Your primer on names and concerts


I don’t know about you, but when it comes to classical music, I’m very happy to put summer 2023 to rest. The conductor John Eliot Gardiner allegedly punched a singer last month in France; he’s since withdrawn from his remaining performances this year. (That included one Chicago appearance, at Harris Theater in October.) The Leonard Bernstein biopic was so roundly accused of antisemitism that the Bernstein children, in support, released an official family statement on the size of their father’s nose. And in news that’s less “Jerry Springer” than it is just sad, New York’s Metropolitan Opera Guild is shuttering, taking the publication Opera News down with it, and the Fine Arts Building in Chicago announced that it would replace its manually-operated elevators within the next two years — companions to countless musicians who jostled inside them on the way to instrument repair appointments, music lessons and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra rehearsals.

But I digress. Bring on fall! There’s plenty here to keep your mind off, well, everything.

If you learned about women composers of the Baroque era at all in music history class, the discussion likely began and ended with Barbara Strozzi, a prolific composer of vocal music. (If not, your professor’s next beer is on me.) Props to Newberry Consort and Haymarket Opera for opening their seasons with music by two oft-overlooked contemporaries of Strozzi: a portrait concert of the composer Sophie Elisabeth, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Francesca Caccini’s “The Liberation of Ruggiero from the Island of Alcina,” respectively.

  • “In the Castle of the Moon: The Music of Sophie Elisabeth, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg.” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., 4 p.m. Sept. 24 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., Evanston; tickets $45-$65; newberryconsort.org
  • “La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 and Sept. 30, 3 p.m. Oct. 1, DePaul University’s Holtschneider Performance Center, 800 W. Belden Ave.; tickets $52-$97; haymarketopera.org

It’s not just storefront theater that’s taken a walloping in the past few years — sadly, so have storefront opera companies. One of the greats, Third Eye Theatre Ensemble, closes up shop after 10 impressive years with this production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul,” performed in piano reduction. “The Consul,” Sept. 23 to Oct. 8 at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway; tickets $25; thirdeyete.org

As usual, the Chicago Symphony season is such a trove that it’s hard to pick a few programs: Some I’m eyeing include, but aren’t limited to, conductor Jaap van Zweden and baritone Christian Gerharer in Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (Oct. 12-15); an “about time” CSO debut by pianist Conrad Tao, who grew up in Naperville (Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 24); Michael Tilson Thomas, making his first podium return here since his brain cancer diagnosis (Nov. 30-Dec. 2 and Dec. 5); and the return of CSO artist-in-residence Hilary Hahn in Brahms’s Violin Concerto (Dec. 7-9). But at the top of that CVS-receipt-sized list are three world premieres: Philip Glass’ “Triumph of the Octagon,” Christopher Theofanidis’ clarinet concerto, written for the CSO’s own Stephen Williamson, and Jasmine Barnes’ to-be-named commission for soprano, baritone and chamber ensemble, part of a MusicNOW spotlight on the composer collective Blacknificent 7.

  • “Muti, Glass & Mendelssohn Italian,” Sept. 28-30, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $55-$399; cso.org
  • “Rachmaninov 3,” featuring the Theofanidis premiere, Nov. 9-11, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $49-$250 at cso.org
  • “Montgomery and the Blacknificent 7,” Dec. 3, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $30-$50 at cso.org
Alcee Chriss III performs at the University of Chicago Nov. 4, 2023.

This classical, jazz and world music series rings in a major milestone with an appropriately major season. It starts with Eighth Blackbird performing David Lang’s “Composition as Explanation,” a music theater piece based on Gertrude Stein’s essay of the same name and copresented by Court Theatre. The contemporary chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound follows that a week later with the U.S. premiere of “Land of Winter,” an evening-length piece by Donnacha Dennehy inspired by his native Ireland. In the first of two programs on campus, CSO musicians respond to a homework assignment by a UChicago professor: craft a concert exploring “music in the vernacular.” Also visiting this fall is the Pacifica Quartet, the University’s former resident ensemble, and Alcee Chriss III, a dazzling organist on the rise. Tickets for all of the following are $10-$40 at chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

  • “Composition as Explanation,” Sept. 28-30, Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.
  • “Land of Winter,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6, Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
  • “Music in the Vernacular,” 3 p.m. Oct. 8, Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St.
  • Pacifica Quartet, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20, Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St.
  • Alcee Chriss III, 5 p.m. Nov. 4, Bond Chapel, 1025 E. 58th St.

In this harrowing monodrama by David T. Little and produced by Chicago Opera Theater, baritone Nathan Gunn and an amplified chamber ensemble bring to life firsthand accounts by military veterans, as sourced from hours of interviews. Little draws on his experience as a rock drummer in the opera’s teeming, tense score, evoking the psychological terrors of war. COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts. “Soldier Songs,” 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave.; tickets $60-$175; chicagooperatheater.org

Eighth Blackbird rehearses "David Lang & Anne Bogart: Composition As Explanation" in the Duke University Rubenstein Arts Center Von Der Heyden Studio Theater on Feb. 24, 2022, in Durham, North Carolina.

July marked 400 years since the death of William Byrd, the prolific and pioneering English Renaissance composer. But why the macabre celebration? Well, we don’t know exactly when Byrd was born — just when he died, documented by an entry in the Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal, which also called him “a Father of Musick.” A death-year bash it is — and this no doubt will be a great one, with Bella Voce and a viol consort behind the fun. “Byrd is the Wyrd,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., and 4 p.m. Oct. 8 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., Evanston; tickets $15-$65 at bellavoce.org

Can’t wait for Lyric’s “Champion,” the second Terence Blanchard opera to touch down at the house after “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” (Jan. 27-Feb. 11)? In this concert with the Chicago Philharmonic, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green arrives fresh from his starring role in the Met’s “Champion” production last season to sing an aria from that opera and “Fire,” alongside selections from Verdi, Wagner, Puccini and Rossini. “Chicago Philharmonic Presents Ryan Speedo Green,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.; tickets $20-$125; chicagophilharmonic.org

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during a farewell concert at Symphony Hall on June 1, 2006.

Daniel Barenboim’s answer was simple when, in 2018, Chicago magazine asked the former CSO music director why it had taken him 12 years to reunite with the orchestra: “I don’t like guest conducting.” Much has changed since then. In January, the conductor and pianist stepped down from the Staatskapelle Berlin, which he led for 30 years, citing health challenges. So, his appearance here, with the Staatskapelle in a Brahms symphony doubleheader (Nos. 1 and 3), isn’t just rare — it’s essential. “Staatskapelle Berlin,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets $55-$250; cso.org

No survey of 20th-century string quartets is complete without Béla Bartók’s six earth-shattering contributions to the genre — so earth-shattering, really, that it’s easy to imagine them springing from his head, or maybe another universe, fully formed. Of course, they didn’t, as the esteemed Borromeo String Quartet, in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music since 1992, explains in this two-night exploration. The Borromeos trace each quartet’s development by demonstrating early sketches of the works alongside their final versions. “Alternate Realities: Bartók Quartet Cycle with the Borromeo Quartet,” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 at Guarneri Hall, 11 E. Adams St., 3rd floor; tickets $10-$40 for one night, $75 both nights; guarnerihall.org

For once, we’re not talking about Bradley Cooper’s questionable prosthetic schnoz. This would be Dmitri Shostakovich’s piquant and zany first opera, premiered when he was just 23 and given a rare local staging by Chicago Opera Theater. Baritone Aleksey Bogdanov and tenor Curtis Bannister star in a new production by Washington National Opera artistic director Francesca Zambello. “The Nose,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 3 p.m. Dec. 10 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.; tickets $45-$150 on sale Sept. 15; chicagooperatheater.org

Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.

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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