By Madison Yauger
Soft melodies and thunderous keys could be heard echoing throughout the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesday, as the International Music Foundation put on its free weekly Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert for the public.
These concerts were established in 1977 in Chicago, in memory of Myra Hess, the pianist who created a free recital series in London to encourage public morale during the World War II air raids.
This past year celebrated the 40th anniversary of these concerts, always occurring on Wednesdays at lunchtime in Preston Bradley Hall under the Tiffany Dome.
“It’s such a beautiful space,” said Australian tourist Margaret Campbell, 60. “Our world changes so much, and our idea of beauty is so different today, but the music always stays, regardless of era.”
The show started swiftly at 12:15 p.m. with an explosion of symphonic sounds erupting from the violin and piano of the international duo, Jolente De Maeyer and Nikolaas Kende.
The audience was entranced. Eyes soon closed, and heads began to sway to the classical refrains of Beethoven and Auerbach.
“I was always drawn to music as a child because sound is a universal language,” said De Maeyer. “That’s why we could come from Belgium and play here in Chicago.”
At a capacity of 500, nearly every seat in the concert hall was taken.
Jonnie Nelson, 80, a longtime Chicago resident, has been attending these concerts for 12 years.
“I haven’t been to a bad one yet,” Nelson said. “There’s always a variety of music, instruments and vocalists. People come from all over the world.”
The process of selecting which musicians get to play in these recitals is highly selective, according to Mark Riggleman, executive director of the International Music Foundation.
This concert series was designed for up-and-comers, so most musicians selected are highly trained, but not well-known. “These concerts contribute to the artistic vibrancy of the city,” Riggleman said. “They provide the opportunity for anyone to come see these enriching performances.”
In addition to the live concerts, each performance is broadcasted on the WFMT radio station as well as Facebook Live to create ample access for anyone to listen.
Genevieve Bernard, 56, of the Bronzeville neighborhood, sat in the back row of the concert hall.
“I always come to these concerts, because they expose you to different types of music,” Bernard said. “I’m not working right now, so it’s a nice treat to be able to come to this.”