Articles in Classical + Opera
Review: In the aftermath of a California gunman’s rampage, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus delivered heart-stirring performance, resplendent with awe and penitence, delicately threaded with human doubt, and led by the world’s finest living interpreter of this work.
Review: The first sign of the enemy in “Siegfried” was a shiny-red three-toed claw, beckoning from under Lyric Opera curtain, as if to say, “I’m Fafner the Dragon, and I’m ready to rumble.” The crowd rippled with mirth and stayed on top of the details in Wagner’s lively saga about the great god Wotan, played by bass-baritone Eric Owens, and the brash young Siegfried, whose help is needed if Wotan’s plan to save the gods has half a chance. ★★★
Review: No living conductor, not even music director Riccardo Muti, enjoys a longer association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra than Daniel Barenboim. It was 48 years ago this month that the Israeli musical polymath, then all of 28, led the CSO for the first time. Barenboim would become the CSO’s music director in 1991 and hold that post until 2006. On Nov. 1, for the first time in the 12 years since he stepped down, Barenboim returned to conduct the CSO in the six symphonic poems of Smetana’s “Má vlast” (My Homeland), a reading more attuned to virtuosic effect than to the work’s essential Bohemian nationalism.
Review: Amid a roaring ovation for his eloquent account of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 89-year-old Bernard Haitink lost his footing on the step at the side of the podium and doubled over onto the Orchestra Hall stage. In an instant, the audience’s elation turned to a mass gasp of horror. But minutes later, the venerable maestro was gesturing to the relieved players and cheering public to assure them that all was well.
Review: Years, anniversaries, and commemorations arguably form the backbone of contemporary classical concert programming, and this year’s centenary of the end of the First World War is exemplary. Conductor Marin Alsop’s program with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 19 at Orchestra Hall featured works by American, Russian, and British musicians written in response to the First and Second World Wars and their aftermath, plus a major world premiere from the French composer Bruno Mantovani, commissioned by the CSO and Jennifer Pritzker, founder of Chicago’s Pritzker Military Museum & Library.
Review: Neptune scowled, but grand opera is back on the boards at the Lyric Opera House, and you could all but taste relief in the torrent of applause as the curtain went up on the season’s first post-strike performance of Mozart’s early masterpiece “Idomeneo.” Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s iconic production greeted the crowd. ★★★★
Update: Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208 (CFM) have reached a multi-year labor agreement extending through the 2020/21 season. On Oct. 14, the Chicago Federation of Musicians voted to ratify the tentative agreement reached one day earlier. No further details or comments were available. The musicians went on strike Oct. 9 in response to cuts in compensation and work weeks sought by management.
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.
Preview: Three grand narratives headline the Joffrey’s new season opening October 17 at the Auditorium Theatre: Remounts of Christopher Wheeldon’s ingenious ballet-within-a-ballet version of “Swan Lake” and his Chicago-oriented “Nutcracker,” plus the world premiere of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” choreographed by fellow Russian Yuri Possokhov.
Review: Despite a superior musical performance by a fine international cast, and firmly idiomatic orchestral playing and choral work from the promising Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan, in his Lyric debut, the new-to-Chicago “La bohème” by director Richard Jones is a major letdown, a misconceived case of too much here and too little there.★★★
Review: The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is on a mission. Now in its ninth season, the Institute has dedicated its considerable energy to the preservation of art song as a germane form for contemporary audiences. The Institute kicked off its 2018 Collaborative Works Festival on Sept. 5 with diverse repertoire that included the Midwest premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s new cycle “Songs from the Operas.” Next up, on Oct. 28, the Institute will observe the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day with Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”
Review: After an absence of more than 20 years from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra repertoire, Muti and the CSO have brought back Hindemith’s magnum opus in a brilliant, deeply considered performance. French pianist David Fray was the cool, unconvincing soloist in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.
Review: Music director Riccardo Muti’s second week of concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was notably conservative – Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” and his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, together with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” – but even curmudgeonly critics had to acknowledge the consistently high level of performance the maestro drew from his remarkable ensemble in a program Sept. 27 at a packed and enthusiastic Orchestra Hall.
Review: Music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened their 2018-19 season Sept. 21 with an eloquent and gripping performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”) on verses of Yevgeny Yevtushenko memorializing the massacre of Jews by German soldiers near Kiev in 1941. The composer’s widow, Irina Shostakovich, joined Muti on stage at Orchestra Hall for a post-performance conversation.
Review: The rewards just keep coming at this summer’s Grant Park Music Festival. After a splendid opening stint of concerts, artistic director Carlos Kalmar gave place to conductor Dennis Russell Davies on July 6, and the result was yet another stellar program – this one offering an 80th birthday tribute to composer William Bolcom with his Fourth Symphony as well as a potently dramatic take on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.
Review: The Grant Park Festival Orchestra’s June 27 concert at Millennium Park, under the baton of music director Carlos Kalmar and featuring London Symphony principal flute Adam Walker, offered an exemplary instance of Kalmar’s wide-ranging command of musical periods and styles. In music requiring great ensemble finesse, understatement and transparency, Kalmar’s disciplined orchestra delivered on all counts.
Review: If there was a moment during the season-ending concert that summed up the singular achievement of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the long-term influence of Riccardo Muti, it came near the end of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” a Catholic hymn to Mary that pulls the listeners into the mother’s grief at the foot of the cross and offers transcendence. The three-line prayer “Quando corpus morietur” (“When my body dies, let me live in Paradise, too”) is so very human and humble that the listener might not notice how treacherous it is to sing. The Chicago Symphony Chorus imbued it with a powerful emotion that filled the hall, yet with sound so soft it barely hung on a thread.
This Just In:: Music director Riccardo Muti has selected American composer Missy Mazzoli as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new Mead Composer-in-Residence, beginning a two-year term on July 1 and continuing through June 30, 2020. Mazzoli, 37, is already the recipient of prestigious grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant and the Best New Opera Award for 2017 from the Music Critics Association of North America, for “Breaking the Waves.”
Review: A Grant Park Music Festival concert celebrating singers and song featured the world premiere setting of Native American songs and stories about a star cluster called “The Pleiades,” which is visible to the naked eye in colder months. Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds wrote it to be performed during the Chorus America Conference, which brought hundreds of the nation’s choruses large and small to Chicago. It played nicely in the out-of-doors in preamble to starlight and fireworks on the night before the summer solstice.
Review: You could say the 600 representatives of symphony orchestras from around the country who heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with music director Riccardo Muti and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, were in the right place at the right time. If ever there was a musical nexus, this was one: the convergence of those particular performing forces and the work at hand, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, a sublime masterpiece captured at Orchestra Hall on June 14 in every dimension of its dark drama, searing introspection and virtuosic eloquence.
Review: Summer’s obviously just over the horizon: The musicians, chorus, maestro and devotees of the Grant Park Music Festival are already partying like the equinox has happened. As the centerpiece of the festival’s 84th summer opener, June 13-16, William Walton’s grand and colorful oratorio “Belshazzar’s Feast” felt like a reflection of the block-party atmosphere at Millennium Park.
Review: There’s a very old charm in the number 7, and it applies with a capital C to the final production of Haymarket Opera Company’s seventh season – a thoroughly charming romp through Antonio Cesti’s “L’Orontea.” This 17th-century concoction of romance, light-hearted comedy (with one leg in farce) and good tunes is just the ticket for some pre-summer fun. ★★★★
Review: It was like two weeks with another orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s consecutive programs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra punctuated by his leadership of the 20th anniversary concert of MusicNOW. It was a heady, exciting stretch in which the Chicago Symphony sounded like a different band. CSO music directdor Riccardo Muti’s ideal of this orchestra as the Vienna Philharmonic West was nowhere in sight from the get-go of a May 25 concert with Mitsuko Uchida as soloist in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
Review: Somewhere along the mountainous range of peak moments in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recent seasons stands the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony led by Esa-Pekka Salonen on May 17 at Orchestra Hall. It was memorable in a degree commensurate with the monumentality of the work itself, and the Ninth Symphony vies only with the song-symphony “Das Lied von der Erde” as Mahler’s absolute masterwork.
Review: The MusicNOW endeavor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of a roaring spring expansion under the cultivating flair of composers-in-residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek. The latest MusicNOW shoot was an experiment within three different spaces at the rambling Art Institute of Chicago, including Chagall’s America Windows room. And that was preamble to the MusicNOW grand finale, featuring two world premieres, on May 21 at Orchestra Hall.
Review: The history of Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor is effectively brief and considerably checkered. It was composed in 1853, then put away – by devoted friends of Schumann who considered their action to be judicious – and not resuscitated for another eight decades. The work’s few advocates today include violinist Isabelle Faust, who was the soloist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s very first performance of the concerto on May 11.
Review: Many opera enthusiasts, many friends of Chicago Opera Theater, must have emerged from the company’s recent double bill of Donizetti one-acters, early and late, at the Studebaker Theatre thinking what I was thinking: Who knew? Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), a prodigious composer of bel canto operas, is remembered today essentially for a handful of works: “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La favorita,” “The Daughter of the Regiment,” and “Don Pasquale.”But who ever heard of his late one-act comedy “Rita,” written two years before “Don Pasquale,” or his student melodrama “Il Pigmalione,” the work of an obviously gifted lad of 19?
Review: John Williams, the 86-year-old film-music ruler of galaxies across the observable universe, brought his matchless light to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a roaring audience at Orchestra Hall on April 26. He raised his light saber-like baton – or was it the other way around? – and meticulously, joyfully lit up the place.
Interview: I first encountered the amazing 27-year-old Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński on a Youtube video. After listening to him sing Vivaldi and Cavalli and Pergolesi in a hearty falsetto with great energy and musicality, I came upon another, equally captivating Orliński video. He was breakdancing. But it will be his phenomenal voice on display with Music of the Baroque on April 22 and 23 at the Harris Theater.
Review: The concerts one enjoys most can be the hardest to write about – to distill into verbal language the auditory and emotional experience that makes a program of Debussy and Tchaikovsky, to cite the example at hand, especially vivid or remarkable. I mean, one really should try to be a little more specific than “awesome.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti and spotlighting principal harp Sarah Bullen, defied description.