The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And while there are plenty of “mistakes” plaguing Chicago at any given moment, a lack of music is not one of them. On any given night, this city is alive with the most majestic sounds of every genre, performed by many of the world’s greatest musicians.
Here is a brief sampling of what’s in store this fall for lovers of classical music:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (cso.org): To open the CSO season, Maestro Riccardo Muti will join forces with renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for a program (Sept. 23 and 26) featuring Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” along with Schumann’s “Symphony No. 2” and Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob.” A program featuring Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 4” (Sept. 28, 19 and Oct. 1), will include the world premiere of a work by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Elizabeth Ogonek. And Muti will return to the podium Nov. 16-21 for a concert that features Kirill Gerstein, the exceptional Russian born (now American) pianist, playing Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No. 1,” with works by Puccini and Richard Strauss also part of the mix.
As a bit of a warmup for the worldwide celebration in 2018 of the centennial of the birth of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, there will be a program (Oct. 26 and 27) conducted by James Gaffigan that will include Bernstein’s “Symphonic Suite from ‘On the Waterfront’,” along with Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances” and Barber’s “Violin Concerto,” with violinist James Ehnes as soloist. Another violinist, Arabella Steinbacher, will perform Berg’s “Violin Concerto” on a program conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi (Nov. 9 and 11) that will include Schubert’s “Symphony No. 9.”
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, that massive assemblage of glorious voices under the the direction of Duain Wolfe — will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this season. And kicking off the five major concerts to be performed through Spring will be a program of choral works by Poulenc and Gounod (Oct. 5 -7), led by the French-Armenian conductor Alain Altinoglu. Featured will be Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Gounod’s “Saint Cecilia Mass.”
Lyric Opera of Chicago (lyricopera.org): The piece de resistance of this fall might just be Gluck’s “Orphee et Eurydice” (Sept. 23 – Oct. 15), the first collaboration between Lyric and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, being directed, choreographed and designed by John Neumeier. This newly conceived production of the opera’s “1774 Paris version” interweaves the opera’s trio of singers with the dancers, so that everything, including the scenery, moves as it spins the mythic tale of Orpheus, the poet and musician so madly in love with Eurydice that upon her death he follows her into the Underworld in the hope of bringing her back to life.
Next up at Lyric is Verdi’s magnificent “Rigoletto” (Oct. 7 – Nov. 3), the tragic story of the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester, Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter Gilda, who dies in the process of trying to block her father’s ill-fated act of revenge. This San Francisco Opera production stars baritone Quinn Kelsey in the title role.
The Harris Theater for Music and Dance (harristheaterchicago.org): To celebrate the 450th birthday of Claudio Monteverdi, a pioneer in the development of opera who bridged the Renaissance and Baroque periods in music history, the Harris will present all three surviving Monteverdi operas — “Orfeo,” “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” and “L’incoronazione di Poppea” — on Oct. 12, 13 and 15. The Harris is one of only two stops on conductor John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi 450 Tour, and he will lead solo singers, the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir in these performances.
Before the Monteverdi project, the Music of the Baroque Chorus and Orchestra (baroque.org) will visit the Harris (Sept. 16), and North Shore Center in Skokie (Sept. 17), with performances of Mendelssohn’s powerhouse choral masterpiece, “Elijah,” inspired by the Old Testament tale of the prophet who made a final ascent to heaven on a fiery chariot. Jane Glover will lead the performance (sung in English) featuring soloists Eric Owens, William Burden, Susanna Phillips and Elizabeth DeShong.
Chamber Music Society’s (harristheaterchicago.org) residency at the Harris begins Oct. 24 with “Arias and Barcarolles,” a concert of vocal chamber music with piano, four hands. Anne-Marie McDermott and Sebastian Knauer, two consummate pianists will pair with opera stars Susanna Phillips, Tamara Mumford, Nicholas Phan, and Nathan Gunn for a program that includes selections from Samuel Barber’s “Souvenirs” for piano, four hands, Leonard Bernstein’s “Arias and Barcarolles,” select lieder by Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms’ first collection of “Liebeslieder Walzer.”
Chicago Opera Theater (chicagooperaheater.org): Few operas are quite as eerily timely as Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1950 work, “The Consul,” which tells the story of a political dissident, John Sorel, who is on the run from the secret police, and of the frenzied efforts of his wife, Magda, to obtain visas from an unnamed authoritarian government so that she, their infant child and John’s mother can join him. Soprano Patricia Racette will play Magda in this production (Nov. 4-12 at the Studebaker Theater). (chicagooperaheater.org)
MusicNOW (cso.org): For the modernists, there is the 20th season of this series that begins Oct. 2 at Symphony Center. The program will feature works by former CSO Composers-in-Residence (John Corigliano, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, Osvaldo Golijov, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Mason Bates and Anna Clyne), played by members of the CSO.