Civitas Ensemble receives grant to perform with Czech musical group


Source: Lauren Carrane

The Civitas Ensemble performs with the Gipsy Way Ensemble at the Czech Touches of Music International Music Festival in Prague in January. The groups will be having a concert together at the Merit School of Music on May 21.

Civitas Ensemble and the Gipsy Way Ensemble have no form of vocal communication, but they can communicate through their music.

Civitas, a Chicago-based classical group in which a Northwestern professor performs, will be creating an album and documentary with the Gipsy Way, a folk music group from the Czech Republic.

Civitas will be performing with the Gipsy Way Ensemble on May 21 at the Merit School of Music. The two groups first performed together in January at the the Czech Touches of Music International Music Festival in Prague. Civitas received a MacArthur Foundation grant in order to perform with the Gipsy Way in Chicago.

“We wanted to do something together, but we also wanted to have a meaningful project together, so this seems to have the substance of musical importance as well as cultural importance,” Civitas violinist Yuan-Qing Yu said. “This was a great opportunity for us to do a cultural exchange it was very appropriate.”

The collaboration was brought by a friendship between Yu and Gipsy Way violinist Pavel Šporcl. Yu says she hopes this performance can help combat stereotypes about gypsy culture and show that gypsy musicians take their work just as seriously as any other artist. After the concert, there will be a reception where local Chicago gypsy bands will perform.

“I hope from this project they don’t think about (the stigma associated with gypsy music) at all,” Yu said. “We’re celebrating the people and we’re celebrating their music, so nothing except the positive things will be seen and remembered from this project.”

Bienen Prof. J. Lawrie Bloom, the clarinetist for Civitas, said that it was initially difficult to work with the Gipsy Way Ensemble because of the language barrier. However, the groups were eventually able to communicate through their music.

“It was very interesting,” Bloom said. “Of course you have to adapt to learning how other people move. Good musicians on both sides can listen to each other and make adjustments to try to fit together. It was interesting with no common language with several of them seeing how you can communicate without words.”

The album that they are creating together will have Romani-inspired music that they will perform live at the concert.

Winston Choi, the pianist for Civitas and a Northwestern alumnus, said it has been a rewarding experience to combine Civitas’ classical style with the Gipsy Way’s Romani-style music. Many composers have gypsy and folk influences in their works, he said.

“There are many things that are similar between our musical languages, so it has been thrilling to work with musicians from a different kind of convention and emphasize our differences,” Choi said. “They have a different way of learning music, so that was eye opening and also a lot of fun for us to work together with them.”

Choi said after this experience, the Civitas group wants to create more international connections with various styles of music, and working with the Czech group has changed their way of thinking.

“It’s a chance to broaden the horizons of all of our audience members,” Choi said “It’ll be a delight for people to hear these amazing musicians and to see our interactions with them.”

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