BY KYLE MACMILLAN | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra stands at the pinnacle of the symphonic world because of a nearly unparalleled legacy of artistic excellence guided by such conducting notables as Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti and Riccardo Muti. The venerable orchestra will mark its 125th anniversary in 2015-16 by performing on nearly every program highlights of the world and American premieres it has presented during its rich history (Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan, cso.org). Some of the works are well known, such as Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” which the orchestra performed for the first time in the United States in 1902, while others, like Alfredo Casella’s Symphony No. 3, are all but forgotten. This look back gives audiences an opportunity to reconsider these works and reflect on the orchestra’s musical heritage.
Here is a look at 10 other standout classical events during the fall season:
—It has been 25 years since Leonard Bernstein died, yet the famed composer-conductor’s influence remains as strong as ever. The Chicago Symphony and Rush Hour Concerts will pay tribute to him with three complementary programs. The orchestra will perform Bernstein’s score for “On the Waterfront” Oct. 23 (Orchestra Hall, cso.org) in conjunction with a screening of the celebrated 1954 film, and conductor Steven Sloane will lead a Beyond the Score program on Oct. 24 and 25 titled “Bernstein in New York City.” As part of its annual fall benefit on Nov. 10 (Woman’s Athletic Club of Chicago, 626 N. Michigan, rushhour.org) Rush Hour Concerts will offer an evening of conversation and stories about Bernstein featuring his daughter, Jamie, along with performances of his lesser-known chamber music, show tunes and art songs.
— Although the modern piano dominates today’s keyboard scene, two earlier instruments held sway before it reached its full development in the 19th century – the plucked-string harpsichord and the fortepiano, an early version of the piano with a lighter touch and sound. The Baroque Band, a Chicago-based early-instrument ensemble, will explore differences in the two instruments with an inventive program simply titled “Harpsichord vs. Fortepiano.” The line-up includes C.P.E. Bach’s little-known Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E Flat minor, with Ian Watson on harpsichord and David Schrader on the fortepiano (Oct. 7, Symphony Center Grainger Ballroom, 220 S. Michigan; Oct. 10, Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., and Oct. 11, Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, baroqueband.org). Audiences will have another rare opportunity to hear the fortepiano when Kristian Bezuidenhout, one of its leading exponents, presents a Nov. 20 recital as part of the University of Chicago Presents series (Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th chicagopresents.uchicago.edu).
— George Frideric Handel was one of the giants of the baroque era (1600-1750). Though he is best known now as the creator of “Messiah,” he wrote more than two dozen other oratorios and a group of first-rate operas, which have gained renewed attention in recent decades. The Music of the Baroque will present one of his most acclaimed oratorios, “Judas Maccabaeus,” during two performances on Nov. 29 (North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, baroque.org) and Nov. 30 (Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph.) The Haymarket Opera Company, which specializes in historically informed productions of baroque operas, will stage Handel’s “Amadigi di Gaula” from Nov. 6 through 9 (Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse, haymarketopera.org).
— Bernstein and Handel are not the only composers in the spotlight this fall. Bella Voce, a Chicago-based chamber choir (bellavoce.org), celebrates the 80th birthday of famed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with a program that includes his “Berliner Messe,” which debuted in 1990 at the Katholikentag, a Catholic festival in Berlin. It will be presented Oct. 3 (Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest) and Oct. 4 (St. Clement Church, 642 W. Deming Place).
— Given the up-and-down quality of Chicago area’s classical-music venues, new additions to the mix are always welcome. Northwestern University’s Music and Communication Building, which opens in its entirety this fall, contains three new such venues, including the Ryan Opera Theater, a 150-seat black-box theater, and the 120-seat McClintock Choral and Recital Room. Of prime interest is the 400-seat Galvin Recital Hall, with its sound overseen by Kirkegaard Associates, one of the top acoustical consultants in the world. A prime opportunity to hear this new hall in action will come Oct. 7 when the Dover Quartet begins its three-year residency at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music with a concert that will include Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit” (events.music.northwestern.edu).
— The Lyric Opera of Chicago (lyricopera.org) is offering a lively line-up this fall (Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker), including a new production of one of the seminal works of the 20th-century, Alban Bern’s gritty “Wozzeck,” and Franz Lehar’s ever-popular operetta, “The Merry Widow.” The latter originated at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where it received mixed reviews despite a star turn by soprano Renée Fleming, who reprises the title role here. But perhaps of most interest will be the Dec. 7-Jan. 17 world premiere of “Bel Canto,” an adaptation of Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel with music by up-and-coming Peruvian composer Jimmy López and a libretto by Nilo Cruz. Soprano Danielle de Niese stars as an American diva who becomes ensnared in a hostage crisis – a story inspired by actual events in Peru in 1996-97.
Other offerings worth noting include WFMT 98.7 FM’s Bach Keyboard Festival, which will feature more than 70 pianists and harpsichordists in 11 concerts across the city from Sept. 18 through Nov. 1 (wfmt.com); the Chicago debut Oct. 29 (Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn, chicagopresents.uchicago.edu) of the Bach Collegium Japan, a well-regarded period-instrument ensemble; and a Nov. 16 recital by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and guitarist Sharon Isbin, featuring a new work written for the pair by Richard Danielpour (Harris Theater, harristheaterchicago.org).
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.