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Jun 25, 2022 – 10:58 am

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.

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CSO kicks off New Year with refreshing fare: Gershwin, Ravel and dazzling pianist Barnatan

Jan 8, 2022 – 1:32 pm
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Review: Reveling in fresh air while wearing a mask against the wrath of Omicron may seem like a paradox. But there’s really nothing else to be said about the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s exhilarating concert of Gershwin and Ravel with conductor André de Ridder and pianist Inon Barnatan on Jan. 6 at Orchestra Hall. It was a delightful, delicious reminder of our human spirit and our collective determination to outlast the bug. This first CSO performance of 2022 was needed.

Dale Clevenger dies at 81; French horn master was Chicago Symphony principal for 47 years

Jan 7, 2022 – 7:01 pm
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Report: Dale Clevenger, one of the most accomplished and esteemed French horn players of the last half-century and principal of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1966 until 2013, died Jan. 5 in Italy, He was 81. Hailed by critics and audiences worldwide, Clevenger also was lionized by French norn players everywhere for his sound, technique, finesse and fearless music-making.

After curious series of conductors, McGegan’s ‘Messiah’ lifted CSO into New Year. Hallelujah. 

Jan 4, 2022 – 10:30 pm
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Review: As we make the turn into 2022, or the second half of a performing arts season still playing out under the threat of Covid’s resurgence, I find myself still resonating to the mid-December production of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by Nicholas McGegan. That brilliant achievement and exhilarating experience came at the end of a bumpy series of autumn concerts at Orchestra Hall.

CSO brass measure up to golden reputation with sonorous fare capped by blazing Mahler

Dec 16, 2021 – 6:47 pm
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Review: More often than not, references to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section begin with the V-word: vaunted. Since time out of mind, the glorious sound of the CSO brass battery has been held up as exemplar to the orchestral world. And it is always a special occasion when that entire gleaming section takes the spotlight alone for a concert devoted (almost) entirely to its distinctive blended resonance. Such a program on Dec. 15 drew a solidly packed and thunderously appreciative audience to Orchestra Hall.

‘A Christmas Carol’ at Goodman Theatre:
Taking heartless Scrooge to a reflective place

Dec 7, 2021 – 11:41 am
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Review: After retreating into a pandemic-induced streamed radio drama of “A Christmas Carol” last year, Goodman Theatre has once again thrown open its doors to welcome Chicagoans back to the embrace of visible ghosts and the observable reclamation of that tight-fisted misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge. Of the perennially good and touching accounts of “A Christmas Carol” on that stage, the present one may well be the best. ★★★★★

Music of Baroque ‘Messiah’: Surprise stardom for the band, with mezzo-soprano as superstar

Dec 3, 2021 – 5:43 pm
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Review: One might reasonably surmise that Music of the Baroque, with its long and rewarding history of performing masterpieces of the 17th and 18th centuries, would produce an assured and persuasive account of Handel’s “Messiah.” So it was surprising and puzzling to hear the uneven and generally quirky performance offered under the direction of Nicholas Kraemer on Nov. 29 at the Harris Theater. The band was splendid – the unexpected co-star of the show, along with mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy.

Portrait for violin and piano: Astor Piazzolla’s lifelong musical arc from Bach to Grand Tango

Dec 1, 2021 – 4:39 pm
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Review: The young Astor Piazzolla imagined himself heir to the musical tradition of Stravinsky and Bartók, and it took the perceptive intervention of the great French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to help the aspiring Argentine composer find his true voice in the accents, rhythms and passion of the tango. The circuitous path that Piazzolla blazed, and the diverse influences he absorbed throughout his creative life, was cleverly and persuasively traced in a lecture-recital by violinist Philippe Quint with pianist Jun Cho on Nov. 27 at Pianoforte Chicago.

‘Frozen’ at Broadway in Chicago: Snow queen, snowman (and reindeer) scooped into a treat

Nov 28, 2021 – 10:07 am
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Review: As surely as we need a soul-warming thaw in this long pandemic winter, the glittering and heartily human musical fairytale “Frozen” brings that welcome heat to the Cadillac Palace. An all-out production that dazzles the eye even as it connects with emotional truth, this touring show stamps a capital B on Broadway in Chicago – a clever and generous extravaganza bursting with magical effects, buoyed by terrific singing and driven home by nuanced acting. ★★★★★

Scaling ‘Messiah’ back to its Baroque origins, Bella Voce frames oratorio with style, clarity

Nov 23, 2021 – 11:45 am
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Review: Given the grand-scaled ideal long reflected in performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” we tend to forget the time, place and musical aesthetics of its origin: that it was composed in 1741, a product of the High Baroque, and that every musical phrase and expressive gesture of this epic oratorio bespeaks its provenance. It was little short of wonderful to be reminded of Handel’s “Messiah,” as opposed to Queen Victoria’s, in a stylishly detailed, intimately framed and yet quite magnificent account by the Chicago choral ensemble Bella Voce.

‘Florencia en el Amazonas’ at Lyric Opera: Magic of a jungle river runs aground as drama

Nov 15, 2021 – 10:17 pm
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Review: It is a fiesta of romantic opulence, a tumult of feverish emotions and strained perceptions, this excursion through the magical realism of Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The company’s first-ever Spanish-language opera is at once a delight for the eye and a curiosity, roundly entertaining if not squarely set in its dramatic frame. ★★★

‘Fannie’ at Goodman: In narrative and song, recalling the heroism of an unlikely activist

Nov 14, 2021 – 11:01 am
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Review: E. Faye Butler’s one-woman performance as Fannie Lou Hamer, the daring and stalwart champion of Black voting rights in America’s tumultuous 1960s, is rich in memorable vignettes, just as the song-laden show abounds in energy, wit and aspiration. But the interlude that really gets at what the courageous and remarkable woman was about, what she was up against, comes in Butler’s account of a brutal beating Hamer endured at the hands of the police, out of public view and beyond accountability, when she was jailed on flimsy charges that basically stood for her double offense of being Black and pushing for the right of Black people to vote in the United States. ★★★★

‘Remember This’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Strathairn makes Olympian turn in a harsh tale

Nov 12, 2021 – 8:56 am
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Review: The usual term that springs to mind after a performance like David Strathairn’s solitary turn in “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski” is tour de force. And while the phrase unquestionably applies, it falls hopelessly short. No, Strathairn’s remarkably physical, one well might surmise bruising, grapple with this historical figure – a Polish Roman Catholic who became the deflected messenger of Nazi Germany’s assault on the Jews – is better described as Olympian. ★★★★

Lyric brings fresh magic to Mozart’s ‘Flute’ with silent film look and, yes, pink elephants

Nov 11, 2021 – 11:44 am
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Review: For the third time this fall, Lyric Opera of Chicago has given its audience a production to talk about. Currently on the boards is “The Magic Flute” in a now famously brash production that plays out against the facade of a great wall that acts like a silent movie screen, the camera’s flickering white light and all. Little windows and ledges in the wall pop open to allow singers to lean or step out and sing as they interact with fanciful cartoons of giant bugs, fairies, skeletons, even pink elephants – oh, my! ★★★★

Brilliance times two: Violin-piano recital casts light into dark and turbulent places of the soul

Nov 8, 2021 – 6:08 pm
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Review: As a duo, violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang, two formidable virtuosi in their own right, are nothing short of fierce – or, in optional terms less feral: incandescent, mesmerizing, spectacular. Such were the qualities of their recital together the afternoon of Nov. 7 at Orchestra Hall, a program of remarkable intensity and seriousness, but notable as well for its splendor and its sheer power.

CSO, blazing through autumn, revels in Mozart with quiet, old-school maestro Marek Janowski

Nov 7, 2021 – 1:23 pm
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Review: If it seems the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has raised its own high bar in this autumn of revival concerts after the long pandemic shutdown, a key contributing factor has been the quality of conductors who have paraded across the podium at Orchestra Hall. This was evident again under the 82-year-old Polish-born German conductor Marek Janowski, who led a revelatory performance of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony by an ensemble scaled back to the proportions of an 18th-century orchestra.

‘Othello’ at Court: A tragedy at arm’s length. (Poor Desdemona, exiled to high scaffolding)

Nov 6, 2021 – 1:55 pm
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Review: Kelvin Roston, Jr., in the title role and Timothy Edward Kane as his nemesis Iago make such credible stuff of their desperate psychological contest that one almost forgets how co-directors Gabrielle Randle-Bent and Charles Newell have eviscerated Shakespeare’s play. This pass at “Othello” is a concoction of overwrought stylized mannerisms that ultimately throws away the drama’s tragic consummation. ★★

‘As You Like It’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Plugged into Beatles jukebox, but true to Bard

Nov 4, 2021 – 4:32 pm
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Review: If the byword of staging Shakespeare’s plays is “the text first,” a production that weaves in two dozen Beatles songs, while freely truncating the text, might fall somewhere between a rolling of the dice and a rolling of the eyes. Yet in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s wacky take on “As You Like It,” a stellar company, everybody from actors to designers, has created an irresistible winner that deserves to pack ’em in, well, “Eight Days a Week.” ★★★★

Honeck, adding to triumphant string with CSO, casts a radiant light on Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’

Oct 30, 2021 – 4:44 pm
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Review: Each time Manfred Honeck returns to the podium at Orchestra Hall, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s audience knows it’s about to hear something special. Over the last several seasons, the 63-year-old Austrian has delivered an unbroken series of great concerts with the CSO. We can now add one more to the list – a consummate thriller, both visceral and spiritual, capped by a reading of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony that lifted the idea of lyric beauty to a new place.

James Conlon, remembering Bernard Haitink, leads CSO concert of solemnity and brilliance

Oct 24, 2021 – 6:29 pm
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Review: In a concert that turned out to be a memorial to the eminent conductor Bernard Haitink (1929-2021), who was long and closely associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Conlon led Shostakovich’s somber Chamber Symphony, an arrangement of his Eighth String Quartet. The effect was wrenchingly beautiful, the experience cathartic, a fitting remembrance of Haitink, who had led his CSO colleagues at Orchestra Hall, at Ravinia, and throughout Europe and Asia on tour.

Chicago Symphony, out of the pandemic gate, shines with the season’s first guest conductor

Oct 16, 2021 – 9:45 am
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Review: It was almost startling, like cold water in the face. For the first time this season, which is to say for the first time since the pandemic shut down the Chicago Symphony Orchestra those endless months ago, the band was playing – four weeks into its revival season – under a conductor other than music director Riccardo Muti. But by the end of this 85-minute concert led by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, I would gladly have returned to hear the program centerpiece, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major, a second time.

Verdi opera, Beethoven 9th top Muti’s agenda as CSO unveils plan for season’s second half

Oct 13, 2021 – 4:31 pm
Details at last! The Chicago Symphony Orchestra reveals the remaining details of the 2021-22 spring season. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Review: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s audience is likely to find the deferred announcement of the CSO’s winter-spring portion of the 2021-22 season has been worth the wait. The newly revealed line-up is replete with favorite artists and major events — foremost, no doubt, music director Riccardo Muti leading four performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and, at season’s end, Verdi’s full-length opera “Un ballo in maschera.”

Lang Lang ignites Bach in a pianistic blaze: ‘Goldberg’ Variations for the here and now

Oct 9, 2021 – 6:03 pm
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Review: It was a prodigious event, pianist Lang Lang’s 93-minute non-stop excursion through Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations before a packed on Oct. 8 at Orchestra Hall. In a blazing display of virtuosity, the celebrated pianist powered through every technical obstacle on a winding course laden with them. All that said, this staggering exhibition had little to do with Bach as a composer of the early 18th century. What unfolded here was a rigorously considered perspective on Bach as viewed through the filter of Liszt.

Lyric spirits meet at last: Riccardo Muti leads CSO in poetic turn through music by Mazzoli

Oct 8, 2021 – 6:32 pm
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Review: Of all the composers-in-residence appointed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during music director Riccardo Muti’s tenure, Mazzoli is the one whose interests are most in sync with his. She has several successful operas and lyric works under her belt already. Muti led Mazzoli’s intense yet dreamlike “These Worlds in Us” on Oct. 8 at Orchestra Hall. Her tenure as CSO composer in residence, disrupted by Covid, had ended June 30.

Kavakos, CSO collaborate on radiant Brahms, Muti leads high-powered Beethoven Seventh

Oct 2, 2021 – 5:49 pm
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Review: Conductor Riccardo Muti’s brilliant take on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony capped an Oct. 1 concert by the Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall that commenced on formidable and indeed glorious terms with Brahms’ Violin Concerto, featuring Leonidas Kavakos as soloist.

Long silence ends: Chicago Symphony, Muti make ‘Heroic’ return to roaring Orchestra Hall

Sep 24, 2021 – 9:17 pm
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Review: It was at once bizarre and exhilarating to be back at Orchestra Hall with a masked throng seated elbow-to-elbow. Yet the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s glistening, soaring, pin-perfect performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (“Eroica”) with music director Riccardo Muti on Sept. 23 lent the occasion a marvelous normalcy. This is what had been absent from life for more than a year and a half. This familiar musical brilliance and wordless eloquence. This profound spirituality.

Lyric Opera, sporting houseful of new seats, reopens with bloody (but beautiful) ‘Macbeth’

Sep 21, 2021 – 9:16 pm
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Review: In his operatic retelling of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Verdi went straight to heart of the tale’s dark and brilliant confusion, its chiaroscuro, and it resonates with bleak authenticity in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s return to the stage. The potent new production of “Macbeth,” devised by David McVicar, was led by Enrique Mazzola in his first flourish as Lyric’s music director. ★★★★★

Mezzo-sopranos square off, one as Carmen; the other (in russet beard) is, yup, Don José

Sep 19, 2021 – 7:52 am
Comic flair: Carmen's pals Frasquita (Rachel Blaustein) and Mercédès (Leah Dexter) know their friend.

Review: The gypsy femme-fatale Carmen of Georges Bizet’s opera is more than figuratively a force of nature: She’s an authentic creature of the natural world where life, as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes observed, is “nasty, brutish and short.” The truth of that hard reality came to mind as I watched Chicago Opera Theater’s concert distillation of “Carmen,” a novel experience that might be described as weird, intriguing and notably short. ★★★

Singing a Mass that’s far from the Ordinary, new star shows his range in more than voice

Sep 3, 2021 – 2:38 pm
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Review: It was a musical setting of the Mass like no other, sung by a single vocalist like no other. And as a musical, indeed quite theatrical, experience, Davóne Tines’ mesmerizing performance of his Recital No. 1: Mass, on Aug. 31 with pianist Adam Nielsen at the Ravinia Festival, was unlike any other in memory.

Coalition of key Chicago theaters to require mask plus vaccination proof or negative test

Aug 17, 2021 – 8:44 pm
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Report: A coalition of more than 65 performing arts venues and producers across Chicagoland has announced Covid-19 vaccination and mask requirements for audiences through the end of 2021. The unified Covid protection protocol, which takes effect Sept. 1 for indoor productions, requiries audience members to provide proof of vaccination or negative test certification upon entry and to wear masks.

Tilson Thomas cancels Chicago Symphony concerts in October after urgent operation

Aug 7, 2021 – 2:35 pm
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Report: Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas has canceled his scheduled two-week October residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra after emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. The 76-year-old conductor and music director laureate of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was to lead CSO concerts at Orchestra Hall Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 28-30. A statement from Tilson Thomas’ national press agent said: “After a series of tests, Michael Tilson Thomas was diagnosed with a brain tumor that required an immediate operation. The operation at the UCSF Medical Center was successful.”