Wheaton College Artist Series offers fresh, exciting concerts for 2016-17 season

Tony Payne wants you to get up from the couch, turn off the TV and try a night out doing something new: attending a Wheaton College Artist Series concert.

"You can see anything online, you can hear anything online, but it's not the same thing as listening to it up close and personal," he said.

Payne, who serves as general manager of the artist series, said the set of five performances that will take place in Edman Chapel throughout late 2016 and early 2017 are mostly classical music, mixed with a little bit of jazz, pop, folk, sacred music and dance.

"Even when people don't know the names of the artists they come and they hear the music and they have a wonderful experience of delight and surprise because of the quality of it and because of the community aspect," he said. "It's a wonderful sense of belonging to something local that's valuable."

The series dates to 1950, when famed choral conductor Robert Shaw led a performance on the campus. Since then, the series has brought in artists from "the far corners of the world," Payne said. Recent seasons have showcased the China National Symphony Orchestra, dancers from Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, and soloists from all over the U.S. and Europe.

"These artists are truly the greatest, the brightest that the world has to offer," he said. "It's inspiring for me because after all these years in the business, I really want there to be engagement with the performing arts and I know it can't all be stadiums. (The series is) pure music, not amplified, that just relies on the acoustics of the room and the idea that you're doing it almost in a living room, with friends and neighbors."

Anyone who isn't familiar with the series is welcome to get a taste during a free performance by tap dancer Andrew Nemr at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, in the Coray Auditorium. There will be information on hand about subscriptions for the 2016-17 season and the concerts, which include:

• Friday, September 30: The 5 Browns.

The season will kick off with a performance by The 5 Browns, a unique quintet of five siblings who play simultaneously on five pianos. Payne said the family creates both visual and musical drama and Beth Buffington, Wheaton College's marketing specialist for the arts, described them as fresh and exciting. "They bring some youth to the stage," she said.

• Saturday, Nov. 5: Eroica Trio.

The second concert will showcase Eroica Trio, three female musicians who Payne says perform with "amazing energy and expertise that is truly world-class." Buffington said the group - a pianist, violinist and cellist - is engaging on stage and makes the audience feel like they are playing with them, not for them.

• Friday, Jan. 27 - Hubbard Street 2 and Camerata Chicago.

A group of young dancers from the Hubbard Street Dance Company will perform to music played by the Camerata Chicago chamber orchestra. "That's going to be a really wonderful event for families, for children to see the visual dimension of music," Buffington said.

• Friday, Feb. 24: John Nelson, conductor.

Payne is already describing the fourth concert as "epic" because it features Wheaton College Conservatory of Music choral and orchestral ensembles and professional soloists. John Nelson, a graduate of the college with an international conducting career, will lead the musicians through a program called Songs of Praise. "John comes and conducts the students every two to three years and it's always been extraordinary," Payne said.

• Saturday, April 1: Axiom Brass.

The series will conclude with a performance by Axiom Brass, a quintet featuring two trumpets, a horn, a trombone and a tuba. "We find that audiences always love brass music," Payne said. "We know people can hear other kinds of music in a lot of different places, but what we're trying to do is focus on the things that we can do best and engage a wide audience."

All the concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at the chapel at the northeast corner of Washington and Franklin streets. There will be short talks and presentations with the artists prior to each concert beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $45. Seniors can attend for $40 and student tickets cost $10.

"It's easy to park, there's great restaurants nearby, you could even have dinner on campus," Buffington said. "It's just a really low-key evening that's not hard, but it's almost as good as going downtown. You don't have to have some huge base knowledge of classical music. You can just come and listen to the music and enjoy it for what it is."

Eroica Trio, a group of three female musicians who play violin, piano and cello, will perform Nov. 5. Courtesy of Wheaton College
Hubbard Street 2 dancers will perform to music played by the Camerata Chicago chamber orchestra on Jan. 27. Courtesy of Wheaton College
Alumnus John Nelson will lead Wheaton College's choral and orchestral groups in a unique program celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Feb. 24. Courtesy of Wheaton College
Axiom Brass, a Chicago-based quintet, will conclude the 2016-17 Wheaton College Artist Series on April 1. Courtesy of Wheaton College

If you go

What: Wheaton College Artist Series

When: Sept. 30, Nov. 5, Jan. 27, Feb. 24, April 1

Who: The 5 Browns, Eroica Trio, Hubbard Street II and Camerata Chicago, John Nelson and Axiom Brass

Where: Edman Chapel, northeast corner of Washington and Franklin streets

Cost: $45, seniors $40, students $10

Info: (630) 752-5010 or

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