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Chicago musicians bringing history with ‘powerful sonic experiences’ to upcoming concert at history museum

Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl by Maren Celest.jpg
Maren Celest
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Chicago musicians Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl, pictured, play experimental music that mixes violin, cello, and their voices with sounds influenced by classical, jazz, improvisation and even hip hop. They will perform Feb. 26 at the McLean County Museum of History.

The non-profit pt.fwd kicks off a new concert season on Feb. 26 with Chicago musicians Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl bringing their unique sound to the McLean County Museum of History.

The museum and pt.fwd, which organizes contemporary music and sonic arts performances in the Twin Cities, began a partnership in 2019, but the pandemic has held back their ability to host live, in-person concerts — until now.

In his search for a venue to host experimental music concerts, pt.fwd director Eddie Breitweiser was of course drawn to the McLean County Museum of History’s incredible acoustics. But he also saw the partnership as a chance to deepen connections between artists and the community.

“Part of what’s so exciting about the work that we do is having an actual connection to creating history on the fly,” said Breitweiser, “and how integral the arts are to defining the culture and the history that we live on a day-to-day basis. From the earliest conversations we had with the history museum, they understood that.”

Of course, the acoustics are a big perk, too. Museum director of community education Candace Summers relishes any chance to bring music to the museum and complement its liveness.

“It only seemed natural,” Summers said. “When we have musicians here for the holidays, the whole building becomes electric. With the new sounds of the artists pt.fwd is going to bring, we were like, this is going to be super cool and we’ve got to do this.”

In the earlier stages of the pandemic, the museum hosted a series of livestreamed Quarantine Concerts that pt.fwd curated. And last April, a project by artist-in-residence Allen Moore culminated in an online concert created by sampling oral histories from the museum’s Black History Project.

The Feb. 26 concert will be the first, however, that pt.fwd presents for a live audience at the museum. Stewart, a violinist, and Kohl, who plays cello, are known for playing in unique spaces and leveraging the sonic capacities of non-traditional concert venues. The two instruments and their two voices create a quartet of sounds that Breitweiser has been following for about five years.

“They have a natural, very organic, musically intimate relationship with one another,” Breitweiser said. “In the concerts that I’ve seen, they sit facing each other. They look closely to each other for bodily cues as they are improvising with one another in a way that is so naturally suited to an environment like we have at the museum. It’s music that really draws you in.”

Stewart and Kohl’s latest album, “Recipe for a Boiled Egg,” recorded in 2020, is a great example of the duo’s playful aesthetic, melding the classical traditions of their instruments with influences as far ranging as free jazz and hip hop. For those who may be apprehensive about experimental music, Breitweiser said Stewart and Kohl serve as a great introduction.

“You really hear that this is music that encourages you to listen to it,” he said. “It expands your listening rather than challenging you and pushing you away. Anything that we bring to our pt.fwd programming has an element of trying to bring the newest sounds that are representative of the sonic landscape. We’re trying to select artists who we think do a good balance of pushing the art forward—pushing the culture forward—but bringing listeners along with us.”

Summers said pt.fwd’s concerts also are a chance to bring new people and returning guests into the museum after being closed for a year due to the pandemic.

“We are excited about introducing people to our space,” she said, “and welcoming people back. They can see a new and different kind of music that they might not be familiar with in our area, but also live and learn a little bit of history, too.”

Breitweiser hopes the concert’s environment will be “inviting, curious and hungry for more,” noting how much he has missed live music during the pandemic.

“We talk at pt.fwd about having powerful sonic experiences together,” he said. “I can’t think of a better opportunity to have that than coming to our concerts this season.”

Pt.fwd presents Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the McLean County Museum of History. Admission is free but limited to 40 guests. You can find out more on pt.fwd’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and at ptfwd.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a correspondent for WGLT, focusing on arts and culture.
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