A new opera, Philip Glass and a CSO “Falstaff” are among the riches in Chicago’s music season

Tue Sep 01, 2015 at 3:19 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Danielle de Niese stars in the world premiere of "Bel Canto" December 9 at Lyric Opera. Photo: Chris Dunlop
Danielle de Niese stars in the world premiere of “Bel Canto” December 7 at Lyric Opera. Photo: Chris Dunlop

After this meteorologically varied summer, it’s hard to believe that the 2015-16 classical music season in Chicago is right around the corner. The city’s multitude of high-caliber professional ensembles is gearing up for a season that offers a rich array of classical offerings for the committed enthusiast, occasional concertgoer, and everyone in between. What follows is an overview of the goings-on in Chicago’s classical music scene this coming year.

This year marks the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 125th anniversary (cso.org). Music director Riccardo Muti inaugurates the season September 17, with the orchestra’s annual free community concert taking place at Millennium Park the next night, featuring Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Muti will be at the helm of the orchestra for eleven subscription weeks, and two highlights come in April, when he will conduct Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette April 7-9 and a concert version of Verdi’s Falstaff April 21-26. Muti closes the season with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 June 23-26 in a concert that will recreate the same program from the CSO’s first season. That event is part of a season-long 125th anniversary celebration, which sees the orchestra performing works of which it gave either the American or the world premiere.

A roster of notable guest conductors complements Muti’s weeks in residence. Following his triumphant three-week “French Reveries and Passions Festival” with the CSO last season, Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to conduct 20th-century fare February 25-March 1. Michael Tilson Thomas leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 March 17-19, and Yuri Temirkanov will conduct Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and be joined by pianist Denis Matsuev in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 March 24-26. Former principal conductor Bernard Haitink returns for Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony April 28-30, and Christoph von Dohnányi will lead two weeks of programs of Mozart and Beethoven in June. Additionally the orchestra is offering two one-night-only, non-subscription performances: Lyric opera principal conductor Sir Andrew Davis with be joined by Evgeny Kissin October 15 for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and on May 21 Lang Lang will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 under Charles Dutoit.

The CSO season also features a high number of soloists drawn from its own ranks, with concertmaster Robert Chen, principal trumpet Christopher Martin, associate concertmaster Stephanie Jeong, principal bass Alexander Hanna, principal clarinet Stephen Williamson,  and acting principal horn Daniel Gingrich all taking solo turns in front of the orchestra over the course of the season.

Symphony Center Presents (cso.org) offers a rich array of guest artists and ensembles, encompassing piano, orchestral, and chamber music. The Sunday afternoon piano recitals are headlined by Maurizio Pollini October 1, Sir András Schiff November 1 and February 14, Evgeny Kissin November 15, Richard Goode April 3, and Yefim Bronfman May 1. SCP’s visiting orchestras are a variegated international trio: Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra November 15, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra appears under Kent Nagano with piano soloist Daniil Trifonov March 18, and Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony April 16. A special performance of Brahms’ complete piano quartets April 10 anchored by Leif Ove Andsnes at the keyboard is a highlight of SCP’s chamber music offerings, which also sees Mitsuko Uchida and Yo-Yo Ma in collaborations with CSO musicians February 28 and June 12, respectively.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago (lyricopera.org) will open 2015-16 with its annual free “Stars of the Lyric Opera” concert at Millennium Park September 11. Two weeks later the company launches its eight-opera season, which this year is composed entirely of productions new to Chicago. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro opens the season September 26-October 24, directed by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Barbara Gaines, followed by Alban Berg’s Wozzeck November 11-21; Henrik Nánási conducts Figaro and Sir Andrew Davis leads the Berg. The latter also conducts Rossini’s La Cenerentola October 4-30, Lehár’s The Merry Widow November 14-December 13, and the world premiere of Bel Canto December 7-January 17, a new opera based on the novel by Ann Patchett with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz. The rest of the season comprises Verdi’s Nabucco January 23-February 12, Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier February 8-March 13 (both productions different from those announced in January 2015), and Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette Feb. 22-March 19, led by conductors Edward Gardner, Carlo Rizzi, and Emmanuel Villaume, respectively.

Ryan Opera Center alumna Amanda Majeski appears in the sumptuous roles of both Countess Almaviva in Figaro and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. The cast of Figaro is rounded out by Adam Plachetka in the title role and Christiane Karg as Susanna. Der Rosenkavalier features Sophie Koch and Alice Coote splitting the role of Octavian during the run, with Christina Landshamer as Sophie. Lyric artistic consultant Renée Fleming takes the title role (Hanna) of The Merry Widow for the early performances, followed by by Elizabeth Futral from December 9; Thomas Hampson is Hanna’s lover, the committed bachelor Danilo. Lawrence Brownlee makes his Lyric debut as Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola with Isabel Leonard in the title role, and Tomasz Konieczny and Angela Denoke take on the demanding leads in Wozzeck. Danielle de Niese and J’nai Bridges headline Bel Canto, Željko Lučić sings the title role of Nabucco joined by Tatiana Serjan as Abigaille, and Joseph Calleja and Eric Cutler split the male lead of Romeo et Juliette with Susanna Phillips as their star-crossed lover.

Music of the Baroque (baroque.org) celebrates its 45th year in 2015-16. Principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer opens the season October 18-19 with a program of Bach cantatas (including BWVs 140 and 82), and will oversee its closing concerts May 22-23 in a program of Telemann, Vivaldi, and Bach. Music director Jane Glover will conduct Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus November 29-30, and programs of (mostly) Haydn and Mozart January 24-25 and February 28-29. The Music of the Baroque Chorus will sing the sublime Monteverdi Vespers April 1-3 and Paul Agnew conducts a program of Purcell anthems April 24-25.

The University of Chicago Presents series (chicagopresents.uchicago.edu/) offers a panoply of chamber music performances in diverse genres for the 2015-16 concertgoer. Their classic concert series, ongoing since 1943, opens with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields playing Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Schubert’s Octet October 16, followed by appearances by the Arcanto and Artemis Quartets November 13 and April 8, respectively. Anthony McGill joins Musicians from Marlboro for clarinet and string music of Brahms and Penderecki January 22, and Philip Glass with join four other pianists February 19 for a performance of his Etudes. A family affair closes the classic series April 17 when guitarist brothers Sérgio and Odair Assad will perform a program entitled “Memories of Rio,” joined by Sérgio’s daughter Clarice. University of Chicago ensemble-in-residence the Pacifica Quartet will perform three programs in 2015-16: Ligeti, Beethoven, and Mozart October 18; Schnittke, Shostakovich, and Mendelssohn January 17; and Mozart, Shostakovich, and Beethoven (Op. 131) April 24.

The Pacifica joins forces with UChicago’s other resident ensemble eighth blackbird for the University’s Contempo series, under new artistic director Marta Ptaszynska, who replaces Shulamit Ran after her 14-year tenure. The first Contempo program is a retrospective of the outgoing director’s work and features mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley October 27, which is followed by a concert dubbed “Focus on Europe” with vocalist Agata Zubel February 29 and a jazz double-bill April 16. Two “Tomorrow’s Music Today” concerts feature the works of up-and-coming young composers May 13 and 20. Eclecticism is the word for UChicago Presents’ three-concert “Music Across Genres” series, which features Third Coast Percussion in music of De May and Reich February 5, an exploration of “The English & Celtic Viol” with Jordi Savall on viols and Frank McGuire on the bodhrán March 4, and closes with the vocal ensemble Zulal singing Armenian folk music May 6.

Philip Glass will join other pianists to perform his Etudes at the Logan Center xxx.
Philip Glass will take part in a performance of his piano Etudes February 19 in the University of Chicago Presents series.

The Harris Theater (harristheaterchicago.org) will host the Juilliard Orchestra under Itzhak Perlman in an all-Tchaikovsky program January 6, and on February 18 New York’s The Knights with perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 with Gil Shaham in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The Harris also welcomes a pair of leading British ensembles with prominent conductor-soloists this season: Pinchas Zukerman leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra January 13 in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Joshua Bell appears with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields March 12 in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center returns to the Harris Theater for six concerts in 2015-16. In addition to their annual performance of Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos December 17, the other five programs are firmly centered in the standard chamber repertoire: Mendelssohn and Schumann October 21 and March 9; Dvorak and Borodin string works November 13; piano trios of Beethoven, Dvorak, and Shostakovich February 16; and ultimately a concert entitled “American Visions” April 21. Chamber Music Society artistic directors cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han perform frequently throughout the series. Other Harris Theater events include appearances by guitarist Sharon Isbin with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard November 16, the Sphinx Virtuosi with the Chicago Children’s Choir December 7, and tenor Javier Camarena with pianist Angel Rodríguez March 30.

While the absence of the Ars Viva Orchestra, which closed its doors at the end of the 2014-15 season, certainly leaves a hole in the suburban orchestral scene, a number of established ensembles amply fill the void. The Chicago Philharmonic (chicagophilharmonic.org) offers a three-concert series at Evanston’s Pick-Staiger Hall under the baton of music director Scott Speck. Lineups feature Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Robert McDonald November 15, an “eight seasons” concert of Vivaldi and Piazzolla with violinist David Perry February 7, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 alongside Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Lincoln Trio April 3. The ensemble will also continue its role as the official orchestra for the Joffrey Ballet.

The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra (ipomusic.org) will present six concerts, mostly at the Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in southwest suburban Frankfort, with select performances at other venues. Music director David Danzmayr conducts programs featuring soloist Joshua Roman October 17-18 in the world premiere of his Cello Concerto; pianist Di Wu plays Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini November 21; Stefan Jackiw is heard in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 February 20 and Lindsay Deutsch plays Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires May 7. Symphonies of Brahms, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky are also on the IPO’s bill of fare, and they will also be joined by Roosevelt University’s Conservatory Chorus for Schubert’s Mass No. 5 in A-flat April 9.

The Elgin Symphony Orchestra (elginsymphony.org/) has an impressive season ahead at the Hemmens Cultural Center with an American work slated for every program. Under music director Andrew Grams, the season opens October 3-4 with Brahms Symphony No. 1 and cellist Lynn Harrell in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. A major symphony highlights each of Grams’ other five programs: Sibelius 2 November 21-22, Mozart 25 January 8-10, Shostakovich 11 January 30-1, Ives 2 March 12-13 (paired with Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with Alexander Schimpf), and Mahler 4 April 30 and May 1. IPO music director Danzmayr is a guest conductor April 1-3, leading the orchestra in an all-Dvorak program featuring the composer’s Symphony No. 9 and Violin Concerto with soloist Rachel Barton Pine.

The Lake Forest Symphony (lakeforestsymphony.org/) performs its five-concert season under new music director Vladimir Kulenovic at the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts in Grayslake. Programs will feature Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 September 5-6, Beethoven Symphonies No. 7 November 7-8 and No. 8 Janiary 23-24 (the latter coupled with the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Netanel Drailblate), Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 March 19-20, and Shostakovich’s Fifth May 14-15.

The Chicago Sinfonietta (chicagosinfonietta.org) presents five eclectic programs at Orchestra Hall and Naperville’s Wentz Hall. Music director Mei-Ann Chen leads Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and other Russian favorites October 3 and 5, the orchestra’s annual tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. January 17-18, a percussion concerto featuring CSO principal Cynthia Yeh March 12 and 14, and an AV-enhanced program of Holst, Berlioz, and more May 21 and 23. Guest conductor Andrés Franco takes the reins of the orchestra November 1-2 for performances featuring the Varsity Choirs of Waubonsie Valley High School in selections from the Fauré Requiem alongside orchestral favorites.

Opera fans have limited but enticing opportunities to hear performances outside the Civic Opera House this season. The Chicago Opera Theater (chicagooperatheater.org) presents three shows (but a total of only eight performances) at the Harris Theater. The season opens with Mozart’s early Lucio Silla September 26-October 4, conducted by Francesco Milioto and staring Ryan MacPherson and Valerie Vinzant. A double-bill of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and Puccini’s Gianni Schicci takes place February 6 and 14, with powerhouse soprano Patricia Racette, and a single performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the Mark Morris Dancers closes the season April 6.

Haymarket Opera Company (haymarketopera.org) continues to dominate the city’s Baroque opera niche, and the company will present two shows at the Mayne Stage in Evanston. Under general director Craig Trompeter, Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula runs November 6-9, and Cavalli’s La Calisto May 5-6.

While Baroque opera in Chicago remains the purview of Haymarket, other ensembles offer ample opportunity to Baroque music on a smaller scale. Baroque Band (baroqueband.org) presents four concerts in 2015-16, beginning October 7-10 with harpsichord and fortepiano concertos of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach. A program of lesser known Baroque luminaries follows January 15-20, and music of Telemann, Graupner, and Bach follows March 11-16. Solo violin works of Locatelli and Leclair featuring soloist Rachel Barton Pine close the season June 1-4. The group will also present four concerts of chamber music at the Dreihaus Museum; the dates are September 30, November 11, January 27, and April 13.

The Newberry Consort (newberryconsort.org) plays three programs in 2015-16. Under the leadership of co-directors David Douglass and Ellen Hargis, they begin the year with music of Johann Rosenmüller October 9-11, ring in 2016 with Le Roman de Fauvel (accompanied by projected images) January 8-10, and close their season April 8-10 with the Vespers of Juan de Lienas. The Vespers will be performed from newly edited music from the Newberry Choirbooks, a testament to the ongoing affiliation between the ensemble and the Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies.

Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in concert performances of Verdi's "Falstaff" April 21-26, 2016. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in concert performances of Verdi’s “Falstaff” April 21-26, 2016. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

There are also ample forums for contemporary music aficionados to whet their appetites this coming year. New CSO Mead Compsosers-in-Residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonoek curate the CSO’s MusicNOW (cso.org) series, which presents four concerts: November 23, March 7, May 9, and June 6. The curators’ works will be featured as well as those of notable living composers including  Kaija Saariaho, Ted Hearne, Christopher Trapani, and Tristan Perich, among others. Receptions with free food and drink continue to follow the Monday night performances.

The Stage at the Museum of Contemporary Art (mcachicago.org) hosts eighth blackbird for concerts January 23-24 and March 25-26, the former a collaboration with visual artists and the latter a look at music addressing truths and falsehoods about American history. The MCA is also curating an exhibition called “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965-Now,” which will include two concerts on September 27 of trios by Roscoe Mitchell Thomas and performances of the experimental opera Afterword October 16-17.

Ensemble dal niente (www.dalniente.com/) will be celebrating its 10th year in 2015-2016, which they officially open at the Harold Washington Library September 20 with a program inspired by their recent tour of Latin America. The group will perform five concerts of their trademark contemporary programming Sunday evenings at Constellation—October 18, December 6, January 3, February 28 and March 6—as well as holding a 10th Anniversary “party” concert at MANA Contemporary April 30.

Chicago’s numerous other contemporary ensembles are gradually announcing their full seasons, but early 2015-16 highlights include the Fifth House Ensemble (fifth-house.com) performing the world premiere of Dan Visconti’s piano trio Soundings at Constellation October 4, and Fulcrum Point New Music Project (fulcrumpoint.org) celebrating the 10th Anniversary of New Music Chicago September 11.

Chicago’s vibrant choral music ensembles are in full flight this season. Despite drawing the curtain on Ars Viva, Alan Heatherington continues his role leading the Chicago Master Singers (chicagomastersingers.org/), who will present three programs at the Divine Word Chapel in Northbrook. Their season opens with the Brahms Requiem Novembner 6 and 8, continues with a Christmas program December 11 and 13, and closes with an a cappella program entitled “Agnus Dei” Apr. 24 and 26 featuring works of Schubert, Liszt, Barber, and Richard Rodney Bennett.

Chicago a Cappella’s (chicagoacappella.org) repertoire for 2015-16 is mostly on the populist side of the spectrum. A program exploring “The Jewish Roots of Broadway” opens their season October 10-25, and they offer holiday concerts November 29 and December 4-19. Actors from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater will enhance the drama of Chicago a Cappella’s February programs, which explore music inspired by the immortal bard February 13-21, and the season ends with “The History of Rock and Soul” with radio personality Terri Hemmert April 15-24.

The chamber choir Bella Voce (bellavoce.org) will present six concerts in and around the Chicagoland area. Their season begins with a musical celebration of Arvo Pärt’s 80th birthday October 3-4, and they will perform a rare period-instrument Chicago Messiah November 21-22 with the curiously named Callipygian Players.  Bella Voce’s women are showcased in the original version of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols for three-part female chorus Dec. 19-20, and a program of the great pre-Bach German composers Schütz, Scheidt, and Schein takes place March 5-6. The season closes with a sole performance of Anglican masterpieces April 24.

Chicago’s time-tested chamber ensembles offer an assortment of compelling programming in 2015-16. The Orion Ensemble (orionensemble.org) presents four concerts with performances in Geneva, Evanston, and at the PianoForte Studios downtown. The season opens with a program of Mozart, Fauré and a Jackson Berkey world premiere September 20-October 7. That is followed by a concert dubbed “Harp Fantasy” featuring harpist Benjamin Melsky with Orion’s core members in music of Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, and Frank Bridge. The group presents “American Landscape” March 13-23 which pairs music of Berkey and Rick Sowash with Dvorak’s Dumky Trio, and the season closes with Amy Beach and the Brahms Clarinet Quintet May 29-Jun. 5.

The Rembrandt Chamber Players (rembrandtchamberplayers.org/) have five programs on their 2015-16 agenda. Music for winds and piano by Mozart and Thuille opens their season September 27-28, and for Christmas they perform Bach Brandenburg Concertos No. 1 and 4 alongside Handel’s Laudate pueri Dominum December 6. On February 14-15, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Rembrandt performs a program of “Romantic” sonatas—by Schubert, Widerkehr, and Rachmaninoff—following up with Hindemith, Bach, and Brahms March 20-21. Their season finale, which takes place May 1-2, is entitled “Tales of Yore” and comprises Dvorak’s String Quintet No. 2, Hasenörl’s chamber transcription of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, and culminates with Fu-Yuan’s The Little Fox for narrator, marionettes, and chamber ensemble with guest narrator Frank Babbitt.

Camerata Chicago (cameratachicago.org/) will begin its season with a Gershwin program featuring songs with singer Sylvia McNair September 24-26, and performs a Rising Stars Concert April 29 and May 1 showcasing cellist Julian Schwartz in Haydn’s Concerto No. 1.

Bonne écoute!

Tim Sawyier is a freelance musician and writer. He studied oboe at the Curtis Institute of Music, and holds a master of arts degree in European history from the University of Chicago. Formerly principal oboe of the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony, he now performs with the West Michigan Symphony. Tim has been a regular contributor to Chicago Classical Review since July 2014.

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