Top Story »

Featured image

In a who-knew debut, Czech conductor leads electric Beethoven with Chicago Symphony

Mar 3, 2024 – 8:44 pm

Review: Conductors making a debut with the Chicago Symphony are usually preceded by reputation. Which makes an exception of the Czech visitor Petr Popelka, who despite his recent rapid ascent in Europe is a virtual unknown in the U.S. That should change quickly. Popelka’s appearance with the CSO on March 1-2 was a stunning discovery. After hearing his brilliant turn through Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – twice – I can only assume the CSO will bring this well-schooled and artistically assured conductor back to Orchestra Hall asap.

Read the full story »
Latest Arts News
Classical + Opera
Theater + Stage
Streaming + Disc
Chicago Wine Journal

Classical + Opera »

Chicago Symphony’s 2024-25 season reveals zesty ingredients of Muti, Mahler and Mäkelä

Mar 1, 2024 – 12:01 pm

Colombian conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada will preside over the CSO’s season-opening concerts. (Werner Kmetitsch photo)

Report: Conductor Klaus Mäkelä joins a flurry of late-season Mahler, and Riccardo Muti caps his four programs with a Berlioz spectacle.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s newly announced plans for its 2024-25 season are, if one might make such a distinction, intriguing and fraught with intrigue. First is the season itself and the bundle of enticing concerts it holds, not least an autumn-anchoring Beethoven program led by CSO music director emeritus for life Riccardo Muti and his season-ending return with a high-powered rarity, Berlioz’ “The Damnation of Faust,” a spectacle for orchestra, chorus and soloists.

But of course, what’s uppermost in the minds of the Chicago Symphony’s most ardent followers is the question of who will succeed Muti as music director and whether that answer might be forthcoming sometime in 2024-25. While mum remains the word at Symphony Center, from the orchestra world’s most active rumor mill, the website called SlippedDisc and its purveyor Norman Lebrecht, comes an unequivocal assertion that the choice has been made and that it’s “the worst-kept secret” in the biz. The CSO’s music director-elect, says Lebrecht, is the dazzling 27-year-old Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä, who indeed returns to the CSO for a pair of programs in the latter part of next season.

The CSO’s official reply to the Mäkelä rumor: silenzio, or hiljaisuus in Finnish. An orchestra spokesperson offered “no comment.” Read the full story »

With new CSO music director yet to be named, guest conductors make impressive showings

Feb 27, 2024 – 1:03 pm
Featured image

Commentary: Like the doubtless confused plant life in this bizarrely warm season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra seems to be surging toward spring with stunning vitality amid an aura of great expectation. We’re now plunging toward an untimed announcement of a new music director. The last couple of weeks have spotlighted two very fine conductors, Paavo Jarvi (above) and Hannu Lintu, and the spring stretch of the season promises several more.

Lyric’s stark, fierce ‘Jenůfa’ again showed how aggressive company has upped theater game

Dec 8, 2023 – 10:39 am
13. LOC Jenufa - Lise Davidsen - feature image Lyric Opera of Chicago

Commentary: This is Chicago, a city famous for spoken-theater companies that push drama to the ragged edge, finding new ways into the classics of Sophocles, Chekhov, Ibsen, O’Neill, Miller, Williams, Albee, and Shakespeare. As it proved again with its stunning November production of Janáček’s “Jenůfa,” the lightning-bolt of the fall season, Lyric Opera of Chicago in recent years has become likewise aggressive at offering novel approaches to opera’s greatest hits. I say bring it.

Amsterdam invites CSO to mega Mahler fest; van Zweden will lead 6th and 7th Symphonies

Oct 17, 2023 – 5:04 pm
Zweden feature image

Report: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which under Georg Solti built a formidable reputation in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler that continues undiminished to the present day, has been invited to an ambitious international Mahler festival in May 2025 to be hosted by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Five orchestras from three continents will contribute to a complete cycle of Mahler’s nine completed symphonies, plus “Das Lied von der Erde” and the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth.

‘Triumph of the Octagon’ is a multifaceted win for Riccardo Muti and CSO in Glass premiere

Oct 2, 2023 – 2:41 pm
muti glass composite feature image

Review: “The Triumph of the Octagon,” a Sept. 28 world premiere commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association for Riccardo Muti, honors the esteemed conductor’s transition from music director (a title he held from 2010 until June 2023) to his new role as music director emeritus for life. The tone poem by Philip Glass, with its quiet undulations, beautifully commemorates the CSO’s season of transition: the orchestra’s capacity for singularly tranquil, unhurried and quite magical effects will linger as earmarks of Muti’s legacy.

‘Flying Dutchman’ at Lyric Opera: A dark tale made brilliant by the voices of a doomed pair

Sep 29, 2023 – 3:17 pm
Featured image Todd Rosenberg

Review: The sorry plight of Wagner’s Senta, the lass who obsesses about the accursed sea captain in “The Flying Dutchman,” always puts me in mind of Schubert’s plaintive Gretchen at the spinning wheel, bereft of peace and heavy of heart. “Dutchman” is one dark opera, populated by distraught or deeply neurotic characters for whom there is no relief and never will be. Still, there is a certain radiance to the bleakness and it suffuses a compelling account of Wagner’s music-drama at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Muti is CSO Music Director Emeritus for Life; honor caps grand Beethoven Missa Solemnis

Jun 25, 2023 – 8:33 pm
Featured image

Review: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its music director for the last 13 seasons have come to a conclusion and a consummation of that long and distinguished relationship, but not an ending. After a sublime account of Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis with the CSO and Chorus at Orchestra Hall on June 23, Riccardo Muti was invested as Music Director Emeritus for Life in a presentation by Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and Mary Louise Gorno, chair of the board of directors.

With CSO’s grand Beethoven finish still ahead, Muti stamped directorship with great Schubert

Jun 20, 2023 – 4:07 pm
sub feature image

Commentrary: It has been like a double bill, or a fascinating theater piece with a twin ending, Riccardo Muti’s transition from his music directorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In any other season, the CSO concerts June 15-17 would have made a terrific finale – a delightful tuba concerto spotlighting CSO principal Gene Pokorny, with plenty of schtick thrown in, and a great performance, indeed, of Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony. But this is not just any season, and its actual consummation with Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (June 23-25) befits the conclusion of Muti’s 13 years at the orchestra’s helm.

With a transcendent Mahler Ninth Symphony, Czech rises in CSO directorship sweepstakes

Jun 12, 2023 – 11:56 am
Featured image

Commentary: If the lineup of Chicago Symphony guest conductors for next season looks like an audition roster for a prospective successor to Riccardo Muti as music director, one name stands out if only because it occurs twice: Jakub Hrůša, who will lead consecutive programs in March 2024. Based on the nuanced and illuminating Mahler Ninth Symphony he conducted with the CSO this past weekend, one might even see the 41-year-old Hrůša as frontrunner.

As Muti era spins toward close, he spotlights musicians who helped create an epic splendor

May 28, 2023 – 9:29 pm
Featured image

Commentary: Two consecutive weeks of concerts at Orchestra Hall, marking Riccardo Muti’s penultimate stint as music director before what figures to be quite a grand finale in June, amounted to something of an extended house party – just the man and his band in showcase concerts that spoke volumes about the mettle of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and  the 13 seasons of their creative togetherness.

Russian conductor takes up Shostakovich 8th, leading CSO deep into a complex spiritual web

May 1, 2023 – 3:28 pm
Featured image

Review: Dmitri Shostakovich’s epic and tumultuous Symphony No. 8 in C minor, composed in 1943, might be viewed as Volume 2 of his tomes of war, coming straight after the likewise sweeping and similarly fraught Symphony No. 7 in C major written the year before. One of Shostakovich’s most compelling works, elegantly wrought and spiritually complex, the Eighth Symphony received a sublime and penetrating performance April 27 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski.

French conductor Fabien Gabel, in CSO debut, makes subtly dazzling splash with Stravinsky

Apr 21, 2023 – 8:22 pm
Featured image

Review: If many in the audience at Orchestra Hall were unaware of French conductor Fabien Gabel when he made his debut April 20 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they surely will remember him upon his presumably early return. The 47-year-old maestro’s fundamental musical elegance suggested that of CSO music director Riccardo Muti. On this first visit, Gabel’s leadership was fluent and efficient, the musical result eloquent, nuanced, brilliant.

As arts groups aim at winning audience back, CSO hits the target in back-to-back programs

Mar 27, 2023 – 7:25 pm
Featured image

Commentary: The emergent paradigm of inclusion, this new arts-wide acknowledgement of stage and concert hall as Everyperson’s forum and welcoming agora for all who wish to assemble there, was on manifest display in recent Chicago Symphony performances at Orchestra Hall. The repertoire showcased its fresh profile in brave new works or just unusual music by a broad range of composers, served up by a wide spectrum of artists. It was a mix highlighted by the CSO subscription debut March 23-26 of an elegant veteran, the African American conductor Thomas Wilkins.

‘Carmen’ at Lyric Opera: Love and death in old Seville, ups and downs in a muddled retelling

Mar 19, 2023 – 11:02 pm
Feature image

Review: Two warring concepts shape and drive Bizet’s opera “Carmen” – love and death. Or in French, l’amour and la mort, the one word formed as if entirely by the lips, the other resonating from somewhere deep in the back of the throat. Love, in the earthy and precarious world of the gypsy Carmen, is transitory, a placeholder, an article as disposable as life itself. But death, this thing that wells up from so deep a place in speech, is profound and inevitable, the single eternal verity. Both musically and dramatically, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s busy and vibrant “Carmen” wants the depth and darkness that mark this work as the prototype of verismo opera. ★★

As meteoric young conductor returns to CSO, young listeners roar promise at Orchestra Hall

Feb 20, 2023 – 1:16 pm
feature image

Review: The roof-raising roar spoke volumes about the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert with the swiftly ascending young Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä on Feb. 16. In no small part, the stormy ovation that followed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was just one more shockwave engendered by this phenomenal 27-year-old conductor wherever he goes. But the joyful noise was about other things, too.

Chicago Symphony to open Carnegie season
as Riccardo Muti era closes with long goodbye

Feb 19, 2023 – 6:51 pm
Muti feature

Report: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will take the spotlight for the opening of Carnegie Hall’s 2023–24 season, with Riccardo Muti leading  “a celebratory gala concert” on Oct. 4, the venerable New York institution announced. Muti, who steps down in June after 13 years as CSO music director, will also lead a second program the next night at Carnegie. The Carnegie opener features Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The second concert offers an Italian-themed program.

In dazzling debuts with Chicago Symphony, conductor and pianist renew Russian masters

Feb 13, 2023 – 8:36 pm
Shani Rana feature image

Review: Before an exuberant and youthful crowd at Orchestra Hall, the 34-year-old Israeli guest conductor Lahav Shani and the 30-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, enormous talents, made eclectic – and electric – Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts.

Barber of Chicago: ‘The Factotum’ reimagines Mozart and Rossini in Black community opera

Feb 6, 2023 – 2:26 pm
Factotum 550 (Cory Weaver)

Review: There’s never a time when producers and directors of new shows fail to think, in the final days before opening, “We could really use another month.” But there’s also no denying the tantalizing potential of a new hit on brew at the Harris Theater, where the Lyric Opera of Chicago has unveiled a first look at “The Factotum.” ★★★★

Two masterly maestros meet some crazy kids: ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ‘Albert Herring’ on stage

Feb 4, 2023 – 11:33 am
Feature 2

Review: What might a couple of poor kids lost in the woods and a shy, sheltered lad in the city have in common? The answer, played out in a romp through Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at Lyric Opera of Chicago and a gentle, delightful go at Britten’s “Albert Herring” at Chicago Opera Theatre, is – spunk!

Lyric Opera’s bright and funny ‘Le Comte Ory’ confirmed the company’s return to full vigor

Nov 28, 2022 – 3:36 pm
BrownleeLewekDecker-OryFeatImgChicagoLyricphToddRosenberg

Commentary: No Chicago arts presenter deserves the success of its current season more than Lyric Opera, which in March of 2020 was forced, by the onset of Covid, to cancel its “Ring” cycle, a gargantuan undertaking involving Richard Wagner’s four-chapter mythical saga. The company capped its autumn offering with a dazzling go at Rossini’s comedy, in Bartlett Sher’s Metropolitan Opera production, designed by Michael Yeargan and revived here by Kathleen Smith Belcher.

Verdi’s ‘Don Carlos’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Epic French version is potent despite stark set

Nov 14, 2022 – 3:01 pm
LyricOpera Don Carlos ftr img Guerrero Sorensen-Todd Rosenberg

Review: The fascinating problem with the Lyric Opera production of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” – beautifully conducted by music director Enrique Mazzola, especially in the mystical, delicate parts – is that there is almost too much of it. A Thanksgiving feast comes to mind, that overwhelmed sense that can develop before the third helpings are passed and desserts loom. The fifth and final act ends, as it must, in defeat and death, with Verdi’s music at its most painfully exquisite.★★★★

Post-pandemic, CSO playing at familiar peak, but audiences have thinned at Orchestra Hall

Nov 11, 2022 – 12:29 pm
Feature

Commentary: October ended and November began with a sizable qualitative swing in concerts by the Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall. What was constant, and troubling, was the sea of empty red seats. Even going back to the beginning of October, when music director Riccardo Muti was on the podium, the house looked light – something that would have been unimaginable pre-pandemic.

Chicago Shakespeare: Solving the ‘problem,’ but creating others, in ‘Measure for Measure’

Nov 5, 2022 – 9:45 am
Feature

Review: CST’s aggressively distilled “Measure for Measure” is a light version that brings to mind the Metropolitan Opera’s condensed, English-language version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” readily consumable by the whole family. (Not here, though.) In the case of “Measure for Measure,” there’s an argument for boiling it down to essential lines and action. This treatment directed by Henry Godinez skips along at a good clip, extracting lively theater from a rather ponderous “lesson” text. ★★★

As speculation on Muti’s successor ramps up, rumor mill offers a spin: He may not be leaving

Oct 12, 2022 – 5:00 pm
CSO perspective feature

Commentary: Riccardo Muti’s nominal final season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commenced with a dazzling first wave of concerts capped by the announcement of an extensive North American tour in January. Then, no sooner had Muti wrapped up his first three weeks at Orchestra Hall than the British website Slipped Disc posted a hot rumor that Muti isn’t going anywhere after all – that the CSO intends to title him music director emeritus and that he will have a significant presence in Chicago for the 2023-24 season. The CSO’s comment, in essence: Stay tuned.

After a dozen years, impact of Riccardo Muti
on CSO can be heard in large ways and small

Oct 1, 2022 – 4:15 pm
Feature

Review: An account of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert Sept. 29 with music director Riccardo Muti could begin at any point in the program of works by Rossini, Mozart and Prokofiev – and the gist would be the same. Whether heard as a display of musical elegance, style and wit or as an exercise in sheer sonorous splendor, the whole effect, front to back, was spectacular. No soloist. None needed. The purely orchestral exhibition spoke volumes about why this orchestra led by this conductor is very special.

Sharing stage time in Lyric’s early autumn: Vocally splendid Verdi and a fresh ‘Fiddler’

Sep 29, 2022 – 11:27 am
Fiddler on the Roof feature image (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: Giuseppe Verdi’s 1844 opera “Ernani” could hardly be conducted, directed or sung more beautifully than it is at Lyric Opera of Chicago, where a quartet of lead singers make some all but impossible scenarios ring true under the leadership of music director Enrique Mazzola and theatrical director Louisa Muller. The opera classic has been sharing the Lyric stage with the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in a riveting directorial treatment by the Australian Barrie Kosky, whose “Fiddler” puts the 19th-century story in a 21st-century envelope. Both shows: ★★★★

Muti’s crowning year as CSO music director begins with a flourish, and more is just ahead

Sep 27, 2022 – 1:17 pm
Bronfman feature edited

Review: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened its 2022-23 season, Riccardo Muti’s last as music director, collaborating with pianist Yefim Bronfman in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Allowing that a “definitive” account doesn’t exist in the universe of the performing arts, we surely might hedge with the word consummate in describing the musicianship, poetics and interpretative authority on display in that splendid and riveting performance.

At Cliburn competition finals, blazing talent
ruled as world politics hovered in the wings

Jun 25, 2022 – 10:58 am
Cliburn feature image bordered 2

Report: Mid-June heat was on in the entire middle third of the country, all the way from Chicago, where temperatures hit the upper 90s, to Fort Worth, Tex., which saw daytime highs in the triple digits. The heat was on in Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall as well, as 30 pianists from around the world competed at the 16th quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. It all came down to the intense drama of six finalists vying for the gold medal: two Russians (neither currently living in their home country) and a Ukrainian, as well as one apiece from the U.S., Belarus and South Korea.

Haymarket Opera lifts the veil from Bologne’s ‘L’Amant anonyme’ to reveal a comedic gem

Jun 24, 2022 – 12:11 pm
Haymarket_L_Amant anonyme_Nicole Cabell_Nathalie Colas_ftr image-ElliotMandel photo

Review: Haymarket Opera Company’s delightful production of Joseph Bologne’s “L’Amant anonyme,” in the perfectly proportioned Jarvis Opera Hall that has become its new home at DePaul University, brought to mind a night at the jewel-box opera at Versailles, outside Paris. Not so ornate as Versailles perhaps, no cozy little boxes from which to view the proceedings. But I suspect Bologne would have relished revisiting this 18th-century comedy – and hearing it sung, and spoken, in such excellent French that he might have thought himself transported back to that time and place. ★★★★

With Muti sidelined, young conductor steps up to lead Chicago Symphony in Brahms triumph

Jun 17, 2022 – 4:10 pm
CSO20220616_092 Gonzales-Granados 550 feature image

Review: Like the invited guests at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s open morning rehearsal on June 16, Lina González-Granados took a seat at Orchestra Hall to watch CSO music director Riccardo Muti lead the troops through Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. After a break, the orchestra would be joined onstage by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the most celebrated musicians in the world, for a run-through of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the other work on that evening’s concert program, with Muti on the podium. But that’s not exactly what happened. Muti had tested positive for Covid and was done for the day. González-Granados, his resident conducting apprentice, sprang into action, taking over the rehearsal and scoring an impressive success in the evening concert.

Muti tests positive, cancels CSO concerts; apprentice maestro steps in to lead program

Jun 16, 2022 – 4:07 pm
Lina Gonzalez Granados_feature img Todd Rosenberg[8103]

Report: Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,  has tested positive for Covid-19 and has canceled his scheduled concerts with the orchestra June 16-18 at Orchestra Hall, the CSO announced. Stepping in for Muti will be the Chicago Symphony’s Sir Georg Solti conducting apprentice, Lina González-Granados, who will lead the originally scheduled program of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and the Beethoven Violin Concerto with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter.