Recently Chicago once again played host to visitors and performers from all over the world at the International Beethoven Festival, an annual cavalcade of performances hosted by the International Beethoven Project, a local non-profit organization founded by pianist George Lepauw. This year the theme was Revolution, and who better to invite to perform (and make his debut in the United States) than one of the more unconventional young pianists performing today?
I don’t need to remind you that the eight opening notes to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 are famous—perhaps even the most famous—in the entire genre we call classical music. But I do need to tell you that you haven’t heard them yet, at least not like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Riccardo Muti interpret them. Audiences on Thursday and Saturday had the privilege, and if you want to do yourself the biggest favor of the regular concert season (just in the nick of time as it wraps up) you will buy yourself a ticket for this Tuesday night, June 19th. It doesn’t matter where you sit—just be there.
Hearing a well-executed performance of Baroque instrumental music is like being presented with a basket of perfectly blush, crisp, apples; plentiful sweet sounds articulated with a snap, like sharp lead breaking on paper. Garry Clarke (Artistic Director) and his crack team of musicians—Baroque Band—offered such a gift to the City of Chicago this past week in three concerts taking place over the course of three days. I had the extreme pleasure of attending the final of these concerts, which was presented in a perfect space for intimate Baroque performances: Grainger Ballroom at Symphony Center.
Chicago Opera Theater is currently presenting Handel’s Teseo, which concludes their “baroque trilogy devoted to the exploration of operas with Medea as a central character.” Previous installments were Cavalli’s Jason, and Charpentier’s Medea. In the interest of this review, it will suffice to note the work’s central plot is defined by Medea’s (Renée Tatum) desire for Teseo (Ceclia Hall), her jealousy for the love Teseo shares with Agilea (Manuela Bisceglie), and her manipulation of the king Egeo (Gerald Thompson) to attempt to get her way—i.e. marriage with Teseo and disposal of Agilea. Supporting characters include Clizia (Deanna Breiwick) and her lover Arcano (David Trudgen). Those interested in a full synopsis may find it available through the Handel House.
We are fortunate to enjoy a full calendar of music each season here in Chicago. The variety is endless—performances of all sizes, personalities, and genres, take place in a plethora of venues. Every now and again all the elements align and something magical transpires. That happened this past Saturday evening at the seventy-sixth concert hosted by the Chicago Chamber Music Society featuring the Borromeo String Quartet.
A boutique crowd of half capacity greeted the Australian Chamber Orchestra and American soprano Dawn Upshaw this past Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall. Those fortunate enough to attend were rewarded with a series of impeccable performances with repertoire spanning two centuries.
Let it be known: the Chicago Composers Orchestra has arrived. Now in their second season, they have gone from being a passionate collective to a galvanized force punching new energy into Chicago’s so called “new music” scene. Part of what is shaping them into one of the coolest new kids on the block is their total lack of agenda. They aren’t on some breathless crusade save “classical” music armed with neon lights and cocktails to prove it’s chic. They aren’t troubled by pretensions or seem to be gripped with any need to impress anybody. It’s simply a group of people bound together by the belief that new music is important—vital even—and that experiencing it is a fresh adventure. In the words of CCO co-founder and President Brian Baxter, when you come to a CCO show, “you can’t rely on 200 years of opinions.”
Last year the University of Chicago conferred upon Russian/Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931) an honorary doctorate—making her the first composer to be given such an honor by the University. This past Wednesday night at Harris Theater the University of Chicago’s Contempo ensemble (this city’s venerable 46 year-old new music group) presented a program devoted exclusively to Gubaidulina’s works. In her opening statements, Shulamit Ran, Artistic Director of Contempo and faculty member at U of C, explained the evening was originally meant to culminate in a world premiere. However, due to persistent health issues the composer found it necessary to postpone the completion of her new piece for the ensemble entitled A Pilgrimage of Four. Instead, Ran and Gubaidulina selected other works from her oeuvre as substitutions.
It’s a gift-giving season and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in on the act this weekend offering a collection of musical jewels in their red velvet Orchestra Hall box. On the program: Gustav Mahler’s Blumine, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 and Brahms’ Piano Quartet no. 1 in G Minor, op. 25 orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts with pianist Jeremy Denk. What is so unique about this line up is, to continue with the metaphor, these works are loosened from their traditional settings giving us the opportunity to enjoy brilliance shining from every direction possible and gain fresh perspective.