“Hot Time, Summer in the City” is a lyric from an old rock song. Summer means lots of beaches, barbeque, beer. Yet Chicago goes far beyond those three summer staples. In fact, I think Chicago does summer better than almost any other American city. There are festivals nearly every weekend in the neighborhoods and downtown. It began last weekend with the Blues Festival, will continue with the Gospel Festival this weekend. Pitchfork brings indie bands in July with Lollapalooza close on its heels in August . Chicago’s outstanding Jazz Festival caps the season on Labor Day.
Besides the above three Bs, Chicago Summer comes alive for me with Beethoven, Brahms and Berlioz. And the music moves outdoors under the stars at Ravinia and Grant Park.
In this post, I try to help you focus on a few of the summer’s top classical offerings, saving you lots of time and headaches, and hoping you will catch a few. When I’m listening to great music, sitting on the lawn downtown or at Ravinia, I get a “great to be alive” vibe that fills my whole being. Try it. Good music is medicine that feeds your soul.
Begin with this Thursday, June 21st. Chicago will celebrate “Make Music Chicago 2012″ Day. The whole city will become one big music stage. Music of all kinds will be performed in 75 locations throughout the day, ending with a three-hour program at St. James Cathedral from 6 to 9 p.m.
This is the second year Chicago has hosted this event. Its inspiration is the “Fete de la Musique” event that started in Paris 30 years ago and has been adopted by every town throughout France and in 460 cities worldwide.
Last June 21, I had the good fortune to be in France and participated in “Fete” there. Pauline and I were totally captivated by the way in which Vence’s residents of all ages turned out for the music–even heard a French band play “Sweet Home Chicago”–and dancing in the town square. For a schedule of all the day’s free events, including a Chicago Symphony open rehearsal, go to www.makemusicchicago.com.
Ravinia Festival– The Chicago Sympony Orchestra’s residency this year features 21 concerts led by principal conductor, James Conlon, including two operas in concert-style, beginning in July. For my taste, there are three not-to-be-missed CSO performances packing more musical firepower: July 7 when conductor Jaap van Zweden makes his Ravinia debut following several acclaimed Orchestra Hall appearances conducting Mahler; July 21 when pop diva, Patti
LuPone, and opera diva, Patricia Racette, bring the house down and August 7 when brilliant French pianist, Jean Yves Thibaudet, weaves his magic spell with two Ravel concertos.
Classical Ravinia means more than the CSO. The festival boasts top-drawer chamber music programming. Ravinia’s schedule in this genre is more adventurous with lesser-known works and a nice mixture of world-class artists and younger stars-in-the-making. An added bonus: you can enjoy great musicmaking for an amazing $10 seat amid the lawn’s bucolic surroundings amongst a more intimate gathering of music fans.
The enjoyment begins this Friday, June 23, with a 75th Birthday Concert by Philip Glass accompanied by rising star violinist, Timothy
Fain. Make time to catch the superb Emerson String Quartet on July 6. This renowned ensemble has performed together for more than 35 seasons during which they have captured 9 Grammy Awards, 3 Gramophone Awards and the prestigious Avery Fisher prize.
Though Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich will appear with the CSO on July 13, I prefer to hear these two artists, plus pianist Alexei Grynyuk, play a chamber recital the night before. This trio of 20-something European all-stars (Benedetti is the BBC’s Musician of the Year and reportedly plays a $7.5 million Strad) sound like they could generate rave reviews.
A young artist who has moved beyond youthful promise and is now embarked on a solid career is pianist Jonathan Biss. I have enjoyed his intelligent, moving playing in previous appearances and will be in the audience on August 1. He will be performing with his mother, noted violinist Miriam Fried, in a program of violin and piano sonatas.
An innovation this season is a series of more than 30 concerts in Bennett Gordon Hall featuring future stars with tickets priced to fly out of the box office for a ridiculous $10. A perfect date night followed by a post-performance picnic on the grass.
Make plans on August 24 to hear The Lincoln Trio, three impressive artists who released a fine recording of contemporary women composers last year. Then, on August 31, catch 21-year-old sensation, Behzod Abduraimov, winner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition, who is already being hailed as a “young master”. He will perform Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata and Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz”.
There’s a special place in my soul for the cello. Johannes Moser supply a fine evening of expert cello playing on September 4 performing Brahms’ “Cello Sonata No. 1″ and Poulenc’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano” with Orion Weiss.
Grant Park Music Festival–The Grant Park Orchestra, led by conductor Carlos Kalmar, played superbly at last week’s opening concert of the 78th season featuring cello soloist, Alban Gerhardt.
The highlight of America’s oldest free music festival is the 50th Anniversary of the esteemed Grant Park Chorus under Christopher Bell’s direction. Six concerts will feature the chorus, including two world premiere commissions for orchestra and chorus (the first, “An Exaltation of Place” by Michael Gandolfi was performed this past weekend) and the forthcoming release of the chorus’ first ever a cappella recording of works by American composers including Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici, Stacy Garrop and Eric Whitacre on the Cedille Records label.
Once again, the festival sparkles with imaginative programs. Nearly every week contains a rarity, world premiere or a choral masterwork. Let me single out five worth your attention. This Saturday, June 23, the orchestra will begin a week-long collaboration with the visiting Paris Opera Ballet (whose Harris Theater performance of Giselle on June 27th will be simulcast in Millennium Park). To kick-off the festivities on Saturday, Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” is matched with Ravel’s “Bolero”.
On June 29 & 30, an all-choral program features Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” and Carl Orff’s sonic spectacular “Carmina Burana”. The chorus will be featured again on July 13 & 14 for a tribute to Broadway musical legend, Frank Loesser, composer for such classic musicals as “Guys and Dolls”, “The Most Happy Fella” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”.
Rounding off this favorites list are two exciting back-to-back programs. On August 3 & 4, Kalmar leads a program of Latin American and Spanish masterpieces, including “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”, a twist on Vivaldi’s famous work by Astor Piazzolla. Topping off the season is Antonin Dvorak’s “The Spectre’s Bride”, a rarely-performed cantata for orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists. I’m flying blind here but trusting Dvorak’s stirring melodies and Kalmar’s musical taste to end the season on a rousing note. To access a full schedule, go to www.grantparkmusicfestival.com
While those are my picks for your outdoor listening pleasure, I can’t not mention two worthy musical series taking place indoors. Every Tuesday evening through August 28, St. James Cathedral, at Wabash Avenue and Huron St., is presenting a marvelous summer series of “Rush Hour Concerts”. The music starts at 5:45 and lasts 30-45 minutes. All performances are preceded at 5:15 p.m. with a reception in which you can mingle with the artists.
I had the pleasure of hearing “Fifth House Ensemble” last week offer a totally winning concert of contemporary works. The program ended with 42 musicians scattered throughout the church, performing an 8-minute excerpt of Terry Riley’s work “In C”, a fascinating, neo-Cagean tonal explosion. It was a bracing tonic that put me in the right frame of mind for the evening.
St. James is the featured site for this week’s “Make Music Chicago” closing performances to be broadcast on WFMT if you choose to stay home. For the schedule of the summer’s Rush Hour concerts, go to www.rushhour.org.
For die-hard opera fans, there is never an off-season. There’s always an opera somewhere. To satisfy this insatiable craving, The Metropolitan Opera will rebroadcast six of its most successful productions in movie theaters nationwide, part of a Summer Encore series.
If you haven’t yet seen opera up close on the jumbo screen, it is opera as you’ve never seen or heard it on TV or in the house (unless you had $300 seats). You owe it to yourself to catch at least one production between now and July 25.
The series kicked off last week with “Rinaldo” starring Anna Netrebko. This Wednesday, I am expecting vocal fireworks when I attend Rossini’s “Comte Ory” with tenor Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato.
Other operas are Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, “Tales of Hoffman”, “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Renee Fleming and Susan Graham in “Der Rosenkavalier”. For full details, go to www.metopera.org/liveinHD.
Here’s wishing you a happy Summer filled with uplifting music to stir your soul and make all seem right with the world.