In partnership with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and Concert Theater Works, Music of the Baroque will present the Midwest premiere of The Chevalier, a new concert theater work written and directed by Bill Barclay. The Chevalier is about the life and music of 18th-century Black composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a master composer, virtuoso violinist, a friend of Mozart’s, music teacher to Marie Antoinette, the finest fencer in Europe, general of Europe’s first Black regiment and a crusader for the abolishment of slavery. Taking a “concert theater” approach, featuring the interplay of four actors with orchestral and chamber music excerpts, Barclay blends Bologne’s remarkable history with his own compositions, ultimately conflating the French Revolution with the social and political unrest in society today.
The Chevalier, features music by Joseph Bologne (1745-1799) with additional music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Christoph Willibald Glück (1714–1787). Dame Jane Glover will conduct the Music of the Baroque Orchestra at all three Chicago-area locations in selections showcasing the breadth of Bologne’s compositional output, from violin concertos to symphonies, string quartets to ballets. Music arrangements are by Barclay.
It is 1778 and a bedridden, bankrupt Mozart is carried into the Chevalier’s kitchen. In spite of obvious differences, these two men of genius forge a friendship of equals navigating the new racial politics of a city hostile to outsiders. At the same time, the Chevalier’s weekly music lessons with Marie Antoinette associate him with the monarchy at a time of civil unrest, and he must choose between his loyalty to the crown and the violent pursuit of abolition while Revolution inflames France.
“In The Chevalier Bill Barclay has created a concert drama that resonates in current times” says Music of the Baroque executive director Declan McGovern. “It tells the story and presents the music of a composer of color who battled injustice in the 18th century, but whose story speaks just as strongly in today’s changing world. We at Music of the Baroque are delighted to team up with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and the Kehrein Center for the Arts to ensure that as many people as possible, from every corner of our community, have the opportunity to experience the remarkable life and music of Joseph Bologne.”
“Music of the Baroque is such a treasured part of the performance offerings at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie,” says the Center’s general Manager Michael Pauken. “I am thrilled that we are able to collaborate on this exciting and important project. ‘The Chevalier’ will sound and look terrific on our stage and I know our audiences will enjoy learning about this fascinating historical figure.”
“The Chevalier” is also closely allied with the promotion of anti-racism in concert music. The production raises money for the Sphinx National Alliance for Audition Support, which helps young musicians of color with the cost of auditioning for jobs in American orchestras. Commissioned by The Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2018, “The Chevalier” premiered in 2019 during Tanglewood Learning Institute’s inaugural season and was a finalist in the 2020 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and Recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Grant in 2021.
The Chevalier stars Brendon Elliott as the violinist Bologne and four emerging actors performing the roles of The Chevalier, Mozart, Marie Antoinette and Choderlos de Laclos. Full casting and the design team will be announced at a later date.
“We are pleased to join Music of the Baroque and our fellow presenters to share in this opportunity that allows audiences to discover more about the life and music of Joseph Bologne,” said CSOA President Jeff Alexander. “His significant contributions to orchestral music are something to celebrate and we look forward to hosting this program at Symphony Center.”
The Chevalier, written and directed by Bill Barclay, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at the North Shore Center in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd. and 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Individual concert tickets are $25-$100 and are available now through the box offices of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (northshorecenter.org) and Symphony Center (cso.org). Discounts for groups, students and seniors are available.