The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1891, so 2016 marks its official 125th anniversary year.
While the celebrating began during the 2015-16 season, the orchestra will keep the revels going throughout 2016-17. In addition, the massive, wide-ranging lineup just announced for the Symphony Center season will include a couple of additional anniversaries: the 125th of the birth of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, as well as the 70th birthday of American composer John Adams.
The multi-faceted homage to Prokofiev will feature one of the splashier events of the season as Maestro Riccardo Muti conducts the first-ever performance by the CSO and the Chicago Symphony Chorus of “Ivan the Terrible” (Feb. 23, 24 and 25, 2017), the composer’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s epic two-part historical film about the 16th century Russian czar. French actor Gérard Depardieu will serve as narrator. Although the score for these films was not published during Prokofiev’s lifetime (the result of Stalinist era politics), the music was arranged as an oratorio for speaker, soloists, chorus and orchestra that debuted in Moscow in 1961.
“Last year, Maestro Muti conducted the CSO in ‘Alexander Nevsky,’ Prokofiev’s earlier collaboration on an Eisenstein film,” said Cristina Rocca, who was named the orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning in 2015. “He first conducted ‘Ivan’ with Depardieu in 2010, at the Salzburg Festival, and the actor also was the protagonist in Berlioz’ ‘Lelio,’ which the Maestro conducted and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. So this is a strong artistic collaboration, and an obvious connection to the Prokofiev anniversary.”
Vocal soloists for “Ivan” will be Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano) and Mikhail Petrenko (bass). The Eisensteins film will be screened at Symphony Center in advance of the concerts, with a date still to be announced.
Details of the John Adams celebration are still to come, but in a unique case of “like father, like son,” the orchestra will play a world premiere work by Sam Adams, John’s son (March 16, 18, 19 and 21 in Chicago, and March 17 at west suburban Wheaton College). Adams is now in his second year as a CSO Mead Composer in Residence.
As Rocca noted: “The orchestra has never performed works by Sam but has, of course, played works by John — most recently his ‘Harmonielehre,’ in November 2015. The works of both composers will be performed within consecutive weeks, and we hope to have a family reunion!”
To conclude the 125th anniversary season, Muti and the CSO will re-create the program performed at the Orchestra’s very first concert in 1891. Included on this gala fundraising program (Oct. 16) will be Daniil Trifonov as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1,” plus Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” and music by Wagner and Dvořák.
During Muti’s May 2017 residency, the CSO will perform all four symphonies by Brahms. Also planned is a survey of all five Beethoven piano concertos — three led by Muti, one by guest conductor David Afkham and one as part of the Symphony Center Presents Orchestras series with the Budapest Festival Orchestra led by Iván Fischer. Featured soloists will include Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Richard Goode, Radu Lupu and Mitsuko Uchida.
The season also will feature a focus on choral and vocal masterworks, including requiems by Brahms and Fauré.
Among the season’s many guest conductors will be James Levine, the longtime music director of the Metropolitan Opera House, who will make his long-awaited subscription concert debut with the CSO (Nov. 3, 4, 5 and 8). On the program will be Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra,” Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale” and Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique.”
Asked if Maestro Muti ever elicits suggestions for programming from the members of the orchestra, Rocca noted: “The first input in every season comes from the music director. Then we work together to expand and build around his initial ideas. And there is always an ongoing dialogue between the music director and his musicians. The maestro had discussed with CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy the commission of a new concerto, and Michael proposed his fellow countryman, Australian Carl Vine.”
Vine’s piece, “Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra,” co-commissioned by the CSO and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, will have its debut (Oct. 6, 7, 8) in subscription performances featuring Mulcahy as soloist, and led by guest conductor James Gaffigan.
For the 2016-17 season, Muti will lead 10 weeks of subscription concerts in five residencies with the orchestra in Chicago, with appearances in September and October 2016 and February, March, May and June 2017.
And all this is only the tip of the iceberg. For tickets, and a complete listing of concerts and other events, visit www.cso.org or call (312) 294-3000 or (800) 223-7114.