Fanfare for An Uncommon Woman: Celebrating Joan Harris at Harris Theater | Concert preview
All-star friends gather to toast Joan Harris and the monument to her philanthropy—Harris Theater. Renée Fleming, Pinchas Zukerman and more celebrate on Harris’s 80th birthday.
Large-scale philanthropy is the backbone for many Chicago arts organizations, and few people have made greater impact on Chicago’s cultural landscape than Joan Harris. The 79-year-old has spent the past three decades immersed in a personal mission to ensure that the arts thrive in Chicago. There’s no greater material testament to her achievement than the venue she and her late husband, Irving Harris, helped erect: Harris Theater.
When businessman Irving fronted a whopping $39 million toward the music and dance house, he was quick to credit his wife. “This is something that Joan has dreamed of for 20 years,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2003, the same year the sleek, modern venue opened its doors. He passed away a year later, at the age of 94.
Today, the Millennium Park space is home to 35 of the city’s emerging music and dance institutions, including Fulcrum Point New Music Project, the Luna Negra Dance company and eighth blackbird. Harris’s favorite memory is when Daniel Barenboim conducted the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 2006. “I don’t mean to play favorites,” she tells us over the phone. “But that was an extraordinary moment.”
Classical stars are gathering to toast Harris on her 80th birthday. Close friends—soprano Renée Fleming, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, cellist David Finckel, pianist Wu Han, the Emerson String Quartet and Stephen Burns of Fulcrum Point New Music Project—team for “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” named after composer Joan Tower’s most famous work. The five fanfares of the work were written as tributes to risk-taking women, the final one for Harris.
“I’m simultaneously overwhelmed, embarrassed and thrilled about this event,” she says with a laugh, adding, “I definitely don’t like being in the spotlight. But this is not for me, it’s for the theater. I’m willing to do this because this theater is so important to me. I will swallow hard and smile a lot.”