Critic’s Choice for 2019-20

Tue Aug 20, 2019 at 2:06 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

John Eliot Gardiner conducts Beethoven’s complete symphonies with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique February 27-March 3, 2020 at the Harris Theater. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke.

Collaborative Works Festival: “The Living.” September 5-8.

The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is bringing to local audiences a strikingly adventurous lineup of art song programs for this year’s Collaborative Works Festival, even by their intelligent high standard.

This year’s festival, the traditional harbinger of Chicago’s fall music season, is devoted entirely to songs of living composers. The three programs lead off with songs by Chicago women (“The City”), broadening out to American composers (“The Nation”) and international composers (“The World”). The soloists are soprano Lauren Snouffer, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and tenor (and CAIC cofounder) Nicholas Phan.

Bach’s Mass in B minor. Music of the Baroque/Jane Glover. September 12-13.

Jane Glover is invariably at her best in the great choral works of the Baroque and Classical eras. MOB’s music director opens the ensemble’s 49th season with one of Bach’s most majestic church cornerstones, the Mass in B minor.

Verdi: Luisa Miller. Lyric Opera of Chicago. October 12-31.

Ill-conceived stagings can often snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Lyric Opera, making recommendations of any new production a dicey proposition. Still, with a strong cast led by Krassimira Stoyanova and Joseph Calleja and a superb conductor in Enrique Mazzola, the company’s first production in many years of Verdi’s offbeat middle-period drama Luisa Miller merits a trip to the Civic Opera House.

Mahler songs. Christian Gerhaher, baritone; Gerold Huber, pianist. University of Chicago Presents. October 25.

Notwithstanding the Collaborative Works Festival, vocal recitals remain a rarity on Chicago’s concert scene. Credit UChicago Presents for this meaty October program devoted entirely to songs of Gustav Mahler. Baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber will offer settings from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Kindertotenlieder.

Erin Alford and Joel Balzun in the 2017 Miami Music Festival production of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking.” Photo: Kristen Pulido

Heggie: Dead Man Walking. Lyric Opera of Chicago. November 2-22.

For the first time in over a decade, Lyric Opera will bring an American work to its main stage that isn’t Porgy and Bess. With music by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Terrence McNally, this powerful, humanistic true story of a nun’s friendship with a convicted murderer is one of the finest American operas of recent decades. This company debut of Dead Man Walking stars Patricia Racette, Susan Graham and Ryan McKinny with Nicole Paiment conducting.

Talbot: Everest / Rachmaninoff: Aleko. Chicago Opera Theater. November 16-17.

Chicago Opera Theater is on a roll, having closed its most successful season in many years with the local premiere of Heggie’s Moby-Dick.

COT opens its season with a quirky double-bill of far-flung one-act works, pairing Rachmaninoff’s Aleko with Joby Talbot’s Everest, both local premieres. The latter opera was inspired by Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air about a famously ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition.

Music of Sibelius and Nielsen. Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu. February 27-29, 2020.

Amid the Classical’s Greatest Hits programming of the CSO’s 2019-20 season, Hannu Lintu’s Nordic program offers a break from the brochure bait of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. The Finnish conductor, making his CSO debut, leads a program of music by his compatriot Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, including Pekka Kuusisto in the latter’s rarely heard Violin Concerto.

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9. Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner. Harris Theater. February 27-March 3.

In Beethoven 250 season, much attention will be focused on Riccardo Muti’s season-long cycle of the complete symphonies with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—nearly all of which he has already performed here, many more than once.

John Eliot Gardiner’s competing symphony cycle with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique at the Harris Theater promises to offer more surprises and a greater sense of (re)discovery. Unlike Muti’s cycle, which will be spread throughout the CSO season, Gardiner’s winter cycle will take place in a single concentrated week. Following his highly acclaimed 2017 cycle of Monteverdi operas at the Harris, this promises to be a hot ticket.

French Baroque works. Music of the Baroque/ Patrick Dupré Quigley. April 5-6.

Music of the Baroque is finally broadening its roster of guest conductors. Patrick Dupré Quigley, founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Miami choir Seraphic Fire, will direct two MOB programs this season. His April program looks especially intriguing, with a lineup of (mostly) rarities by Rebel, Rameau, Purcell and Bach. I heard Patrick Quigley conduct a vast range of choral music—from Gregorian chant to commissioned world premieres—over nine years as a music critic in Florida. This guy is good.

Beethoven Piano Sonatas cycle at Symphony Center. Evgeny Kissin; Igor Levit. May 10; May 20.

The most tantalizing component of Symphony Center’s Beethoven bacchanalia is a season-long cycle of the composer’s piano sonatas. All 32 sonatas will be tackled by a dream team of keyboard artists, including Kirill Gerstein, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Maurizio Pollini, and Rudolf Buchbinder.

Two late installments in May are especially self-recommending with Evgeny Kissin on May 10 (“Pathetique,” “Tempest” and “Waldstein”) and Igor Levit May 20 (Sonatas Nos. 9-11 and 26 “Hammerklavier”).

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