Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

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Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Muti does Mahler, At Last: But Not for Long

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Gutav Mahler at the time of his First Symphony.

Gustav Mahler at the time of his First Symphony.

When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commemorated Mahler’s death centennial three years ago, there were plenty of Mahler symphonies to be heard, to be sure. But curiously, none from its then-new music director, Riccardo Muti.

Instead, Muti chose to reconstruct the final concert that Mahler ever conducted a century before. “This was the last concert of Mahler’s life,” Muti told me at the time. “He went back to Vienna and died. As music director of the New York Philharmonic, he chose a complete program of music of Italian contemporary composers. He used the Mendelssohn ‘Italian’ Symphony because one of the composers didn’t write the piece that he asked for, but it was clear that he wanted to have a contemporary Italian evening. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Spring Season

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Riccardo Muti rehearsing Civic Orchestra, April 2013, Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Riccardo Muti rehearsing Civic Orchestra, April 2013, Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Riccardo Muti’s spring residency goes for two weeks this season, but what a jam-packed and extraordinary period of music-making it looks to be. This first week program includes pianist/conductor Mitsuko Uchida, who last week made her annual Chicago Symphony Orchestra appearance conducting from the piano. Not easy to conduct Robert Schumann from the piano, however, so Muti will be her collaborator for the Schumann Piano Concerto. The centerpiece of the program will be the Schubert “Great” Ninth Symphony, a work that Schumann championed posthumously after Schubert’s death at age thirty-one.

Muti’s idea of a day off that first weekend is to lead the Civic Orchestra, the training orchestra of the CSO that is marking its ninety-fifth anniversary this season, in an open rehearsal of movements from Prokofiev’s ballet suites for “Romeo and Juliet” on Sunday evening. This is a favorite piece of Muti’s and he has a lot to say about how various movements should sound, particularly as they relate to the emotions reflected in Shakespeare’s narrative. To watch him do so with an attentive audience of young musicians working to give him what he asks for is to experience a passing of the torch of the highest order. It also offers a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the rehearsal techniques of one of the great conductors set to a basic level, a rare and wonderful deconstruction of the art of conducting. Tickets are free but must be ordered and demand is always high. Read the rest of this entry »

Dialogue: Muti on Schubert and the Band Chicago

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By Dennis Polkowfranz-schubert

It is a subzero late Tuesday afternoon and Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have just completed the first day’s rehearsal of Sollima’s Double Cello Concerto. (The piece would receive its world premiere later in the week.) The composer, also a soloist in the piece, is backstage, as is cellist Yo-Yo Ma. As are members of the rock group Chicago, about to complete their first-ever two-concert run with the CSO, conducted by Richard Kaufman.

Despite this odd musical assemblage, inside Muti’s office, the discussion is on his decision to place a CSO spotlight on Schubert for the 2014 season. With so much Verdi and some Wagner having been done by the Chicago Symphony for both composers’ bicentennial years in 2013, it may seem a bit odd that 2014 brings a CSO focus on Schubert despite there being no round-number anniversary.

“You know, generally I don’t like anniversaries,” says Muti, pouring a bottle of sparkling coffee, which he also offers to his quizzical guest. “If it’s a very famous composer, such as Verdi or Wagner, they are performed anyway. The problem with the lesser-known composers is that you have an anniversary and then forget about them the rest of the time. Anniversaries can be important when the performances add something to the comprehension of the composer or when musicologists write something interesting about them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Work in Progress: Muti Reveals the Once and Future Verdi, Step-by-Step

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Chorus soloist rehearsal/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Chorus soloist rehearsal/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

By Dennis Polkow

“Buon giorno,” says a sweater-clad Riccardo Muti, seated on his podium at an eerily empty Symphony Center, to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra clad in street clothes assembled for its first rehearsal of Verdi’s “Macbeth.”

“This is a great joy for me, since Verdi is the only composer that I can conduct,” Muti says, poking fun at his reputation as Verdi’s greatest living interpreter. The orchestra laughs.

“Seriously, you gave me the best ‘Otello’ I have ever done from an orchestral point of view,” Muti adds, referencing the 2011 Muti-led CSO performances of one of Verdi’s last operas that like “Macbeth,” is also based on Shakespeare and that has just been released on the CSO Resound label.

“You may think that because ‘Macbeth’ is earlier that it is less difficult music, but it’s not. This work was very ahead of its time. In fact, the operas to follow will be a step back.” Read the rest of this entry »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock No Comments »
Cover by Colin Denney

Cover by Colin Denney

Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.

While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)

Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Mozart, Vivaldi and Verdi/Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

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Photo: Anne Ryan

Photo: Anne Ryan

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This is the third and final week of Riccardo Muti’s busy summer residency and the final week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season. As we have come to expect, Muti has been leading extraordinary performances with the CSO, including a rare and wonderful foray into Wagner last week.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the transition from the first week of Muti’s June residency, which featured principal horn Dale Clevenger struggling with the high horn parts of the Haydn “Maria Theresa” Symphony, to last week’s concerts, which featured assistant principal horn Daniel Gingrich taking over the horn calls for “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” was that Clevenger decided to retire a couple of weeks early in unannounced last appearances. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wagner, Beethoven and Bruckner/Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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Rudolf Buchbinder/Photo: Marco Borggreve

Rudolf Buchbinder/Photo: Marco Borggreve

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Riccardo Muti’s distaste for Wagner is widely known, but even he cannot ignore the fact that the influential composer that devotees refer to as simply “The Master” had his 200th birthday on May 22.

As such, Muti is performing two orchestral interludes of Wagner at this week’s concerts, “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” performed as part of the Rivers Festival, and recently added to the announced program, “Siegfried’s Funeral March.”

Thankfully, Muti has a higher opinion of Bruckner, the composer of whom it is often said that if Wagner were to have written symphonies, they would have sounded like Bruckner. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Haydn, Martinu and Scriabin/Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

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That Riccardo Muti is one of Scriabin’s greatest champions is no surprise: his recordings of the complete symphonies and tone poems of Scriabin when he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra stand as one of his most significant recording projects and Muti remains unparalleled in this repertoire.

Performing Scriabin’s Third Symphony, “The Divine Poem,” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the most anticipated performances of the 2012-13 season, which Muti returns to this week to conclude with three weeks of concerts.

Even more curious is Muti’s first foray into the music of Martinu, a composer he has never conducted before. This week’s performances of the Martinu Oboe Concerto is the outgrowth of Muti wanting to perform a work with Chicago Symphony principal oboist Eugene Izotov, “a great oboe player,” says Muti, and the Martinu Oboe Concerto was Izotov’s choice. “So, I expand my repertoire,” says Muti. Read the rest of this entry »

Current Events: The CSO’s Rivers Festival Bridges Water and Music

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The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910/Photo: The Lost Panoramas (CityFilesPress.com)

The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910/Photo: The Lost Panoramas (CityFilesPress.com)

By Dennis Polkow

City on a river. Chicago is many things, but whatever qualities that make Chicago Chicago exist in no small part because it is a city on a river, albeit a river by and large taken for granted.

For many of us, our own placement as a city on a river is something we forget about until we are inconvenienced by having to go over a bridge or have to wait for a bridge that a boat is passing through or that is undergoing construction.

“The Chicago River is the city’s defining characteristic because it is what built the city,” says Martha Gilmer, vice president for artistic planning and audience development at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as the curator of the CSO’s month-long Rivers Festival which runs May 9-June 9. “The river has taken a second place to our lakefront, but Mayor Daley—and now Rahm Emanuel—is very interested in the development of the Chicago River.” Read the rest of this entry »