Critic’s Choice for 2023-24

Mon Sep 04, 2023 at 12:17 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Lise Davidsen makes her Lyric Opera debut in the title role of Leos Janáček’s Jenůfa November 12.

Wagner: The Flying Dutchman. Lyric Opera. September 23-October 7. 

Lyric Opera almost inevitably finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaw of victory—see last season’s Don Carlosbut two of its fall productions look auspicious. Enrique Mazzola’s bona fides as a Wagnerian are opaque at best, but with Tomasz Konieczny and Tamara Wilson starring in Chicago’s first staging of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer in 22 years, this holds promise.

Stephen Williamson, John Storgårds & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Theofanidis, Sibelius & Rachmaninoff. November 9-11.

Any opportunity to hear the CSO’s wonderful principal clarinetist in the solo spotlight must be grasped by the fetlock. Stephen Williamson solos in the world premiere of Indigo Heaven by the gifted American composer Christopher Theofanidis, with the fine Finnish conductor John Storgårds also directing performances of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Sibelius’s Pohjola’s Daughter.

Janáček: Jenůfa. Lyric Opera. November 12-26. 

It’s been over a decade since Lyric Opera has presented an opera by Leos Janáček. With the luxuriant-voiced soprano Lise Davidsen making her Chicago debut in the title role of the victimized title village girl, Nina Stemme as her demented mother Kostelnička, and Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša—a popular CSO podium guest—leading, arguably, the finest work by his country’s second greatest composer, this looks like the best opera bet of the 2023-24 season. We hope.

Jakub Hrůša & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. March 7-16, 2024.

March 2024 inaugurates an extraordinary run of CSO weeks that will bring to Chicago no fewer than five guest conductors that are credible short-list candidates to succeed Riccardo Muti as music director.

Jakub Hrůša’s Mahler Ninth last season divided opinion more than his previous CSO stands. Still, there is no doubt that he remains among the most charismatic of guest conductors. Following up his Lyric Opera debut in November, Hrůša leads two weeks of varied March programs that will include Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration and Also sprach Zarathustra, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin and violin concertos by Martinů and Mendelssohn with soloists Josef Špaček and Gil Shaham.

Susanna Mälkki conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in music of Mahler, Wagner and Liebermann March 21-24, 2024. Photo: Jiyang Chen

Susanna Mälkki & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Music of Wagner, Liebermann, and Mahler. March 21-24. 

Few conductors have so successfully led the CSO across such a wide range of repertoire as Susanna Mälkki over the past decade. In her first Orchestra Hall appearance in seven years, the Finnish conductor leads a meaty program featuring Mahler’s Symphony No. 4., the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin, and the world premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Flute Concerto No. 2 with CSO principal Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson as soloist.

Klaus Mäkelä & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Shostakovich and Bartok. April 4-6.

Klaus Mäkelä has supporters that would like to see him succeed Muti; one can imagine the CSO marketing department salivating over the opportunity to get the handsome Finn’s youthful visage on season brochures. At 27 Mäkelä is young indeed for a CSO music director but he is undeniably a greatly gifted musician, already leads the Oslo Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris, and will take the reins of the storied Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2027—which may make a Chicago appointment unlikely. His CSO program includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, Sauli Zinovjev’s Batteria, and Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with superstar (and Makela girlfriend) Yuja Wang as soloist.

Simon Rattle & Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. April 28.

One would have preferred hearing Sir Simon Rattle conduct the CSO in 2023-24—something that hasn’t happened in 44 years. But any rare Chicago visit by the celebrated British conductor is worth hearing and Rattle leads his current ensemble, the Bavarian Radio Symphony in a single work, Mahler’s tragic Sixth Symphony.

Esa-Pekka Salonen & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” May 23-25.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the CSO, soloists & CSO Chorus in Mahler’s epic “Resurrection” symphony? Self-recommending.

Manfred Honeck & Chicago Symphony Orchestra. May 30-June 1.

If there is a leading equine in the horse race to succeed Riccardo Muti, the current odds seem to favor Manfred Honeck. The Austrian conductor is popular with both audiences and musicians and has been leading consistently inspired performances at Orchestra Hall for many years. In May-June, he will direct a substantial program twining Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 with the world premiere of Jesse Montgomery’s Percussion Concerto with CSO principal Cynthia Yeh as soloist.

2021 Chopin Competition winner Bruce Liu makes his Chicago debut June 2. Photo: Yazhang

Bruce Liu. June 2. 

The Canadian pianist and 2021 Chopin International Competition Winner makes his Chicago debut in a choice program that includes not only Chopin but Haydn, Liszt, Rameau and Kapustin.

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2 Responses to “Critic’s Choice for 2023-24”

  1. Posted Sep 13, 2023 at 7:05 pm by Moselle Eugen

    I don’t think Jakub Hrůša or Manfred Honeck will be the next music director of the Chicago Symphony. My money is on Tugan Sokhiev or Hannu Lintu.

  2. Posted Sep 13, 2023 at 8:19 pm by Brad

    Sokhiev? You should’ve heard the horrendous Tchaikovsky 4 he did with the CSO some years ago. I’m surprised they’re letting him come back.

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