The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently released its next season, and I believe it is probably the most dynamic and varied season we have seen in recent memory. The season is focusing on the three conductors that make up the universe of excellence at the CSO: Bernard Haitink, who will be leaving us after this season, Riccardo Muti, who will take over in the 2010/2011 season, and Pierre Boulez, the symphony’s conductor emeritus who will be celebrating his 85th birthday. Surrounding these three gentlemen are no less than 23 guest conductors, representing virtually every conductor of note in the world. Combine that with exceptional soloists, new commissions and interesting repertoire choices, I am pretty excited about the new year in Chicago.
First things first. It must be stated that Chicago likes its music on the conservative side. We certainly are no slouch in promoting new music, and the CSO has a whole series of concerts called MusicNOW that are led by the two composers-in-residence, Osvaldo Golijov and Mark-Anthony Turnage, but you won’t find a lot of it on the main stage. It should come as no surprise then that Haitink will be focusing on the Germans in his final stint here, and Muti is presenting his version of the German canon as well. Haitink has always been known as a great interpreter of the Germanic tradition, whether Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms or Beethoven. During the course of his tenure here, he has conducted all of them, and so it is fitting that Haitink’s leadership in Chicago will culminate with a three-week celebration of Haitink and Ludwig van Beethoven. He will conduct all nine symphonies during the course of three weeks, together with the Leonore
overtures and Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage. Muti is here for a short while and will conduct a Bruckner symphony (I’m sure to allay the fears of conservative Chicagoans who question his chops) and four performances of Brahms’ A German Requiem. He had a runaway success with the Verdi Requiem this season, so it seems fitting to continue with the Brahms. Taken together, you can see that the orchestra isn’t breaking new ground with our principal conductors. Fortunately, Boulez and our guests will scratch that itch nicely.
Pierre Boulez will be celebrated in a month-long series of concerts, some led by him, others in honor of him. He will conduct performances of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and his concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra. He will also lead performances of his own composition, Livre pour cordes, as well as a flute concerto by Marc-André Dalbavie. David Robertson will conduct a concert in honor of the composer/conductor, featuring works by composers associated with Boulez: Stravinsky, Berg and Messiaen. The Symphony has also commissioned two new works for the season: James Primosch’s Songs for Adam
with baritone Brian Mulligan and Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Cello Concerto performed by Yo-Yo Ma. In another example of old and new, Passion Week at Orchestra Hall will feature performances of Bach’s St. John Passion with Golijov’s St. Mark Passion, a sensational double-header.
The list of guest conductors is stunning for this season. Here they all are: Roberto Abbado, Semyon Bychkov, Sir Andrew Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Charles Dutoit, Sir Mark Elder, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Paavo Järvi, Vladimir Jurowski, Nicholas Kraemer, Bernard Labadie, Ludovic Morlot, Gianandrea Noseda, Peter Oundjian, Trevor Pinnock, Alexander Polianichko, Carlos Miguel Prieto, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Robert Spano, Markus Stenz, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mitsuko Uchida and John Williams. These conductors are mostly responsible for introducing the symphony to works they have never played, like Harrison Birtwistle’s Night’s Black Bird; Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Andante for Strings; Kaija Saariaho’s Orion; Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending; Ligeti’s Violin Concerto; and Martinů’s Frescoes of Piero della Francesca. Igor Stravinsky is especially well represented, with performances of his Rite of Spring, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, Concerto for Piano & Wind Instruments, the ballet Agon, and his rarely performed oratorio Oedipus Rex. The ballet and oratorio are both led by Michael Tilson Thomas, and that is truly a highlight for me.
Taken all together, the 2009/2010 season is one of the greatest we have had in recent memory and one of the most interesting and compelling of any orchestra in the United States. Feel free to take a trip to Chicago. Come for the orchestra, stay for the opera. The Lyric Opera has a nice, well-rounded season planned as well.