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Austrians arm in arm: Manfred Honeck brings multidimensional Mozart to four CSO concerts

Jun 6, 2017 – 9:47 pm
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Preview: Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, returns to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to lead concerts June 8-13 that might be characterized as a theme with variations. The theme is Mozart; the variations are, well, comprehensive. “To celebrate Mozart in just one concert program is never easy,” says the maestro, in his ninth year with Pittsburgh at age 58. “How do you make choices among so many masterpieces?”

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.

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

Mar 7, 2017 – 3:48 pm
080918 Esa-Pekka Salonen

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.

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

Feb 11, 2017 – 1:30 pm
Vivica

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.

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.

CSO in Europe: Epic escalator, untested hall greet orchestra at Hamburg Elbphilharmonie

Jan 17, 2017 – 4:01 pm
1/15/17 8:39:07 PM -- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti Music Director

2017 European Tour 

Bows after Don Juan, Op. 20

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: Some 600,000 of the curious, and proud, already have taken the long, long escalator ride from street level to the eighth-floor lobby of Hamburg’s brand-new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, where the Chicago Symphony in concerts Jan. 14-15 became the first foreign orchestra to perform on its stage. Both the curiosity and the pride were understandable.

Veteran conductor and a violin virtuoso join CSO in gift-wrapping treasures of 20th century

Dec 10, 2016 – 9:45 am
Vadim Gluzman Photo: Marco Borggreve

Review: There was nothing particularly of Yuletide in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert Dec. 8 with the venerable Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi and the Ukrainian-born violinist Vadim Gluzman. But the evening was so brilliant, such a treat – with Orchestra Hall festooned in great green wreaths and red bows for the season – that it all felt like a wonderful holiday gift.

Pianist ignites a Prokofiev concerto with CSO, and veteran maestro shows mastery in debut

Nov 20, 2016 – 8:21 pm
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Review: The technical demands Prokofiev placed on the soloist in his Second Piano Concerto are formidable. But chops alone will not suffice. The fiery Second also demands the fierce temperament displayed by Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin in his electrifying performance Nov. 18 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Emmanuel Krivine, who also led a charming and expansive account of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony.

Chicago Symphony Chorus glories in Brahms’ ‘German Requiem’ under van Zweden’s baton

Nov 13, 2016 – 11:10 pm
11/10/16 9:17:10 PM 

Mozart Masonic Funeral Music
Wagner Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Brahms A German Requiem

PERFORMERS

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden conductor
Christiane Karg soprano
Michael Nagy baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus 
Duain Wolfe chorus director

© Alex Garcia Photography 2016

Review: Brahms’ “German Requiem” is a gentle monument, expressive in equal parts of humility, reassurance and peace. Such were the components of a radiant performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with soprano Christiane Karg and baritone Michael Nagy, conducted by Jaap van Zweden on Nov. 11 at Orchestra Hall.

James Levine, a musical soul for all ages, appears before the CSO and it’s all poetry

Nov 8, 2016 – 12:42 pm

Review: Celebrating his splendid Indian summer, James Levine rolled up a long ramp to a custom-designed maestro’s podium at Orchestra Hall, took a hi-hello spin, and settled into a love-fest with the Chicago Symphony, starting with some absolutely irresistible Mozart. It is impossible to overstate the importance to American culture of this brilliant musician who, despite physical infirmity, is capable of unforgettable concerts when conditions are right.

Young maestro walks into house Reiner built, confronts CSO and a daunting Strauss legacy

Oct 30, 2016 – 12:19 pm

Review: It must be with a certain prideful reluctance that the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra face each new generation of conductors eager to take their own shot with one of the most famous works in its recorded legacy  – Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.” The 38-year-old Colombian conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada did not score a clear success despite a lot of bounce and body language in every single beat.

Young German conductor shows his mastery, doubles down in Chicago Symphony debut

Oct 22, 2016 – 3:19 pm
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Review: The 33-year-old German conductor David Afkham made a doubly impressive debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 20, leading a finely feathered and emotionally searing account of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and showing no less mastery in his collaboration with Emanuel Ax in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major.

CSO and Muti turn spotlight on principal cello, and flash a thrilla on docket for European tour

Oct 17, 2016 – 5:05 pm
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Review: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current series of concerts with music director Riccardo Muti spotlights one of its own — principal cellist John Sharp in an elegant and lyrical turn through the Schumann concerto. But the program also previews the CSO’s January tour of Europe, and the performance Oct. 14 no doubt anticipated the coming response abroad: The crowd went wild.

DiDonato, Muti conjure Martucci song cycle, then the CSO delivers a Beethoven thriller

Sep 30, 2016 – 8:16 pm
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Review: Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti has long and eagerly shared his love for some 19th-century Italian composers who are otherwise slipping into history. For Giuseppe Martucci’s formidable song cycle “La canzone dei ricordi” (Song of Remembrance), Muti brought in another persuasive advocate, the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. An electrifying Beethoven Seventh Symphony lit up the concert’s second half.

‘Firebird,’ transfigured as ballet with puppets, made image of rebirth in S. African production

Jul 27, 2016 – 11:17 pm
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Review: The original story behind Stravinsky’s ballet music for “The Firebird” is one of transcendence: evil vanquished and good souls restored to life. So it isn’t such a great stretch to the re-imagined ballet, as a danced parable with giant puppets, presented by Janni Younge Productions at the Ravinia Festival. It tells tell twin tales of personal self-discovery and South Africa’s continuing struggle for social reclamation two decades after the end of apartheid.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Runnicles leads CSO in 2 probing reflections on death (and variations on another enigma)

May 7, 2016 – 8:08 am
Donald Runnicles feature image

Review: Rather than grand musical statements or virtuosic solo vehicles, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra program May 5 put the focus on quiet introspection, emotional nuance and both the glory and poetry of symphonic sound. All three of the featured works by Britten, Strauss and Elgar were mainstays of the standard repertoire, but guest conductor Donald Runnicles made sure they came off as more than merely routine.

CSO Chorus joins city salute to Shakespeare with tragedy, comedy from Berlioz and Verdi

Apr 6, 2016 – 10:26 pm
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Preview: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus help to observe the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April with performances of two major works under the baton of CSO music director Riccard Muti – Berlioz’s dramatic symphony “Roméo et Juliette” and a concert version of Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff.” The demands the two works place on the chorus, says director Duain Wolfe, could hardly be more different.

Mälkki’s return to Chicago Symphony podium shows why Finnish conductor’s star is on rise

Apr 1, 2016 – 10:49 am
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Review: Expectations were running high for the Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki on her return March 30 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which she first guest conducted in 2011. And put simply, she delivered. She led a fresh, enthralling interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” infused with apt doses of wonderment and exoticism.

Salonen, embracing history and the present, leads CSO anniversary concert to celebrate

Mar 2, 2016 – 12:15 pm
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Review: Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recent concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra came as a multifaceted, indeed exhilarating reminder of the CSO’s grand legacy and at the same time pointed up the orchestra’s undiminished prowess as well as its still-rising arc of achievement.

Manfred Honeck steps in with CSO, tweaks program, delivers exhilarating ‘Pathétique’

Feb 23, 2016 – 8:12 pm
Manfred Honeck 550

Review: On Feb. 27, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will observe the 120th anniversary of its founding with a celebratory concert under its present music director, Manfred Honeck. As patrons of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have just witnessed, Honeck surely will give Pittsburgh reason for celebrations to come.

On large scale and small, Rozhdestvensky’s festive visit with CSO leaves fond memories

Feb 13, 2016 – 1:13 pm
2/11/16 8:12:06 PM -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125th Year.


Maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducts Sibelius' Rakastava


© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

Review: As the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has no other festival planned for the current season, let us declare the past two weekends – two completely different but equally marvelous musical encounters — as Rozhdestvensky Fest. After leading his scheduled week of Shostakoivch concerts, the 84-year-old Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky took over for an ailing Riccardo Muti in a second, more intimate program.

To sub for ailing Muti, spry Russian Rozhdestvensky, 84, agrees to stick around

Feb 5, 2016 – 7:27 am
Conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky

News Release: CHICAGO — Distinguished Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who is currently in Chicago to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in performances of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 & 15 this weekend February 5 & 6, has graciously agreed to remain with the Orchestra for an additional set of concerts on February 11, 12, 13 & 16.  Rozhdestvensky steps in for CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, who had to withdraw from his February concerts in Chicago due to recovery from a hip operation.

Riccardo Muti, hip ailing, withdraws from February Chicago Symphony concerts

Feb 2, 2016 – 7:15 pm
Maestro Riccardo Muti shares a laugh with the orchestra during a January rehearsal in Taipei (Todd Rosenberg)

News Release: CHICAGO — CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti is unable to conduct his February concerts in Chicago due to recovery from a hip operation that was needed following a minor accident. The concert scheduled for February 19 at Holy Name Cathedral will be postponed with a new date to be announced. A guest conductor or conductors for the CSO’s performances February 11-20 will also be announced at a later date.

Two sparkling treasures to stuff a stocking: CSO’s ‘Messiah’ and Joffrey’s ‘Nutcracker’

Dec 13, 2015 – 7:04 am
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Review: ’Tis the season when the mere names of Handel and Tchaikovsky conjure two of the most beloved works for concert hall and stage in Western culture. That affection radiates through splendorous continuing productions of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Orchestra Hall and the Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at the Auditorium Theatre.