Summer in Chicago — a guide to classical music events


Even just 10 years ago, female composers and conductors were rarities at best on most classical music programs. But with the rise of the #MeToo Movement and the intense focus on diversity and inclusion across the field, female composers are quickly increasing their representation in concert lineups of ensembles large and small.

This heightened visibility will be especially apparent during the Chicago area’s two large-scale summer classical series — the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park and the Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park. 

Gabriela Montero.

The second annual edition of Ravinia’s mini-festival, “Breaking Barriers,” will focus on female composers, with performances, discussions and workshops. The opening day of the July 21-23 event will culminate with a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring works by such composers as Gabriela Montero, Gabriela Ortiz and Roxanna Panufnik (Visit breakingbarriers.ravinia.org).

Works by female composers will also be included in other Ravinia concerts as well as several Grant Park lineups. The latter include Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja” on June 29 and June 30; Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” on July 5; and Anna Clyne’s “This Midnight Hour” on July 14 and July 15.

Female conductors will also be in the spotlight. In addition to Marin Alsop, who serves as Ravinia’s chief conductor and curator, several other women conductors will be featured at the two festivals, including Valentina Peleggi (June 29 and 30 at Grant Park, and July 21 at Ravinia) and Jeannette Sorrell (July 8 at Ravinia).”

Making her third appearance July 12 at the Grant Park festival will be Gemma New, a New Zealand-born conductor who took over in 2022 as artistic adviser and principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. (Visit grantparkmusicfestival.com)

Conductor Gemma New returns to the Grant Park Music Festival this summer.

Conductor Gemma New returns to the Grant Park Music Festival this summer.

In addition to holding two other posts, including principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, New has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre National d’Ile de France. 

“I’m really loving these very deep and meaningful musical experiences with orchestras all over the world,” she said. “It’s a lot of travel, but it’s always a real joy, especially when you’ve had a concert and you feel the energy from the audience and musicians afterward.”

New, 36, who lives in San Francisco, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Carlos Kalmar, who is stepping down next year as Grant Park’s music director. 

“That would be amazing,” New said. “I would love to build upon this relationship with the Grant Park Orchestra, and I think this is such a strong festival in Chicago, such an amazing experience for audiences.”

New’s July 12 program includes the little-heard Symphony No. 1 by American composer Samuel Barber, who is best known for his moving “Adagio for Strings.”

“It’s deeply romantic, deeply emotive and such a turbulent, dark and devastating symphony,” she said. “It will be my fourth time performing it in recent years, and I absolutely love it.” 

10 more classical performances to consider this summer:

  • June 7-10, North Shore Chamber Music Festival, Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Road, Northbrook: Led by two of the Chicago area’s top musicians, violinist Vadim Guzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, this compact suburban festival brings together first-class talent and inventive programming. A highlight of this year’s line-up is the June 10 American premiere of “Leopards,” a string sextet by respected Turkish composer and pianist Fazil Say. Visit nscmf.org.
Conductor Carlos Kalmar.

Grant Park Music Director Carlos Kalmar

  • June 16 and 17, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, Carlos Kalmar, conductor, Olivia Boen, soprano, Siena Licht Miller, mezzo-soprano, John Matthews Myer, tenor, Joseph Beutel, bass-baritone, Grant Park Music Festival, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph: Large-scale, sometimes underrecognized choral works have been a staple of the Grant Park festival, which runs June 14-Aug. 19. The lone selection on this program is Antonín Dvořák’s Stabat Mater, Op. 58, the Czech composer’s best-known sacred work. The 10-movement, 85-minute composition was written in 1876-77. Visit grantparkmusicfestival.com.
  • June 20, “A Little Circus Music,” Rush Hour Concerts, St. James Cathedral, 65 E Huron: An always-welcome staple of summer classical music in Chicago are the Rush Hour Concerts — free, after-work chamber performances that return for their 24th season from June 6 through Aug. 23. Among the offerings is this lineup that includes Susan Warner, acting principal clarinetist of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and four members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including assistant concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu. Visit classicalmusicchicago.org.
Lauren Decker stars in “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra (Mark Antony and Cleopatra)” at Haymarket Opera Company.

Lauren Decker stars in “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra (Mark Antony and Cleopatra)” at Haymarket Opera Company.

  • June 23-27, “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra (Mark Antony and Cleopatra),” Haymarket Opera Company, Jarvis Opera Hall, DePaul University, 800 W. Belden: Haymarket has gained national attention for its lively, high-quality period presentations of often overlooked baroque operatic gems. This time the company tackles Johann Adolf Hasse’s 1725 take on this famous historical couple, with noted countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim and contralto Lauren Decker in the title roles. Visit haymarketopera.org/hasse.
  • June 25-28, Great Lakes Regional Convention, American Guild of Organists, multiple venues across the North Shore: This biennial gathering of organists will include nine concerts open to the public, seven of which are free. Vincent Dubois, one of three principal organists at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris will present a June 28 recital at the First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, 1427 Chicago Ave. General admission is $25. Visit nsago2023.org.
  • June 27, “Concert for Chicago,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, conductor, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph: Muti, who took over as the orchestra’s music director in 2010, will end his much-lauded tenure with this free community concert presented in conjunction with the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The program will consist of Florence Price’s Andante moderato and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Visit cso.org.
  • July 7 and 8, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, Ludovic Morlot, conductor, Lindsey Reynolds, soprano, Tai Murray, violin, Grant Park Music Festival: Few recent classical works have gained more performances than Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto in D, which was written for famed Scottish soloist Nicola Benedetti and premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra and her in 2015. Serving as soloist here is Murray, a 2012 recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence and a member of the Yale University music faculty. Visit grantparkmusicfestival.com.
  • July 28, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mei-Ann Chen, conductor, Ravinia Festival, 201 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park: Chen, the ever-adventurous music director of the diversity-focused Chicago Sinfonietta, leads the CSO in a program that includes its first performance of “Ethiopia’s Shadow in America” (1929-32) by Florence Price. The music of the unfairly overlooked Black composer, who spent much of her career in Chicago, is making a meteoric comeback. Visit ravinia.org.
Conductor Marin Alsop

Conductor Marin Alsop

Ravinia Festival/Patrick Gipson

  • Aug. 5, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor, Yunchan Lim, pianist, Ravinia Festival: In June 2022, Lim became the youngest person ever to win the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition with a dramatic, much-publicized performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The then-19-year-old South Korean native will make his CSO debut in the same work under Alsop, who also conducted his Van Cliburn performance. Visit ravinia.org.
  • Aug. 17, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Weilerstein, conductor, Alisa Weilerstein, cello, Ravinia Festival: Talented musical siblings have long been a part of classical music. Think Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn or Nadia and Lili Boulanger. This concert brings together a contemporary brother and sister who have both achieved considerable success in the field. Visit ravinia.org.

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