The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is pulling out all the stops at the moment.
Before embarking on an East Coast tour that will take it to Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center (Feb. 7), and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Feb. 9 and 10), Maestro Riccardo Muti will lead the CSO in three concerts at Symphony Center (Feb. 1-3), featuring a program of works by Stravinsky, Chausson and Britten, as well as the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning (and now 2018 Grammy Award-winning) composer Jennifer Higdon’s “Low Brass Concerto.”
At the same time, Muti and Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, have announced their monumental plans for Symphony Center’s 2018-2019 season. These include a unique, grand-scale thematic initiative linked to the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918 — an Armistice whose monumental geo-political consequences reverberate to this day.
“From time to time we all hear many of these works that were inspired by war, and there are more of them than you might think,” Alexander observed. “But any composer inspired to write music about war is really sending out a message of peace. There is a direct link between the two. One of the things that guided us in developing this theme was the visit to St. Sabina Church last June by Yo-Yo Ma, and musicians of the CSO, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Children’s Choir, who joined for a Concert of Peace, anti-violence and a message of brotherhood.”
A major highlight of the memorial season will be performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” (Nov. 8 – 10), with Muti (whose 2010 recording of the work with the CSO received two 2010 Grammy Awards) leading the orchestra. Joining them will be the Chicago Symphony Chorus (under the direction of Duain Wolfe), and a stellar quartet of soloists (Vittoria Yeo, Piotr Beczala, Daniela Barcellona and Dmitry Belosselskiy).
“The Verdi ‘Requiem’ was specifically requested for the orchestra’s performances in Tokyo [in 2019], a stop on the CSO’s Asia tour,” said Alexander. The orchestra also will travel to Osaka, Taipei, Shanghai and Beijing.
War will be an underlying theme in other major concerts, including the season opener (Sept. 21, 22 and 25) when Muti will conduct Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”), in which the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko chronicles the massacre of the Jewish population of Kiev during World War II. It will feature the voices of the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and bass Alexey Tikhomirov.
Officially commemorating the anniversary of the Armistice will be the CSO’s world premiere of French composer Bruno Mantovani’s “Threnos” (Oct. 18-20), a co-commission by the CSO and the Pritzker Military Foundation. Also on the program, to be led by guest conductor Marin Alsop, will be Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” and works by Frank Bridge and Aaron Copland — all written during times of war in the 20th century.
Among many other concerts on the theme will be one featuring Muti conducting the Mozart “Requiem” (Feb. 21-23, 2019), on a program that also will include William Schumann’s “Ninth Symphony,” written after the composer’s visit to a World War II monument honoring victims of a German massacre in Italy, and a piano recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich (Oct. 28), featuring Messiaen’s “Visions de l’Amen,” written in 1943, following the French composer’s release from a prisoner of war camp.
A second major theme of the 2018-2019 season will be “the power of narrative in music,” with programs that include everything from ballet and opera scores to symphonic poems. Among those concerts will be a program conducted by Muti featuring Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” symphony, inspired by the life and work of the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald, and the quest for artistic freedom (Oct. 4 and 5), and another led by Esa-Pekka Salonen featuring Bartok’s one-act opera, “Bluebeard’s Castle” and Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”
In addition, the Joffrey Ballet will make its debut with the CSO (May 30, 31 and June 1, 2019), with performances of Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet, “Commedia” (set to Stravinsky’s Suite from “Pulcinella”), and a world premiere (with a choreographer still to be announced), set to the music of Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks.”
Among the many guest conductors of the season will be Daniel Barenboim (the music director of the CSO from 1991-2006, who will be returning for the first time in more than a decade), Michael Tilson Thomas, Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska of the Minnesota Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, and Andres Orozco-Estrada of the Houston Symphony and Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The ever-popular “CSO at the Movies” programs will feature Bernard Herrmann’s score for the Alfred Hitchcock classic, “North by Northwest” and George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”
Opening the season will be a free community concert Setp. 20 in Millennium Park, with Muti conducting the CSO. It will share the stage with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago which will be celebrating its centennial season in 2018-19.
For a full schedule and ticket information visit www.cso.org or call (312) 294-3000.