In holiday spirit, CSO sets out musical bounty, and lovers of Gershwin, Dvořák gobble it up
Review: Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop with pianist Jon Kimura Parker. At Orchestra Hall through Nov. 29.
By Nancy Malitz
One of the happiest Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts of the season is enjoying its extended holiday weekend in Chicago’s Loop. It opened Friday, Nov. 27, with three welcome firsts — actually four, if the soloist can be persuaded to grant you his encore – in a concert featuring Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony. The concert repeats Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 29 at 3 p.m. It’s the perfect post-Thanksgiving ticket.
When London-born composer Anna Clyne was chosen by CSO music director Riccardo Muti to be one of his first composers-in-residence, she was already a rising star drawn to the passionate extremes of human experience – the wild interior self of loners such as Schubert and Emily Dickenson, and the festive exhilaration that occurs when people gather, with music and dance in the mix, to comingle across their great divides.
Clyne’s five-minute lollapalooza called “Masquerade,” an all-embracing upper, opened the CSO concert with the whoosh and holler of a free society in party mode. It was originally commissioned by the BBC to receive its world premiere at the start of London’s Last Night at the Proms in September 2013, and it was an instant hit. That special night for Clyne, then 33, was globally broadcast.
[To listen, see the YouTube at the bottom of this story.]
The Proms concert also featured the festival’s first woman conductor ever, America’s Marin Alsop, a poised and accomplished veteran who is making her subscription concert debut with the CSO at these downtown concerts.
Alsop cleverly paired Clyne’s cork-popper with Samuel Barber’s 11-minute Second Essay for Orchestra, written in 1942 when the American composer was 32 and filled with much of the same muscular confidence, deeply personal lyricism and undeniable fascination for orchestral color. Alsop painted the Barber with grand sweep and indulged its contrasts. The middle was highly peppered with some imitative staccato chatter that made you want to lean in and listen even harder as the CSO’s woodwind virtuosos matched Barber point for point with intricate fugal fun.
The Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker performs all the classics, but he likes to say he has one foot in the classical world and another foot all over the place, and it was this eclectic side that was very much on display in his CSO subscription concert debut, to perform Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin was only 25 when he wrote and first performed it, and he doubtless imagined a jazzier swoon from the clarinet than Friday night’s rather tentative start.
But on the whole this iconic jazz-classic interaction of orchestra and soloist hit its marks from all concerned and constituted an uninhibited joy. Parker’s extended solo ruminations became increasingly playful and intimate, the orchestral participation authoritatively shaped by Alsop into a brash and buoyant envelope.
The crowd went wild, and it didn’t take much persuading for Parker to grab a mike and confess to the crowd that three pianists had changed his life – Arthur Rubinstein, Elton John and Oscar Peterson – and that he was there to offer a special treat via the widow of the last. Peterson was a ferocious virtuoso with the keyboard skill of a Rubinstein or a Horowitz, as anyone who had heard him play his own “Blues Etude” would attest. The widow offered Parker a note-for-note transcription of a particularly amazing performance of “Blues Etude,” and Parker gave it to the Chicago crowd as a ripping encore. Peering down from the clouds, Peterson was doubtless chuckling. When it came to music, he was the ultimate brainiac without boundaries.
True to the tradition of a super-sized meal heaped with yet another enticing platter, the evening also included Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, which overflows with glorious pleasures. Alsop’s choices weren’t as graceful and linear, as light – as leggiero – as Muti or some other old-school maestro might have made. Somehow the performance sounded American rather than European, full of strong beats and direct intent, its heartiness in keeping with the sustained boisterousness of the night. The audience went with it, showering Alsop in generous applause, as they had done, spontaneously and repeatedly, the concert long.
- Performance location, dates and times: Visit CSO.org.