Classical music and jazz for summer 2023: Our top picks


I keep hearing the same thing from all musical corners: The last two summers were busy, yes, but summer 2023 is busy-busy. This may be the first festival season since the pandemic that we’ve been chucked headlong into something resembling “normal.” But man, when was “normal” this hectic?

As usual, genre is often insufficient to discuss the musical events presented herein. Consider these your friendly neighborhood “classical-ish” and “jazz-ish” listings, here to help you navigate one of the most teeming summers in recent memory:

First voices: You’ll hear the same prelude to every Harris Theater event: a land acknowledgment piped over the loudspeaker, paying homage to the Indigenous peoples who shaped, and continue to shape, the place we now call Chicago. It’s an important gesture, but usually just that — a gesture. Not so at this Chicago Jazz Philharmonic show. The last installment of its “Immigrant Stories” series, this concert partners with local Native American musicians. It’ll be a potent reminder that the vast majority of us are immigrants to this land. “Chicago Immigrant Stories IV,” 7:30 p.m. June 3 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.; tickets $20-$70; more information at harristheaterchicago.org

Kalyan Pathak, foreground, plays percussion as the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic performs "Chicago Immigrant Stories" at Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

An in-person Option Series is back: This improvised music series, virtual for the past three years, celebrates its return to Experimental Sound Studio’s Ravenswood Avenue digs. Its cozy indoor and outdoor spaces make for über-intimate listening — a plum chance to hear greats like multi-instrumentalist Shanta Nurullah, singer Fay Victor and bassist Jaribu Shahid for free. Dates for these musicians and others will be announced soon, but the June lineup is already set: drummer Francisco Mela (June 4), saxophonist Sarah Clausen (June 11), synthist Ben Billington and bassist Andrew Scott Young (in their duo project Whisker, on June 18) and violinist Gabby Fluke-Mogul (June 25). As always, sets will be uploaded to the ESS YouTube channel post hoc. 3 p.m. every Sunday June 4 to Aug. 27, Experimental Sound Studio, 5925 N. Ravenswood Ave.; free; more information at ess.org

Drummer Francisco Mela performs with piano player McCoy Tyner (not pictured) at Symphony Center in Chicago on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015.  (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Is Ravinia … kind of cool?: Think “interesting programming,” and historically, this North Shore institution hasn’t exactly sprung to mind. But with each passing year, the new Ravinia bags more artists with generational appeal broader than the Gen X-and-up set. One-offs of note: a Gershwin duo program with pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Michael Feinstein (June 14); the return of Baroque-ish band Apollo’s Fire, now partly in-residence in Chicago (July 8); the Danish String Quartet in a quintessential concert of standard rep and folk song arrangements (July 27); and blues titans Buddy Guy and George Benson (Aug. 23). Chief conductor/curator Marin Alsop’s Breaking Barriers continues this year, this time focusing on women composers throughout the CSO residency: Reena Esmail’s “See Me” is paired with a re-imagined Beethoven 9 for the season opener (July 14), with Shulamit Ran’s “Chicago Skyline” (July 15) and Gabriela Montero playing her own piano concerto (July 21) later in the season. Alsop will also broach what used to be James Conlon’s territory with Mozart in the Martin (“Magic Flute,” Aug. 4 and 6) and facilitates 19-year-old phenom Yunchan Lim’s Ravinia debut (Aug. 5), on the same Rachmaninoff concerto that cinched his Cliburn win last year. I wish this year’s jazz programming were thicker, but the headliners are predictably plush: guitarist Pat Metheny (June 20), Grammy winner and Pulitzer contender Maria Schneider and her orchestra (making her Ravinia debut July 23), New Orleans’s own Rebirth Brass Band (July 26) and a Steans Institute grand finale featuring Kurt Elling, Billy Childs, Rufus Reid, Steve Wilson, Sara Caswell and Christian Euman (Sept. 8). June 6 to Sept. 10, Ravinia Park, 201 Ravinia Park Rd., Highland Park; full lineup and pricing at ravinia.org/calendar

Concertgoers set up picnic areas on the Ravinia Festival grounds before a performance by the Black Crowes Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Highland Park. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Remembering Harrison Bankhead: Chicago’s free jazz circles are grieving the radiantly gifted bassist and cellist, who left us too soon on April 6. Constellation hosts this life celebration, featuring a bass and cello choir and Bankhead’s most frequent collaborators: vocalist Dee Alexander, violinist James Sanders, and reedists Edward Wilkerson and Ernest Dawkins. “A Joyful Noise: Celebrating the Life of Harrison Bankhead,” 6 p.m. June 7, Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.; free with RSVP; more information at constellation-chicago.com

A listing with misgivings: As reported by the Tribune earlier this month, longtime Grant Park Music Festival director Carlos Kalmar is currently under investigation for alleged Title IX violations at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he teaches. Festival officials said they are retaining Kalmar while keeping a close eye on CIM’s investigation. Because the story is still developing, I can’t, and wouldn’t, offer a full-throated endorsement of this year’s festivities. Despite it all, some truly spectacular artists will be among us: bassist and composer Xavier Foley (June 21 and July 16, with off-site performances throughout the summer); pianists Michelle Cann (July 5) and Stephen Hough (Aug. 16); violinists Stefan Jackiw (June 28), Tai Murray (July 7 and 8) and Augustin Hadelich (Aug. 11 and 12); cellist Zlatomir Fung (July 26); and guest conductors Jordan de Souza (June 28) and Gemma New (July 12), to name a few. June 14 to Aug. 19 at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.; free; full programming at grantparkmusicfestival.com

Michelle Cann performs Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement with the Grant Park Orchestra on June 15, 2022.

An oddity, revisited: When Haymarket Opera takes on Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra,” countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim and contralto Lauren Decker will have seemingly flip-flopped their titular roles. But the production’s gender-bending isn’t intended to be provocative: “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra” was originally performed in 1725 with a male countertenor playing Cleopatra and a female contralto playing Mark Anthony. More a serenata than an opera, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra are the drama’s only two roles, the whole thing building to the lovers’ tragic double suicide. So, Kim, Decker — no pressure, eh? “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra,” June 23, 24, 26 and 27 at DePaul University’s Holtschneider Performance Center, 800 W. Belden Ave.; tickets $52-$97; more information at haymarketopera.org

A parting gift: Though this might be Riccardo Muti’s last season with the Chicago Symphony, he’ll maintain a privileged relationship with the orchestra, opening the fall season and leading the orchestra on tour next year. And hopefully — if the CSO is smart — tenets of Muti’s term will outlast his time here by a measure of generations, like these free Concerts for Chicago in Millennium Park. A CSO without Muti, particularly without a successor queued up, remains hard to conceive. This poignant program, of Florence Price’s “Andante moderato” for strings and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, may provide some bittersweet catharsis, the impossible goodbye feeling — if just for a moment — real. “Concert for Chicago,” June 27 at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.; free; cso.org

Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its "Concert for Chicago," featuring Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, in Millennium Park on June 27, 2022.

Summer sings: Groaning and moaning that there’s not nearly enough opera happening here in the summer? Don’t write off the Opera Festival of Chicago, three years old and steadily growing. It begins with a fully staged production of Ildebrando Pizzetti’s 1958 opera “Assassinio nella cattedrale” (“Murder in the Cathedral”), based on the T.S. Eliot drama of the same name, and ends with Verdi’s “Attila.” Between them are recitals featuring Italian arias and other goodies (July 11, Artifact Events) and Ferruccio Furlanetto, the basso’s first U.S. appearance since 2016 (July 13, Harris Theater). Tickets $20-$150; more information at operafestivalchicago.org

  • “Assassinio nella cattedrale,” 7:30 p.m. July 6 and 3 p.m. July 9 at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.
  • “An Italian Soirée,” 7:30 p.m. July 11 at Artifact Events, 4325 N. Ravenswood Ave.
  • “Ferruccio Furlanetto in Concert,” 7:30 p.m. July 13 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.
  • “Attila,” 7:30 p.m. July 20 and 3 p.m. July 23 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston

First-time festival throwers: Third Coast Baroque has made itself an indispensable part of our early music ecosystem since its establishment in 2016. This summer, the organization convenes its first self-titled festival with the help of special guests: violin-piano duo the Gavilán Brothers (Sept. 1) and similarly named colleagues Third Coast Percussion (Sept. 2). They’re bookended by a reprise of Third Coast Baroque’s very first program (“¡Sarabanda!”, Aug. 31) and Bach’s B minor mass, interpolated with spirituals arranged and sung by Tierra Whetstone-Christian (Sept. 3). “Third Coast Baroque Festival: Beyond Baroque,” Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 at Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave.; festival passes $100-$245, with single admission tickets on sale June 16; more information at thirdcoastbaroque.org

Worth waiting for: Usually long public knowledge by Memorial Day, the Chicago Jazz Festival lineup for this year is only just being unveiled. But what a lineup it is. The Pavilion headliners include bassist Ron Carter, tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman (both Aug. 31), singer Dianne Reeves (Sept. 1), drummer Makaya McCraven, harpist Brandee Younger, pianist/composer Nduduzo Makhathini (all Sept. 2) and Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars (Sept. 3). Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., with North Promenade and Chicago Cultural Center programming TBA; free; more information available at chicago.gov upon finalization.

Dianne Reeves, performs during the Chicago Jazz Festival on Sept. 1, 2012.

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.

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