Don’t get me wrong: the list of things I’d rather not reprise from the pandemic lockdown is far longer than any pros that came out of it. One thing I actually miss? Presenters had rarely been so collaborative, pooling their creativity and resources in a swelling tide that lifted all ships, no matter how tempestuous the waters.
As usual, fall promises an array of classical music events so varied that it’s practically impossible to identify a common denominator, much less select highlights. (Goodness knows we try.) But if there’s one motif that recurred in our scan of fall events, it’s that calendars are looking fuller — let’s not use that “normal” word just yet — while retaining the shutdown’s team spirit. Cultural Goliaths (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet) and smaller Davids (Access Contemporary Music and Chicago Fringe Opera) alike copresent performances this fall, bringing a double meaning to “team player.”
At the CSO, music director Riccardo Muti begins his final year.
Below are our fall picks:
The Berlin Phil is back: The return of touring orchestras might be the surest harbinger of “normalcy,” or something like it, at Symphony Center. The Berlin Philharmonic, primus inter pares among the world’s top orchestras, visits Chicago for the first time since 2009, meaning it’s also new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko’s first time leading the ensemble here. They play Gustav Mahler’s offbeat Symphony No. 7, following the Petrenko/Philharmonic team’s recording of the composer’s Sixth last year. That interpretation trades emotional torrents for the grandeur of a crystal-clear lake: One could see every crevice and trench below, the topography breathtaking and not a whit less terrifying. I can’t wait to take the plunge again. 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $70-$399, cso.org
Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday …: Yes, Philip Glass’s actual 85th birthday was way back in January. But, y’know, he’s Philip Glass, so he kind of gets a pass for protracted festivities. The composer’s birthday year plows on courtesy of Third Coast Percussion and its American premiere of a lush new arrangement of “Aguas da Amazonia,” which the quartet also recorded on 2018′s “Paddle to the Sea.” Then, Bang on a Can All-Star pianist Vicky Chow marks the occasion with a new album of the first book of Glass piano etudes (Cantaloupe Records), performed live in a record release show at Constellation.
- “Aguas da Amazonia” is 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Field Museum, 1400 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive; tickets $25-$30 at thirdcoastpercussion.com
- “Vicky Chow: Philip Glass Piano Etudes,” 8:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.; tickets $5-$15 at constellation-chicago.org
A changing of the CSO guard: After helming the orchestra for 13 seasons, Muti steps down as CSO music director in the spring. His tails will have barely swept out the door when serious contenders to succeed him sweep through Orchestra Hall — like distant possibility Christian Thielemann, of commensurate (if controversial) stature but not seen here since 1995, and Manfred Honeck, re-upped at the Pittsburgh Symphony through 2028 but fresh off a buzzy European tour with that orchestra. However, with a likely yearslong caesura between Muti’s tenure and, well, whoever’s, why get ahead of ourselves? Opening night features pianist Yefim Bronfman in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 — you see it frequently subtitled “The Ukrainian” these days as a sweat-free solidarity gesture, replacing the fraught “Little Russian” moniker that’s tailed the symphony for generations. If reports of its recent “re-premiere” in the UK are to be believed, Coleridge-Taylor’s “Solemn Prelude” will be the highlight, the once-lost 1899 work now rediscovered and reconstructed after its orchestral parts were lost. Muti & Bronfman is Sept. 22-27, tickets $45-$299; Thielemann Conducts Bruckner 8 is Oct. 20-25; tickets $35-$250; Honeck, Capuçon & Shostakovich 5 is Nov. 17-20; tickets $45-$275. All performances are at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. at cso.org
Double bills with dancers: Baroque music as we know it wouldn’t exist without Baroque dance, yet today’s bourées and chaconnes are almost always divorced from the footwork that inspired them. Two collaborations remedy that this fall: South Chicago Dance Theatre joins Music of the Baroque for a program centered around hero narratives, featuring a new work set to Michael Praetorius’s aptly named “Terpsichore,” then a month later, the CSO and Joffrey Ballet team up for premieres choreographed to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Platée” and Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll.” Also on that program is Maurice Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” the 20th century composer’s own throwback to Baroque sonics.
- “Baroque Heroes” abbreviated program 2 p.m. Oct. 8 at Hamilton Park, 513 W. 72nd St., free. Full program 3 p.m. Oct. 9, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie; tickets $35-$100; and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.; tickets $25-$100 at baroque.org
- CSO and the Joffrey Ballet, Nov. 10-12 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $49-$275 at cso.org
Each one, teach one: The benefits of appointing a single composer in residence at the CSO — instead of the slightly awkward tandem approach of yesteryear — became obvious during Missy Mazzoli’s recent tenure. Just one season into Jessie Montgomery’s, it’s all but undeniable. Not only do the composers themselves get more stage time, but MusicNOW is at the top of its game in time for its 25th season, thanks to a unified curatorial vision. And this year’s theme is a heartwarmer: For each program, Montgomery pairs two composers — one of whom cites the other as an influence — in a cross-generational musical dialogue. First up are Alvin Singleton and Carlos Simon; later, it’s stringheads Xavier Foley and Mark O’Connor. “Perspectives” is 7 p.m. Oct. 24; “Common Ground” is 7 p.m. Nov. 21 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $30-$50 at cso.org
Lyric’s very Verdi autumn: It’s the last season two eminent Verdians will helm the two biggest classical music institutions in the city at the same time. Enrique Mazzola, freshly minted as Lyric’s music director, is wasting no time diving into Verdi’s oeuvre, starting with the composer’s early pillar “Ernani”; tenor Russell Thomas and soprano Tamara Wilson rekindle their crackling chemistry from Lyric’s 2018 “Il trovatore” in the lead roles. After that, buckle up: For the first time in the company’s history, Lyric presents “Don Carlos” in the original French version — all five acts of it — in a production borrowed from the Met. Tenor Joshua Guerrero, a standout in his Lyric debut last year as Macduff in “Macbeth,” sings the title role. “Ernani” through Oct. 1, and “Don Carlos” Nov. 9-25 at Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Upper Wacker Drive; tickets $40-$330 at lyricopera.org
There’s no “I” in opera: After a cautious comeback, our small-to-midsize company scene roars back, thanks to some first-time collaborations. Teaming up with Chicago Fringe Opera, Access Contemporary Music builds ever more ambitiously from its cinephile inclinations with an operatic adaptation of the 1962 short film “La Jetée,” its post-apocalyptic storyline told only through still frames. The same month, Chicago Opera Theater gives the local premiere of “King Roger,” a too-dusty pearl by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski; they’re aided by the chamber chorus of the Lira Ensemble, the metro area’s foremost exponents of Polish music and dance, here making their COT debut.
- “La Jetée” is 8:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 10 at Constellation, 3111 N. Western. Ave.; tickets $5-$10 at constellation-chicago.com
- “King Roger” is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.; ticket pricing TBA at chicagooperatheater.org
Hannah Edgar is a freelance writer.
The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism helps fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune maintains editorial control over assignments and content.