Critic’s Choice

Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas

Chicago concertgoers know Michael Tilson Thomas as a popular Chicago Symphony Orchestra guest conductor and as music director of the San Francisco Symphony.

But the American conductor’s greatest legacy of his long career is as founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony. Now in its 26th season, the Miami Beach “orchestral training academy” is a kind of symphonic finishing school for top conservatory graduates from around the world, many of whom wing up taking posts with the world’s leading ensembles. New World alums in the CSO ranks include principal trumpet Chris Martin, timpanist David Herbert and cellist Brant Taylor.

So with the CSO as an option, why should anyone in Chicago head to the Harris Theater Saturday night to hear a “training orchestra”? Because, MTT is conducting, the program is unusual and compelling, and, most of all, because the New World Symphony really is that good. As a newspaper music critic in South Florida for nearly a decade, I heard hundreds of NWS performances and on their finest nights the young New World players could rival the world’s top orchestras.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the New World Symphony in an enterprising 20th-century program featuring Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Niccolo Castiglioni’s Inverno In-ver (with video by Netia Jones) and Luciano Berio’s Violin Duets with students from the Music Institute of Chicago. Concert time is 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Harris Theater 312-334-7777;


Nicole Cabell
Nicole Cabell

Next month Nicole Cabell will make her role debut as Violetta in La Traviata. Unfortunately, you’ll have to travel to Detroit to hear her sing it, since she will be performing Verdi’s opera at Michigan Opera Theater, and not at the former Ryan Opera Center member’s longtime professional home at the Lyric Opera of Chicago—a company where, as this week’s Madama Butterfly demonstrated, casting decisions are proving increasingly baffling.

Fortunately for the popular Chicago-based singer’s many local fans, you can catch Cabell Friday night in a recital at Northeastern Illinois University on the northwest side. Her program, presented as part of the school’s “Jewel Box Series,” will include (aptly) Marguerite’s Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust, Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915, Britten’s Les Illuminations, Mahler’s Das himmlische leben, and excerpts from Fernando Obradors’ Canciones clasicas espanolas. Concert time is 7:30 p.m.

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