In The Realm of Senses Review- Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players at City Winery

Pianist Lyudmila Lakisova and Jeff Yang, on recorder, performing "Pictures at an Exhibition"
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On February 17, 2020, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Yang, cellist Matthew Agnew and pianist Lyudmila Lakisova put on a winning 1-hour chamber music concert cum sensory extravaganza as part of Chicago Philharmonic’s CP2 series at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago, an extension of Yang’s In The Realm of Senses art project.

Conceptualized and created by violinist Jeff Yang, In The Realm of Senses is a collaborative enterprise uniting various artistic mediums – visual art, gastronomy, olfactory art, literature, theater, and dance- in an effort to engage all of the senses. According to Yang, “The scope of the project is pretty broad: to create music and change the way music is consumed, to create art exhibits, and to promote science and research in the forefront of education”.

Yang advised, “I have tried to revive interest in orchestral work; at every event there will be locally curated art and food. In 2018, we did 3 different runs of it, putting together conceptual concerts. This project forms 1/3 of my very interesting and exciting career. I also curate a violin shop in Evanston, Chicago Strings, and of course, I have my musicianship.”

Jeff Yang and Matthew Agnew performing Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello” at City Winery, February 17, 2020

For the event at City Winery, the stage was festooned with stage art by Maja Bosen, whose interests include “the interconnectivity of living things”; flanked by large screens projecting  fanciful lithographs by Philharmonic bassoonist  John Gaudette; and accented with video art by  multimedia artist Galina Shevchenko. Upon entering the large room where the concert took place, one inhaled the subtle aromas of a “scent sculpture” by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. Delicious and unusual sweet confections were provided gratis, the audience instructed not to eat them until directed, and during Pictures, were so advised: from Fancy Plants Café, came a yummy violet-cashew cheesecake; from Chocolate Uzma, a rich and spicy dark chocolate truffle.

The mélange of talent and titillation was a sensory feast that accented and accompanied the music.

  • Maurice Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello, 1922

Ravel composed the Sonata at about the same time that he crafted his lauded orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, originally composed for solo piano. Although Pictures is orchestrated for a much larger musical ensemble  and the Sonata is to be performed by only 2 stringed instruments, they are both memorable, vibrant pieces of music.

Yang on violin and Agnew on cello alternately played the leading themes and accompanied each other almost without pause.  The work, dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, contains elements of Hungarian folk in its strong dissonances, and rhythmic excitement; one can also detect the influence of American jazz. There is throughout a specific and sustained emphasis on the melodic.

  • Modest Mussorgsky (arr. Jeff Yang) Pictures at an Exhibition, 1874, orch. Ravel, 1922

This remarkable presentation represented “a unique multi-sensory performance.”  Jeff Yang arranged and reinvented this classical music gem, based on the (now lost) paintings of Viktor Hartmann, for only two players , yet for eight instruments, 7 played by Yang himself, switching seamlessly between strings and recorders!

Throughout the performance, audiences experienced the instantly recognizable music paired with delightful animated lithographs by John Gaudette based on the paintings of  Hartmann, a painter, architect and designer. Mussorgsky viewed an exhibit of Hartman’s work, which provided much of the inspiration for the piece. Although the 400+ pieces in the retrospective viewed by Mussorgsky are no longer available, Russian art critic Vladimir Stasov, who organized the exhibition and to whom Pictures was dedicated, has left descriptions of them for posterity. For the program at City Winery, we had the clever images of Gaudette and Shevchenko to entice our imagination.

Pictures at an Exhibition is probably Mussorgsky’s most popular and performed pieces of work, conceived for solo piano.  However, the more famous and popular version is the arrangement for a full orchestra by Ravel- here reduced again by Yang.

The suite/cycle is comprised of 10 movements, (plus short interludes) linked to the artwork, so that it reproduces a viewer’s progress through an art exhibition. Played in succession without pause, set off and unified by the gorgeous Promenade, and ending with the stunning Great Gate of Kiev, Yang’s efforts at arrangement left the “bones” of the piece intact, and he bemused the audience with his heroic and ambitious multi-instrumental display. The most significant aspect of each Promenade– the fact that it has its own characteristic within the cycle, involving length, key, dynamics and/or emotional expression remained substantively unaltered.

Lakisova on piano was a force to be reckoned with: with an unerring feel and a virtuoso touch, she created the framework of hope, elucidation, and triumph upon which all of the technical pinnings of the piece depend.

For information and tickets to all the great performances of Chicago Philharmonic, go to

For information about In The Realm of Senses, and upcoming shows, go to

All photos courtesy of Marc Perlish Photography.


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