When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015-16, it marked the occasion by looking back at some of the more than 650 world and American premieres that it presented since its founding.
Commissioning and championing new music have always been essential to the CSO’s mission, and it continues that proud tradition during the 2023-24 season with four commissioned works by American composers that will receive their world premieres:
Sept. 28-30, Philip Glass, The Triumph of the Octagon; Riccardo Muti, conductor. In February, Music Director Riccardo Muti and the CSO performed Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 11. It was the first-ever performance by any Chicago ensemble of a symphony by the now 86-year-old composer, who was in attendance. As a follow-up to that milestone, the CSO commissioned this work from the minimalist pioneer. Glass has had a lifelong fascination with mathematics and patterns, and he drew inspiration for this work from the octagon found in the design of Castel del Monte, a 13th-century citadel in Muti’s native Italy.
Nov. 9-11, Christopher Theofanidis, Indigo Heaven; John Storgårds, conductor, and Stephen Williamson, clarinet. In addition to serving on the music faculty at Yale University, Theofanidis is composer-in-residence and director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. His orchestral work Rainbow Body (2000) has been performed by more than 150 orchestras worldwide. The CSO commissioned this work for Stephen Williamson, its principal clarinet since 2011.
March 21-24, Lowell Liebermann, Flute Concerto No. 2; Susanna Mälkki, conductor, and Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, flute. Liebermann, who teaches at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, has written more than 140 works in array of forms, showing a particular affinity for the flute. He has produced three pieces for famed flute soloist James Galway, and his Sonata for Flute and Piano is among his most performed creations. He composed this work for Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, the CSO’s principal flute since 2015.
May 30-31 and June 1, Jessie Montgomery, Percussion Concerto; Manfred Honeck, conductor, and Cynthia Yeh, percussion. Named by Musical America as its 2023 Composer of the Year, Montgomery continues her stratospheric rise in the classical world. In September 2021, the New York Times profiled her in a major piece titled, “The Changing American Canon Sounds Like Jessie Montgomery.” As part of her three-year tenure as the CSO’s Mead Composer-in-Residence, the orchestra has commissioned three works from her, including this one for Yeh, its principal percussion.
Along with those world premieres, the CSO will present the Chicago debuts of two new works that have already gained considerable attention:
June 13-15, Jake Heggie, Jennifer Higdon, Edgar Meyer, Jessie Montgomery and Kevin Puts, The Elements; Juraj Valčuha, conductor, and Joshua Bell, violin. Bell, one of the most world’s best-known violinists, commissioned this five-movement work, inspired by the classical elements of fire, air, ether, water and earth. He invited five top composers, including two winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, to each write a section. Preview performances of The Elements, with Bell as soloist, are set for Aug. 3 and 6 at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder. The world premiere will be this fall.
June 20-23, Mason Bates, Piano Concerto; Lahav Shani, conductor, and Daniil Trifonov, piano. Bates is well known to Chicago audiences from his tenure as the CSO’s Mead Composer-in-Residence during 2010-15. His highest-profile accomplishment since stepping down from that post is his opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, which won the 2019 Grammy Award for best opera. This concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony for Trifonov.
Along with those debuts, the CSO will present its first performances of several other contemporary works, including:
Oct. 12-15, Nina Shekhar, Lumina; Jaap van Zweden, conductor. This 2020 work was written for the University of Southern California Thornton Symphony, and it won the ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize. Shekhar, a first-generation South Asian American, is composer-in-residence for Young Concert Artists.
Feb. 22-24 and 27, Kaija Saariaho, Ciel d’hiver (Winter Sky); Hannu Lintu, conductor. Saariaho, who celebrated her 70th birthday in October with events across her native Finland, ranks among the most respected composers in the world. This piece, which received its premiere in Paris in 2014, is an arrangement of the second movement of her orchestral piece, Orion.
April 4-6, Sauli Zinovjev, Batteria; Klaus Mäkelä, conductor. Zinovjev is a 34-year-old Finnish composer who has collaborated with the Munich Philharmonic and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The CSO will present the American premiere of this 2016 work, which was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.