Beethoven in the spotlight in CSO’s 2019-20 season

Tue Jan 29, 2019 at 10:30 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-20 season will center on music of Ludwig van Beethoven, marking the composer’s 250th birthday anniversary year (December 16, 1770). 

In his tenth season as CSO music director, Riccardo Muti will lead performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies (including his first local performances of  Nos. 1, 3 and 6). The Ninth Symphony will conclude the orchestra’s season in June.

“We should all become brothers and sisters,” said Muti, in a statement released by the orchestra. “This is the message of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

“For two hundred and fifty years, we have tried to find the secret behind the untouchable music of this divine architect and to comprehend the enormity of his timeless philosophical, spiritual, and human message.” 

Skeptics will say, with some justification, that building a season around one of the most familiar and regularly performed of composers reflects the emphasis on traditional European repertoire and lack of programming imagination that have characterized Muti’s near-decade in Chicago.

Still, Beethoven remains forever the icon-smashing revolutionary and there is something to be said for an immersive examination of the genius from Bonn in his 250th birthday year. Beethoven expanded, deepened and forever transformed every genre of music in which he wrote, from symphonies and concertos to string quartets and piano sonatas.

In addition to Muti leading the complete symphonies, all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas will be performed by a lineup of keyboard artists throughout the season: András Schiff and Rudolf Buchbinder (two programs each), Kirill Gerstein, Igor Levit, Evgeny Kissin, and Maurizio Pollini. Mitsuko Uchida will perform an all-Beethoven program that includes Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles and Diabelli Variations. 

Other Beethoven works on tap are three violin sonatas (shared by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Christian Tetzlaff), the Violin Concerto (Leonidas Kavakos); the First and Fourth piano concertos (Paul Lewis); piano trios (Emanuel Ax, Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma) and the Namensfeier Overture and concert aria Ah! perfido with soprano Camilla Tilling, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. 

In the CSO’s 129th season, Muti will lead three premieres and add a couple new American works to his repertoire. Muti will revive Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3, a work given its world premiere by the orchestra under Frederick Stock in 1933. The CSO music director will also direct world premieres by composer in residence Missy Mazzoli, Nicolas Bacri and Bernard Rands. 

Muti will lead concert performances of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana in February.

Amid the CSO’s prevailing emphasis on European composers and popular works, some interesting nuggets stand out: the U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s percussion concerto Eternal Rhythm, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra and Symphonic Variations, John Adams’ The Chairman Dances,  Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, Thomas Ades’ Dances from Powder Her Face,  William Grant Still’s Mother and Child, and Roussel’s Suite No. 2 from Bacchus et Ariane. 

Making their CSO podium debuts in 2019-20 will be Hannu Lintu, Kirill Karabits, André de Ridder and Jonathan Stockhammer. Returning conductors will include Valery Gergiev, Manfred Honeck, Susanna Mälkki, Jaap van Zweden, Herbert Blomstedt, James Gaffigan, David Afkham, Juanjo Mena, John Storgårds, Edo de Waart, Nicholas Kraemer, Jakub Hrůša, Emmanuel Krivine, Alain Altinoglu, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, Andrew Davis, and Bernard Labadie.

Soloists making debuts next season include pianists Bertrand Chamayou, Sunwook Kim, Joseph Moog, Beatrice Rana, and Jan Lisiecki; violinists Julian Rachlin and Ray Chen; countertenor Iestyn Davies; mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano; soprano Elena Stikhina; tenors Daniel Johansson and Piero Pretti; and baritone Elliot Madore. 

Returning artists are pianists Piotr Anderszewski, Leif Ove Andsnes, Inon Barnatan, Martin Helmchen and Paul Lewis; and violinists Leila Josefowicz, Leonidas Kavakos, and Julia Fischer. Orchestra members appearing as soloists are violinists Robert Chen and Stephanie Jeong, cellist Kenneth Olsen, percussionist Cynthia Yeh and bass clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom.

The CSO continues its peripatetic globe-trotting next season with a European tour in January 2020, including concerts marking the 150th anniversary season of the Musikverein in Vienna, as well as Paris, Cologne, and Naples. Muti and the orchestra will also do a two-concert residency at Carnegie Hall in November 2019, and return to Florida next February for appearances in West Palm Beach, Naples, and Sarasota.

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