very charming gestures that you’d expect in a serenade, but under the surface there’s all this subversion,” Raimi said.

Although the piece sounds like a typical serenade, loud, brash chords interrupt melodies, catching listeners off guard.

This isn’t the first time the CSO performed at Flatts and Sharpe. However, Bell said this concert meant a lot to her.

Before purchasing the business in 2007, Bell was a union worker under Pipefitters Local 597, and she said she understood the musicians’ struggles.

“I believe in unions and I understand what a pension means to a working class person,” Bell said. “It means everything. It’s why you take the job. It’s because it’s going to afford you security in the future that nothing else is going to provide.”

Raimi said he hoped this concert would bring awareness to the strike.

“This is our way of keeping ourselves in front of the public: showing what we’re about and why we’re important and why the orchestra is not the bureaucrats and the trustees upstairs, but the musicians on the stage,” he said.

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