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In a journey across Brahms’ symphonies, Muti found both lyric dramatist, master classicist

May 16, 2017 – 7:46 am
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Review: Riccardo Muti still has one program to go in this, his seventh season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We might think of the impending finale – a mixed bag of orchestral music, choruses and arias from Italian opera in concerts June 22-25 – as a grand encore to the conductor’s roundly rewarding season of appearances with the CSO. Or perhaps as a festive postlude to his splendid traversal of Brahms’ symphonies over the last two weeks.

Muti, leading the CSO through Brahms cycle, says unsuspected sadness edges symphonies

May 12, 2017 – 12:13 pm
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Interview: Riccardo Muti has been conducting the symphonies of Brahms for 45 years, but to his current total immersion project with the Chicago Symphony he brings the excitement of a perpetual student. In a conversation with Chicago On the Aisle, after performing the First and Second Symphonies and with the Third and Fourth scheduled through May 13, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director said he was thrilled with the way things were going and conveyed the exhilaration of discoveries that have put into focus his remarkable experiences with Brahms as a young man.

In a spin at Lyric, ‘My Fair Lady’ still leaves romance in lurch, but the show’s irresistible

May 9, 2017 – 4:40 pm
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Review: For more than a century, people have been arguing about the ending of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the play behind Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago jumps into this amusing fray, but don’t expect the matter to be cleared up. When it comes to the cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle and the phonetics professor who successfully passes her off as an aristocrat, the romantic stakes are still dizzy with spin. ★★★★

Baton (and lantern) in hand, Muti commences rediscovery survey of the Brahms symphonies

May 9, 2017 – 1:52 pm
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Review: Ordinarily, the idea of hearing Brahms’ four ultra-familiar symphonies performed consecutively over two weekends might seem, well, unimaginative. Brahms in the care of CSO music director Riccardo Muti suddenly transforms the routine into a journey of discovery greatly to be anticipated. And illuminating it was when Muti led Brahms’ First and Second Symphonies on May 4 at Orchestra Hall to commence a cycle that winds up May 11-13 when the CSO turns to Symphonies 3 and 4.

Pianist Murray Perahia forges an alluring path from bright Bach through a Beethoven thicket

May 8, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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Review: Musical virtuosity is the sum of diverse parts, only the most obvious of which is great technical prowess. Pianist Murray Perahia’s recital May 7 at Orchestra Hall offered a veritable punch list of the qualities that add up to consummate musicianship. Its was a stylistic sweep from the last of Bach’s six “French” Suites through Schubert’s Four “Impromptus,” D. 935, to Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”).

In soft music of bubbles and cactus needles, concert attunes the ear to whispered sounds

Apr 25, 2017 – 11:08 am
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Review: In conventional classical-music concerts, it’s easy to get so swept up in elements like melody, harmony and rhythm that we overlook the essence of the individual sounds involved. In other words, we see the forest but not the trees. In a concert April 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the focus was very much on the trees. Titled “Whisper(s),” it featured magical “quiet sounds” like the gentle gurgling of water bubbles and the almost imperceptible ping of a plucked cactus needle.

‘The Perfect American’ at Chicago Opera: Portrait of Walt Disney, animated but imperfect

Apr 24, 2017 – 5:21 pm
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Review: The Philip Glass-Rudolph Wurlitzer opera “The Perfect American” focuses on the last months of Walt Disney’s life as he agonizes over his impending death and looks back at his career and childhood, especially memories of his hometown, an idyllic Marceline, Mo., which clearly was the inspiration for Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. In a production at the Harris Theater, it isn’t hard to see why Chicago Opera Theater was drawn to the work. ★★★

As CSO concertmaster Chen takes spotlight, band behind him is like blue-blooded family

Apr 20, 2017 – 10:44 am
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Interview: Every time violinist Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, steps in front of his colleagues as soloist, he knows one thing very well: A solid troupe has his back. Chen will be in that happy place April 20, 22 and 23 at Orchestra Hall when he plays Bartók’s early Violin Concerto No. 1 with guest conductor Neeme Järvi. The program will get an additional performance April 21 in Wheaton.

Chicago Opera Theater’s end-of-season gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass

Apr 12, 2017 – 2:03 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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Celebrate with Philip Glass and COT! COT’s End of Season Gala involves surprise guest Philip Glass!
April 12, 2016 …

From Lyric Opera stage, pair of stars launch into a swinging orbit around the world of song

Apr 12, 2017 – 10:09 am
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Review: Musical artistry at 360º was on display April 9 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a joint recital by tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens, with the marvelously adroit Craig Terry at the piano. Through a rousing program, the two singers showed their vast, enthusiastic and refreshingly diverse audience a broad and deeply felt repertoire of spirituals, traditional songs and Broadway favorites as well as the opera for which they are celebrated.

Dutoit sees a wide spiritual gamut before him in Easter weekend with Chicago Symphony

Apr 11, 2017 – 1:51 pm
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Preview: Musical reflections on Easter, transcendent and intimate and existential, form conductor Charles Dutoit’s multilayered theme for his concerts April 13-15 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The gentler parts are well known; for many listeners, however, the other part, a spiritual warp of upheaval and terror born of World War II, may come as revelation in startling terms.

With Haitink sidelined, James Conlon steps in and leads CSO, singers in Mahler to remember

Apr 2, 2017 – 10:42 am
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Review: When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra released its program schedule for the current season, among the brightest highlights – one of those don’t-miss concerts – was Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” to be led by Bernard Haitink, who at age 88 is unsurpassed among Mahler conductors today. Then, just days before the performance weekend, March 30-April 1, Haitink canceled due to illness. But when James Conlon, former music director of the Ravinia Festival, answered the call, “Das Lied” found its full voice.

Lyric Opera’s ‘Rising Stars’ concert reflects program designed to help young talent shine

Apr 1, 2017 – 8:44 pm
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Report: They were everywhere onstage all season, and seven are taking their final bows. It’s time to cut the cake for the gifted young artists who are emerging from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s high-level Ryan Opera Center multi-year training program. They are venturing forth, some with bookings already in hand.

Facing the music, if not her public, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter delivers a stellar recital

Mar 30, 2017 – 3:33 pm
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Review: Very curious, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recital March 29 at Orchestra Hall with her longtime collaborator, pianist Lambert Orkis. The programming was imaginative, the performances elegant, forceful, seamlessly integrated. What was so odd was Mutter’s choice not to play out to the house, but rather to offer at best a profile as she leaned into the piano and in at least one instance read from a score propped up next to Orkis’ own music.

Daniil Trifonov’s knockout recital points up high value of Symphony Center piano series

Mar 27, 2017 – 4:59 pm
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Review: Daniil Trifonov’s prodigious recital March 26 at Orchestra Hall provided a ringing reminder of what a treasure the Symphony Center Presents annual piano series is. To have 10 such virtuosi parade across that stage over the course of a season is a gift not to be taken lightly. Still, that said, Trifonov’s heady program was exceptional even for the world-class keyboard lineup that populates the SCP series.

Postmortem opera: ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’ catches bop star musing on life – after death

Mar 26, 2017 – 12:10 am
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Review: I can only assume that tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s next operatic role will be Muhammad Ali. It took Brownlee all of five minutes as legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker to own that tragic character – to reveal a deeply flawed figure as one who was determined to be his own man, a brilliant, scarred fighter who proved to the world that he was the greatest. The Lyric Opera of Chicago production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” by Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette A. Wimberly, runs through March 26 at the Harris Theater. ★★★★

Verdi’s Requiem, as bold act by Nazi-era Jews, comes to Chicago in multimedia concert event

Mar 21, 2017 – 3:44 pm
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Preview: “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín,” a multimedia creation with orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, narrators and film clips, will be presented under author-conductor Murry Sidlin on March 23 at Orchestra Hall. Sidlin developed the project to memorialize Jews who learned and performed Verdi’s Requiem in figurative protest against their Nazi oppressors at the Terezin concentration camp.

‘Carmen’ (redux) at the Lyric: Leads change, young conductor steps in – and the heat’s on

Mar 20, 2017 – 9:24 pm
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Review: Lest any insatiable lover of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” be put off by the idea of a “second cast,” as the Lyric Opera of Chicago has now changed the leads in its continuing production, let me put this as plainly as possible: The mid-run advent of mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in the title role, with tenor Brandon Jovanovich now portraying the tragically smitten Don José, isn’t just hot stuff; it is scorched earth. ★★★★

In a many-splendored program, Muti and CSO match world premiere, Uchida’s Beethoven

Mar 20, 2017 – 5:48 am
3/16/17 8:35:06 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti Conductor
Mitsuko Uchida piano

Rossini Overture to La scala di seta
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
S. Adams many words of love

[World Premiere, CSO Commission]
 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: With music director Riccardo Muti back on the podium, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra delivered a bravura world premiere with Samuel Adams’ “many words of love,” framed by an elegant and emotionally charged performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with soloist Mitsuko Uchida and a vivacious account of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which remarkably enough the CSO had not played since 2003.

Placido Domingo’s gala return to Lyric Opera rekindles long love affair across the footlights

Mar 12, 2017 – 10:49 pm
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Review: There was palpable energy at the Civic Opera House on March 9 when the Lyric Opera of Chicago presented “Celebrating Placido,” an evening of music and mirth with the remarkable Placido Domingo, who at age 76 still engenders that singular frisson felt upon hearing his first phrases as only the greatest vocalists are able to do.

Converging on a cosmic plane, CSO and Ma find star stuff in Salonen’s new Cello Concerto

Mar 10, 2017 – 5:48 pm
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Review: As the audience packed into Orchestra Hall whooped its enthusiasm for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new Cello Concerto, just given its world premiere by soloist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Salonen conducting, the two stars of the moment gleefully pointed fingers at each other as if to say, “You’re the man,” and, “Oh no, you’re the man.” They were both right.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor and composer, again casts his lights on Chicago Symphony

Mar 7, 2017 – 3:48 pm
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Review: Predictable highlights of any Chicago Symphony Orchestra season are the programs with perennial guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. When the brilliant Finnish maestro is on the podium, the fare is always special. Now Salonen is finishing up an extended weekend run of Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du printemps” on March 7, before moving right into the world premiere of the conductor-composer’s own Cello Concerto, with soloist Yo-Ya Ma, March 9-11.

‘Eugene Onegin’ at Lyric Opera: As anti-hero, Mariusz Kwiecień summons a tragic elegance

Mar 4, 2017 – 11:09 am

Review: Love took a glorious beating in the final grand opera of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s season, but then it has been pretty much that way since October. Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina lived happily ever after, but otherwise things ended badly for the aspiring lovers of 2016-17. Now the Lyric gives us Tchaikovsky’s cynical anti-hero Eugene Onegin, brought to life in a devastating package of elegance and self-deluding condescension by baritone Mariusz Kwiecień. ★★★★

Channeling film-maker Eisenstein, Muti directs epic struggle in Prokofiev’s ‘Ivan the Terrible’

Feb 26, 2017 – 7:02 am

Review: Even for Riccardo Muti, it was an extraordinary night at the symphony. The maestro’s latest musico-dramatic assemblage, Prokofiev’s “Ivan the Terrible,” received its Chicago Symphony premiere featuring longtime Muti friend Gérard Depardieu as Russia’s ruthless Tsar Ivan IV. The performance was nothing short of operatic in the majesty of its vision, the grandeur of its pageantry and the grip of its blood-red emotional palette.

Elizabeth DeShong carries a torch for tragic bel canto – and for Bernadette, Bette, Judy

Feb 19, 2017 – 10:48 am
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Interview: Enough with comedy. This singer, now featured in “Norma” at the Lyric Opera, and soon to kick back with other rising stars at a “Beyond the Aria” event at the Harris Theater, believes the world is poised for a major revival of coloratura-tinged drama, bel canto’s serious side. Her inspirations include opera’s Marilyn Horne, but she admires those legendary Broadway belters, too.

‘Carmen’ at Lyric Opera: Allure’s everywhere, then bizarre finale lets the tragic line fall slack

Feb 15, 2017 – 9:08 am
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Review: There is much to recommend the new Lyric Opera production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” a joint venture with the Houston Grand Opera. Topping the list is mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova’s scorching performance in her role debut as the Gypsy femme fatale. But in the final act, where amid much splendor one anticipates a hair-raising pay-off, director-choreographer Rob Ashford loses his way. ★★★

Baroque fare spotlights maestro and vocalist, but (very small) CSO creates glitter of its own

Feb 11, 2017 – 1:30 pm
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Review: It was an itty-bitty iteration of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that took the stage Feb. 9 – a double handful of strings plus a harpsichord and the solo violin of conductor Fabio Biondi. Together with mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, this sufficient and most excellent force served up a splendid evening of fare from the High Baroque.

Beethoven the symphonist, early and famous, finely etched by Budapest Festival Orchestra

Feb 10, 2017 – 5:58 pm
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Review: In the second stop of a five-city American tour that started at Lincoln Center last week and ends in Boston on Sunday, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and its conductor Ivàn Fischer offered a thrilling all-Beethoven program at Orchestra Hall that featured the Fifth Symphony and reaffirmed the freshness and sense of discovery that mark Beethoven’s buoyant early style.

British maestro makes a polished CSO debut, and he’s right back in mix for Gershwin gala

Feb 7, 2017 – 9:22 am
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Review: Chicago Symphony audiences at Orchestra Hall may be late making the acquaintance of British conductor Bramwell Tovey, but the winter-spring portion of the current season has suddenly become a concentrated getting-to-know-you period. And if one might judge from his Feb. 3 CSO debut, the assured maestro offers a new friendship worth cultivating. Tovey, who is also a pianist and composer, will return in double duty as conductor and soloist with the CSO for a newly announced pair of all-Gershwin concerts March 24-25.

‘Norma’ at Lyric Opera: Radvanovsky’s fiery priestess sets the tone for blazing melodrama

Feb 1, 2017 – 2:36 pm
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Review: There is no Verdi at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this season, but there is plenty of Italian spectacle from the generation prior. Donizetti’s crazed “Lucia di Lammermoor” bowed earlier this season, and now comes Bellini’s “Norma,” the bel canto saga of a Druid high priestess betrayed in love. Sondra Radvanovsky stars in a majestic turn. ★★★★