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James Levine at Ravinia 2016 feature image (Russell Jenkins)

James Levine returns to Ravinia and the CSO, and a tempest gives place to maestro’s Mahler

Jul 24, 2016 – 3:06 pm

Review: Even Mother Nature fell silent to listen when conductor James Levine made his much anticipated, storm-framed return to the Ravinia Festival on July 23. Levine led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a transcendent performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”), the very work with which he had made his emergency debut at Ravinia 45 years ago.

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Legacy of African American music lights up Grant Park fare accented by jazz, spirituals

Jul 23, 2016 – 4:58 pm
TreDiva (from left, Elizabeth Norman-Sojourner, Anisha McFarland, Jonita Lattimore) offered a medley of spirituals. (Norman Timonera)Review: Grant Park Music Festival concert, Marin Alsop conducting. With TreDiva and jazz violinist Regina Carter. Repeats July 23.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

From the pages of African American history, lines of musical heritage intertwined in a concert as appealing as it was fresh and diverse when the Grant Park Festival Orchestra was joined by jazz violinist Regina Carter and the vocal trio TreDiva on July 22 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

On the podium was Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. But this program was generally less about the classical tradition than the roots of African Americana and its expression in gospel music and jazz. Read the full story »

In Ravinia debut, Russian conductor Petrenko leads CSO in a night of romantic storytelling

Jul 21, 2016 – 5:52 pm
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Review: It was a night of narratives – not told in words, but hardly less vividly conveyed as the emotional storylines of a Ravinia Festival concert July 20 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Back on Grant Park podium, Christoph König revisits Bruckner with ‘Romantic’ Symphony

Jul 14, 2016 – 11:36 am
Feature 1 Bruckner 4

Interview: Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 (“Romantic”) was the Austrian composer’s break-out work, the one that critics and audiences in late 19th-century Vienna finally took to their hearts. It has remained Bruckner’s most popular symphony, and conductor Christoph König can give you a thousand reasons why. The German maestro will preside over the splendorous Fourth in free concerts July 15 and 16 at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Role Playing: Adam Bitterman, unlikely florist in ‘Seedbed,’ dug deep to create a rare bloom

Jul 13, 2016 – 11:59 pm

Interview: Adam Bitterman’s earthy and lusty and sometimes unnerving performance as the improbable florist Mick, a middle-aged guy enamored of an 18-year-old girl in Bryan Delaney’s “The Seedbed” at Redtwist Theatre, defies you to take your eyes off him. But the veteran actor had his doubts about even taking on the prodigious part, and this elusive character who finds himself caught up in a family’s sordid conflict.

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis reaches back to his classical prime to write a violin concerto

Jul 12, 2016 – 11:45 am
WM-closed-lips feature image (Frank Stewart)

Preview: For renowned jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, working in the classical realm does not mean crossing over to some foreign stylistic territory, but rather returning to familiar musical ground. His Concerto in D (for Violin and Orchestra) receives its American premiere July 12 at the Ravinia Festival performed by violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Cristian Măcelaru.

Emerson String Quartet to explore late Haydn with one-night immersion at Ravinia Festival

Jul 4, 2016 – 6:51 am
Emerson String Quartet feature image

Preview: Philip Setzer, founding violinist with the celebrated Emerson String Quartet, calls the sort of program his foursome will play at the Ravina Festival on July 5 a form of biography: a body of works from the hand of a single composer. In this case, it’s the six quartets of Haydn’s Op. 76, which took the Austrian master – and the form – to a new place.

Slow start to a musical adventure is challenge at Grant Park concert, then the good times roll

Jun 30, 2016 – 4:26 pm
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Review: The Grant Park Music Festival likes to break from the routine in programming and presentation. Sometimes it does so in dramatic ways, and sometimes the departures are more subtle, as they were during a concert June 29 in Millennium Park’s sprawling Pritzker Pavilion. This evening began at a crawl — until Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen brought vitality, and elegance, to a Chopin piano concerto.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Older California reds emerge from cellar in vigorous prime

Jun 29, 2016 – 5:34 pm
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Mulling Wine: Rummaging around in my wine cellar, I came upon a few cases I’d put back years ago and simply forgot about. These were various reds from Napa and Sonoma, the heartland of California wine production, and they collectively offered something bordering on revelation: the profound character and age-worthiness of wines we tend to value for their immediate pleasures.

Bruckner 9 was prelude of promise: Muti, CSO to open next season with Seventh Symphony

Jun 27, 2016 – 6:22 pm
6/23/16 9:02:36 PM --   The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Maestro Riccardo Muti, Conductor

Bruckner Symphony No. 9
Bruckner Te Deum

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Riccardo Muti conductor
Erin Wall soprano
Okka von der Damerau mezzo-soprano
Steve Davislim tenor
Eric Owens bass

Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe chorus director

   © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

Review: When Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra open their 2016-17 season at Orchestra Hall in September, it’s going to feel very much like picking up where the current season ended, with one of the splendorous symphonies by the 19th-century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. To have just heard the Ninth is to look forward to next season’s opener, Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, with electric anticipation.

‘The Seedbed’ at Redtwist: Guy walks into bar, sees this beautiful young girl; guy’s, like, older

Jun 24, 2016 – 2:11 pm

Review: Maggie and Mitch are so in love. She’s 18 and he could be, oh, three times her age. What’s wrong with this picture? That would depend on which of four perspectives you subscribe to in Redtwist Theatre’s excruciating take on Irish playwright Bryan Delaney’s “The Seedbed.” ★★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Had me at hello; rest of Far Niente tasting turned heads, too

Jun 22, 2016 – 11:59 am
Far Niente

Tasting Report: When your palate is switched on by the greeting wine handed to you at the door of a tasting event, chances are this is going to be an affair to remember. My taste buds got just such a jump start when I chose, well, “red” from the proffered tray, and it turned out to be EnRoute’s lovely 2013 Pinot Noir “Les Pommiers.” EnRoute is a Sonoma venture of the high-profile Napa producer Far Niente, whose diverse labels were spotlighted in this tasting.

‘The SpongeBob Musical’ is deep-sea delight for kids, with a whale of a payoff for parents

Jun 21, 2016 – 5:44 pm
The Sponge Bob Musical
Oriental Theatre

Character	Original Chicago Cast
SpongeBob SquarePants	Ethan Slater
Patrick Star	Danny Skinner
Squidward Tentacles	Gavin Lee
Sandy Cheeks

The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini and sound design by Walter Trarbach. - 


Review: Ah, to be 10 years old again, and to take in “The SpongeBob Musical” in all its innocent, fanciful charm, its splendorous undersea-world colors, its goofy but (mostly) good-hearted characters. If you’re 10, the “pre-Broadway world premiere” of “SpongeBob” will for sure get five stars, or maybe starfish, like this: Starfish, Starfish, Starfish, Starfish, Starfish. In real stars: ★★★★

Julia Fischer takes Beethoven Violin Concerto to rare heights with Chicago Symphony, Muti

Jun 20, 2016 – 2:36 pm
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Review: Julia Fischer’s exquisite performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Muti is one of the CSO’s don’t-miss concerts of this season. And happily, you have one more chance to hear it, on June 21 at Orchestra Hall.

Summer 2016 at American Players Theatre: It’s high drama, comedy where ardor meets Arden

Jun 16, 2016 – 7:55 pm
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Preview: It’s like seeing Shakespeare in the Forest of Arden, this bucolic Wisconsin festival that bears the name of American Players Theatre. Set in the rolling hills of Spring Green, just west of Madison, American Players has been producing stellar – literally star-covered – theater every summer since 1980. This summer APT juxtaposes Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” with Carlyle Brown’s “The African Company Presents Richard III.” Those timely spirits are already in flight, with many more plays to come. Here’s an overview.

Chicago Symphony unveils Fritz Reiner bust; honor overdue, says advocate Riccardo Muti

Jun 15, 2016 – 11:38 am
Feature image Reiner sculpture unveiling at CSO. (Todd Rosenberg)

Report: The burning gaze of Fritz Reiner, who presided as sixth music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1953-62, is back in full daunting view at Symphony Center, where on June 14 the CSO unveiled a new bust of the conductor that will greet visitors henceforth in the center’s outer lobby.

Lawn awaits, stars have got you covered: Downbeat is coming up at Grant Park Fest

Jun 13, 2016 – 8:26 pm
Grant Park Music Festival feature image

Preview: The Grant Park Music Festival is the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series of its kind, one of the glories of Chicago’s summer. Each year the Festival presents ten weeks of lawn concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Here are the 2016 highlights.

‘Constellations’ at Steppenwolf: Of relativity, and the infinite outcomes of boy meets girl

Jun 12, 2016 – 4:32 pm
'Constellations' at Steppenwolf (Michael Brosilow)

Review: Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. It’s more like a roll of the dice, suggests playwright Nick Payne in his touching romance “Constellations,” now on crisp and credible view at Steppenwolf Theatre. In fact, viewed on the space-time continuum, the possibilities of life and love might be as variable as infinite throws of those ivory cubes. ★★★★

Tour stop Ravinia 2016: Stars of country, rock, indie, R&B and jazz are headed this way

Jun 11, 2016 – 7:37 pm
Chris Thile joined Garrison Keillor at the Prairie Home Companion broadcast from Ravinia, where the summer fest is underway.

Preview: Chris Thile will take over as host of Prairie Home Companion when Garrison Keillor hands off the baton later this year, and the mandolin master was on hand for Keillor’s live broadcast concert June 11, kicking off Ravinia Festival’s starry summer lineup. Chicago On the Aisle takes a look at some of the top acts ahead.

Pianist’s CSO debut in Beethoven concerto spins spotlight in a mainly Mozart program

Jun 11, 2016 – 12:39 pm
Pianist Martin Helmchen (Marco Borggreve)

Review: For anyone who heard 34-year-old German pianist Martin Helmchen’s scintillating Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut June 9, the only question is surely this: When will the masterly pianist, a formidable presence in Europe since he won the Clara Haskil International Competition 15 years ago, return to Chicago not only to perform with the orchestra again but to play a recital in the Symphony Center Presents series?

Smorgasbord of Slavonic soul: North Shore Chamber Festival serves up delectable menu

Jun 10, 2016 – 6:59 pm
Vadim Gluzman
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Review: Sometimes, good things really do come in small packages. That’s certainly true of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival, a three-day, jewel-box series in Northbrook that remains too little known on the Chicago classical scene. The sixth annual installment opened June 8 with a captivating program titled “Slavonic Soul.”

With the Bard’s world as stage, Lyric’s Ryan singers, Civic Orchestra share a night of opera

Jun 9, 2016 – 12:42 pm
Ryan Center Civic Orchestra feature image

Review: So much talent bound up in such great and joyous commitment. That was the resonant vibe at a Shakespeare-themed concert collaboration between the young professional singers from the Ryan Opera Center training program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the pre-professional training ensemble run by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Tan Dun’s ‘Water Passion,’ Levine’s return highlight Ravinia’s summer classical lineup

Jun 8, 2016 – 10:40 pm
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Preview: The Chicago premiere of Tan Dun’s “Water Passion after Saint Matthew,” the return of conductor James Levine with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a multi-concert observance of the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed choral conductor Robert Shaw loom large among highlights of the 2016 Ravinia Festival.

‘Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf’: Angst, slow pizza and fast laughs at Writers

May 30, 2016 – 6:41 pm
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Review: Never mind the arcane title of the play, “Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf,” which, yes, seems familiar in a vaguely disconcerting way. You know you’re face to face with existential authenticity the moment Blanche Dubois’ voice drops an octave, plunging as if into a steamy bath of lurid sensuality. From there, it becomes a challenge for every viewer, a game of dicey drama and riotous laughter in the black box at the new Writers Theatre. ★★★★★

Viols and countertenor a novel modernist mix in John Harbison’s reflective ‘Cross of Snow’

May 24, 2016 – 6:32 pm
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Review: A mix of early- and new-music enthusiasts gathered on May 22 in the quietly graceful Church of St. Chrysostom’s, nestled in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast, for the world premiere of a contemplative and compelling new work for four viols and countertenor voice by American composer John Harbison, presented by Second City Musick. A superb group of viols was joined by the outstanding countertenor Nathan Medley.

In a Stravinsky night Dutoit and CSO recapture the blaze of ‘Firebird,’ esprit of Symphony in C

May 20, 2016 – 1:52 pm
3/19/15 8:09:08 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, Conductor
Yo-Yo Ma Cello
. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Review: If it is impossible to know what it was like to be at the Paris Opera in 1910 and attend the premiere of “The Firebird” as part of a glittering production of the Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s vivid, voluptuous version of this now-celebrated masterwork, heard May 19, offered at least a strong suggestion.

‘The Realization of Emily Linder’ at Redtwist: Mom’s ready for death, but not without toes

May 19, 2016 – 11:13 am

Review: Life, suggests Richard Strand’s play “The Realization of Emil Linder,” is like a stack of DVDs. What’s in it for you depends on how you look at it. That warm and fuzzy proposition, couched within dark comedy, makes for an amusing if fairly bizarre night out at Redtwist Theatre. ★★★

‘Jerusalem’ at Profiles: Retreating from life’s troubles in a camper, striking a careless pose

May 16, 2016 – 10:21 pm
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Review: He’s Peter Pan to a collection of lost boys in the Neverland of an English woods, the Wizard of Oz beguiling these Munchkins with an endless supply of drugs and booze and empty intimations that this is as good as a happy home gets. Meet Johnny “Rooster” Byron, detached soul and intractable, irreducible anti-hero of Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem.” His wholly credible embodiment by Darrell W. Cox at Profiles Theatre stands among the high points of the Chicago season. ★★★★

Old friend of the CSO, Charles Dutoit returns, this time amid shades of Stravinsky and Falla

May 13, 2016 – 8:15 pm
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Interview: Conductor Charles Dutoit’s relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is old and close. But even more deeply rooted in the Swiss-born maestro’s artistic persona is the music, by Manuel de Falla and Igor Stravinsky, that he leads on consecutive May weekends back at the helm of the CSO. In a chat with Chicago On the Aisle, Dutoit recalls vividly the special circumstances of his early experiences involving both composers.

‘Mary Page Marlowe’ at Steppenwolf: In Letts’ new play, woman adrift searches for an anchor

May 12, 2016 – 10:23 am
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Review: It was a happy announcement for a theater company, but happier still for any theater buff within driving distance of Chicago: Steppenwolf’s decision to extend the run of Tracy Letts’ psychologically incisive and finely crafted new play “Mary Page Marlowe.” This brilliant existential portrait of a woman out of touch with herself, lost to the world, and seemingly condemned to her lot from birth, bears a qualitative stamp worthy of “August: Osage County,” which brought Letts the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. ★★★★★

In three recipes for novel sounds, MusicNOW serves up appetizing concert-as-smorgasbord

May 10, 2016 – 10:06 pm
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Review: At its May 9 program at the Harris Theater titled “. . . Spring, Or Some Such Thing,” MusicNOW bundled three works for ensembles of fewer than 20 musicians — capped by Christopher Trapani’s flood- and hurricane-inspired song cycle “Waterlines” — into a nicely balanced, easy-to-digest dose of musical contemporaneity.

Haymarket Opera digs into Baroque treasury and finds sparkling Cavalli gem ‘La Calisto’

May 9, 2016 – 2:44 pm
Haymarket  Opera Company rehearses Calisto at the Atheneum Theatre, Wednesday, May 4,2016.

Charles Osgood Photography

Review: Thanks to the adventurous Haymarket Opera Company, Chicago audiences experienced one of the jewels of early Baroque opera, Francesco Cavalli’s “La Calisto,” on May 6 and 8 in their own back yard. It was a pure, glistening delight. With a larger stage at their disposal after the move to the spacious Athenaeum Theatre, the company’s seasoned creative team offered a historically informed re-invention of sets and costumes inspired in part by surviving production books from the opera’s 1651 premiere.