Mahler and Bruckner symphonies. Choral masterworks. Concert opera.
After nearly two years in which these most expansive of concert staples went unheard due to the pandemic, they are poised to return during the second half of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-22 season, running from January through June.
The schedule, released Oct. 12, sees the CSO stretching out after a fall season dedicated to mostly mid-sized pieces in 90-minute programs. Back are intermissions, as are health and safety protocols based on the latest public health regulations.
In perhaps the most statement-making program of the season, Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony over four nights, Feb. 24-27. The message of resilience, hope and universal brotherhood that Beethoven draws from Schiller's poem Ode to Joy should especially resonate with pandemic-weary audiences. Delivering the choral finale is the Chicago Symphony Chorus, whose director, Duain Wolfe, will retire this season after a run of more than 25 years and 150-plus programs.
The chorus also will appear in Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, as part of a bill of mythology-themed works led by Esa-Pekka Salonen (June 2-4), and Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, conducted by Muti (June 23-28). The latter marks the return of the traditional June concert performance of a great Italian opera. This staging of Verdi’s treacherous potboiler, about a king who is assassinated during a masked ball, will feature tenor Francesco Meli, soprano Joyce El-Khoury, baritone Luca Salsi, soprano Damiana Mizzi and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green.
An American focus
The season features the first-ever CSO performances of a work by Philip Glass, his Symphony No. 11 (Feb. 17-19). The venerable American composer has been increasingly drawn to large symphonic forms, and he wrote this buoyant and colorful score in 2017 for his 80th birthday concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Muti and the CSO open the program with music of Beethoven, including the Fourth Piano Concerto with the insightful soloist Mitsuko Uchida.
Jessie Montgomery, another New York-based artist, continues her first season as Mead Composer-in-Residence as the CSO premieres a yet-untitled commission, alongside works by Beethoven and Bottesini (April 28-May 3). Montgomery has become a sought-after figure in the orchestral world, as a recent New York Times profile noted, making this performance highly anticipated.
In the latest chapter involving the meteoric rediscovery of Florence Price’s music, the CSO will present her Symphony No. 3 in concerts May 5-7. The orchestra’s connection to Price goes back to 1933, when it performed her First Symphony, and she became the first African-American woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra. In September, the CSO opened its 2021-22 season with Price’s sumptuous Andante Moderato.
Works by three previous Mead Composers-in-Residence are also on the spring agenda. Missy Mazzoli’s Orpheus Undone gets its premiere by Muti and the CSO (March 31-April 5), and Augusta Read Thomas’ Brio arrives under the baton of Karina Canellakis (May 19-22). And in an offering for families, the CSO presents Philharmonic fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra (May 12-14), a concerto for orchestra and animated film featuring music by Mason Bates. The 25-minute production, created with director Gary Rydstrom and animator Jim Capobianco, explores the instruments of an orchestra with the help of a mercurial sprite.
Listeners hungering for the monumental can turn to any number of programs this winter and spring. The schedule includes Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (March 3-8), Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 (March 10-12), Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 (April 21-24), Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (May 19-22) and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (June 10-11).
After the pandemic curtailed soloists' touring activities, a number of luminaries are slated to return to Orchestra Hall. They include Anne-Sophie Mutter in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (June 16-18), cellist Alisa Weilerstein in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations (March 24, 26), violinist Lisa Batiashvili in Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 2 (June 10-11), pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who tackles Britten’s Piano Concerto (April 7-12), and Pekka Kuusisto, who introduces a 2020 concerto by Bryce Dessner (May 26-31).
Recitalists on the Symphony Center Presents calendar include Hilary Hahn in her first recital as the CSO Artist-in-Residence (April 1), the trio of Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma in an all-Beethoven program (March 11) and a plethora of pianists: Igor Levit, Jan Lisiecki, Richard Goode, George Li, Sir András Schiff, Yuja Wang, Evgeny Kissin and Denis Kozhukhin.
The CSO at the Movies series features Casablanca (Feb. 11, 13), Jurassic Park (March 25, 27) and The Return of the Jedi in concert (June 30-July 2). Returning to Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for the first time since 2018, Riccardo Muti and the CSO close the season on June 27 with a free Concert for Chicago featuring Tchaikovsky’s electric Fourth Symphony.