Articles by Kyle MacMillan
Review: Brotherly conflict is at the heart of composer Stefan Weisman’s extraordinary operatic adaptation of “The Scarlet Ibis,” a celebrated short story by James Hurst. The 95-minute opera reveals layers of meaning and symbolism and blurs intense naturalism with a kind of dreamy magical realism. The staging by Chicago Opera Theater manages to be at once touching and tender, tough and unflinching: a revelation of the work’s power and depth. ★★★★★
Review: While the sounds of birds chirping and animals flitting can be heard in the Symphony No. 3 in D minor, the work is much more than a mere evocation of an idyll. Indeed, the composer takes listeners on an extraordinary musical, philosophical and auto-biographical journey. Colombian-born Andrés Orozco-Estrada guided the Chicago Symphony in a performance that captured the full richness, variety and scope of Mahler’s odyssey.
Review: Through the 20th and 21st centuries, composers and librettists have pushed opera in exciting and unexpected directions, proving again the flexibility and richness of this enduring art form. A fresh example is Kevin Puts’ “Elizabeth Cree,” which offers something almost never seen before – a bloody, fast-action operatic thriller with a juicy plot twist. Presented in the ideally sized, 691-seat Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, “Elizabeth Cree” is one of the most successful offerings from Chicago Opera Theater in recent years. ★★★★
Review: A dark and mythical love story set long, long ago in an imaginary locale in China, Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, “Turandot,” has traditionally brought out the grand in grand opera. And so it does again in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s lavish production, which is dominated by a massive, eye-grabbing sculpture of a serpentine dragon that undulates across and through a steeply raked set with an array of other changing scenic touches. ★★★
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.
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. ★★★
Review: When Music of the Baroque decided to present vocal masterworks by Mozart and Beethoven, it engaged two of today’s reigning sopranos – Kathryn Lewek, who is performing the Queen of the Night in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of “The Magic Flute,” and Susanna Phillips, who recently starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s much-acclaimed “L’Amour de loin.” Those stars delivered in a pair of concerts that concluded in exhilarating fashion Jan. 23 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
Review: While some unexplored or at least under-explored crannies of Baroque, Romantic or even modern composition can still be found, the music of the Middle Ages remains filled with buried treasure. For a set of concerts that ran Jan. 13-15, the ever-intrepid, ever-imaginative Newberry Consort delved into this rich period and hit pay dirt with a transporting and absorbing program devoted entirely to the little-known music of Oswald von Wolkenstein.
Review: The Jan. 8 concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall raised as many questions as it answered about the Canadian New Orford String Quartet. While its four members, two concertmasters and two principals in the Montreal, Toronto and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, are obviously all excellent individual musicians, it was hard not to wish at times for more interpretative depth and insight.
Review: When the members of the Dover Quartet were students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, they were mentored by former members of the now-disbanded Guarneri, Vermeer and Cleveland quartets. It is not surprising, then, that the eight-year-old foursome hopes to follow in the footsteps of those distinguished groups, and if its superb concert Oct. 18 at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall was any indication, the ensemble is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
Review: Even though Apollo’s Fire is based just across the Great Lakes in Cleveland and has attained international attention during its nearly 25-year-history, it had never performed in Chicago. That odd omission came to end Oct. 14 in the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall when the 16-member period-instrument ensemble opened the UChicago Presents’s 2016-17 with plenty of sparks if not a full-fledged blaze.
Review: An extraordinary six-day event celebrating the “now” side of classical music, Ear Taxi: Chicago Festival of New Music, opened Oct. 5, turning the spotlight on Chicago as a hotbed of musical creativity. The binge brings together 88 composers and more than 300 musicians and features a mind-blowing 54 world premieres.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Review: Mark Morris ranks among this country’s greatest living choreographers. And one of the works that helped him achieve that standing is “Dido and Aeneas,” an unusual adaptation of English composer Henry Purcell’s celebrated 17th-century opera, which the Mark Morris Dance Group presented April 5 at the Harris Theater in a spellbinding visual tableaux of nuanced emotional power and hushed intensity.
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.