Classical music, opera continue their eclectic journeys

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Maestro Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2013 — Todd Rosenberg Photography

By Andrew Patner for Sun-Times Media

There are no giant composer centenaries or other season-long events in the classical and opera schedules in Chicago this year. Instead, the story is one of continuing growth and eclecticism, with even the 60th anniversary gala of Lyric Opera of Chicago focusing more on variety than history. Institutional health appears strong across the board with newer venues such as Constellation in North Center and the University of Chicago’s Logan Center now established presenters.

Here are highlights of the upcoming classical music/opera scenes in Chicago:

Riccardo Muti

Even without music of his most beloved composer Giuseppe Verdi this season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director is the city’s top classical draw and energizer. His fall residency kicks off with already sold-out Sept. 18-23 performances of Beethoven’s Ninth “Choral” Symphony; the annual free community concert, this year back outdoors at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion Sept. 19 with an all-Tchaikovsky program, and the gala Symphony Ball (the Ninth again) Sept. 20. Muti’s Orchestra Hall survey of all the Tchaikovsky symphonies starts Sept. 25-30 and Oct. 2-4 (a complete Scriabin cycle kicks off in January). The October dates also hold CSO principal trumpet Christopher Martin in a concerto by Poland’s Andrzej Panufnik ahead of a fall two-week, five-city European tour, which starts with the CSO’s long-awaited Warsaw debut Oct. 20. Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan. Visit

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric will mark its 60th Diamond Jubilee anniversary Nov. 1 with an evening gala concert featuring everyone from emcee Jane Lynch and The Second City to Renee Fleming and Ramsey Lewis, as well as a a range of today’s younger stars and a return by former company stalwart bass Samuel Ramey. The eight-opera season launches Sept. 27-Oct.29 with a new production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” staged by longtime Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls, with Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role and Lyric music director Andrew Davis in the pit. Oct. 6-28, Fleming sings opposite Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter in a revival of the autumnal “Capriccio” of Richard Strauss, Davis again conducting. Returns of “Il trovatore” and “Porgy and Bess” round out the fall half of the season. Opening nights will be broadcast live on WFMT-FM (98.7) and, the gala by tape the following day, Nov. 2. Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Visit

Chicago Opera Theater

COT wraps up its calendar 2014 season with “the other ‘Macbeth,” the little-known early-20th century intense take by Swiss (later American) composer Ernest Bloch in only its second U.S. professional production. Artistic director Andreas Mitisek directs with rising COT podium presence Francesco Milioto conducting. Nmon Ford and Suzan Hanson reprise their roles as the killer couple from Mitisek’s presentation at his other home, Long Beach Opera. Sept. 13-21. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Visit

Haymarket Opera Company

The marriage of Baroque-centered Haymarket Opera Company and the intimate Mayne Stage in Rogers Park has been one of the happiest Chicago combinations in many years. Presenting Chicago premieres of 17th and 18th century works, the well-managed group sells out its brief and meticulously prepared runs. Their seventh offering comes a month after their third anniversary: Scarlatti’s 1679 comedy “Equivocal Appearances,” featuring the company debut of South Side native high tenor Karim Sulayman. Craig Trompeter leads the period instruments. Oct. 24 and 25, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse. Visit

Boulez commemorations

As he approaches his 90th birthday in March 2015, Pierre Boulez — revolutionary French composer and beloved CSO conductor emeritus — has had to suspend his conducting and trans-Atlantic travel. But he has been participating fully in shaping two commemorative CSO programs this fall. The popular “Beyond the Score” series, which Boulez has strongly supported, presents the new multi-media “Provisionally definitive: Boulez at 90” with a stage design by star architect Frank Gehry, Nov. 14 and 16. And young Andalusian conductor Pablo Heras-Casado leads CSO subscription concerts Nov. 12-15 with the Boulez 1960s “Figures-Doubles-Prismes,” as well as Stravinsky, Bartok and Debussy works associated with the legendary composer-conductor. Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan. Visit

Nicholas Phan and friends

Although the American tenor does not live here, he bases his Collaborative Arts Institute in Chicago. Founded and run with young pianists Shannon McGinnis and Nicholas Hutchinson, the project encourages and offers training in the presentation of art song and recital. This fall’s Collaborative Works Festival focus is on Robert and Clara Schumann and the young Johannes Brahms, all giants in both song composition and piano collaboration. Sept. 11 brings the now annual free performance at the architecturally inviting Poetry Foundation, with Phan, Lyric and Met soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo Kelley O’Connor and others. On Sept. 12, star mezzo Michelle DeYoung gives the keynote recital at the Harold Washington Library Center with pianist (and Ravinia Steans Instutute singers program director) Kevin Murphy. DeYoung gives an afternoon master class Sept. 13 at the Pianoforte Foundation in the South Loop. Phan and company close the festival with a Sept. 14 afternoon concert at the Logan Center in Hyde Park-Woodlawn. Visit

Nicholas Kraemer Music of the Baroque and CSO

Nicholas Kraemer is another regular Chicago guest who has endeared himself to local audiences and musicians. He has a particularly interesting back-and-forth with the local Music of the Baroque (MoB), where he serves as principal guest conductor, and with the CSO this fall as he launches the MoB season (in both Evanston at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall Oct. 19 and at the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago Oct. 20) with orchestra, chorus and soloists in Mozart’s Requiem, which Muti and the CSO take up in February. Compare and contrast! Kraemer fills out his MoB concert with Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony and rare brief choral pieces of Beethoven and Haydn. On Nov. 20-25, Kraemer turns back the clock another century at Orchestra Hall where he will lead the CSO from the harpsichord in the popular six Bach Brandenburg Concertos. Visit and

University of Chicago Presents

With a concentrated exploration of World War I and music coming in the spring, the area’s longtime leader in chamber music presentation has a busy fall at its set of right-sized spaces on the University of Chicago campus. The fast-rising Danish String Quartet makes its Chicago debut Oct. 10 at Mandel Hall with Haydn, Schubert and the U.S. premiere of a new work by Danish composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen. Five young ensembles vie in the Early Music America Baroque Competition, a free program Oct. 11 at the Logan Center. Pacifica Quartet launches its Chicago season Oct. 12 with the U.S. premiere of the latest quartet by U of C composer Shulamit Ran, “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory.” Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion offers politically-infused works by John Cage, Frederic Rzewski and David T. Little on Nov. 1. Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra shares its early music “Galileo Project” complete with Hubble telescope projections Nov. 7. And young Russian pianist Denis Kozhukin makes his Chicago debut at Mandel Hall in a Haydn-Prokofiev program Nov. 21. (He makes his CSO concerto bow in June 2015.) Visit

New music everywhere

Much sweat and many tears have been shed over the past half-century to get a lively, new and contemporary music scene going with some security in Chicago. As the U of C’s Contemporary Chamber Players/Contempo prepares to launch its 50th anniversary season in January — groups that might be regarded as the children and grandchildren of the CCP are busy this fall — and all over the city. Spektral Quartet appears with bandoneon player Julian Labro at the Art Institute of Chicago Oct. 4; Constellation, 3111 N. Western, on Oct. 25 in a large work that calls for the string foursome to sing as well; and then at their Logan Center Performance Penthouse base Nov. 9 for a more “traditional” format of contemporary works. Eighth blackbird offers a mixed program, “Heart and Breath,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sept. 12, and takes over Constellation on Oct. 10 with Chicago bassist and composer Matt Ulery. And Claire Chase and her fellow ICE members have a free mixed program at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia on Oct. 12, and flutist Chase and new ICE man ensemble dal niente saxophonist Ryan Muncy square off in a duo-recital at the same spot on Nov. 9. Visit;;

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