The Riccardo Muti era at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will culminate next season with a focus on 20th-century masterworks, splashes of new music (including a world premiere by Jessie Montgomery) and nods to hallmarks of his 13-year tenure as music director, including one last choral statement, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis.
Muti will lead nine programs in 2022-23, many containing works of personal significance. Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition returns Oct. 6-8, having been featured on his debut program with the CSO at the Ravinia Festival in 1973. Respighi’s Pines of Rome and overtures by Rossini and Cimarosa serve as salutes to his Italian heritage. And several concertos spotlight principal players with whom he has worked, including Concertmaster Robert Chen, Principal Timpani David Herbert and Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny.
The season opens on Sept. 22-23 with the U.S. premiere of Solemn Prayer, a newly discovered work from 1899 by Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Completing the bill are Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, featuring soloist Yefim Bronfman, and Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, which is based on Ukrainian folk songs.
Beethoven’s Missa solemnis caps the season on June 23-25. The mighty work has long loomed on Muti’s radar and was scheduled for September 2020, only to be postponed due to the pandemic. But after spending months studying the score during Italy’s first lockdown, he was eager to conduct it, telling the Chicago Tribune, “Now I need to give birth to the score that is in my mind.” The vocal lineup includes mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova, bass Ildar Abdrazakov and the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
Defining works of the 20th century
Dotting the season are numerous 20th-century landmarks, many shaped by war and political upheaval (and carrying a certain prophetic edge of late). Shostakovich’s Stalin-era Fifth and Seventh symphonies will be conducted by Manfred Honeck and Vladimir Jurowski, respectively. Xian Zhang leads Prokofiev’s searing, postwar Sixth Symphony, while Edward Gardiner presents Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5, composed during the Blitz.
Bramwell Tovey leads Poulenc’s 1938 Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, featuring the organ iconoclast Cameron Carpenter. And Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, whose six movements are dedicated to friends killed in World War I, is featured on a program led by Harry Bicket and featuring dancers from Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. (The collaboration also includes world premiere ballets set to music of Rameau and Wagner.)
Another strand of history, the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has inspired Julia Wolfe’s Her Story, which headlines a Jan. 6-7 program of women composers, conducted by Marin Alsop. The multimedia piece explores broader themes of female perseverance and equality, and features the CSO debut of the Lorelei Ensemble, the Boston-based women’s vocal group. It is the latest in a series of works on sociopolitical themes by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wolfe.
Other new pieces next season include the world premiere May 11-13 of a yet-to-be-titled piece by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, and the U.S. premieres of Aino by Jimmy López and Diary of a Madman by Lera Auerbach.
Violinist Hilary Hahn returns for her second year as CSO Artist-in-Residence, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Rautavaara’s Deux Sérénades and a Bach recital on the SCP Chamber Music series. Hahn’s tenure has encompassed educational and community activities including a recent Notes for Peace concert.
Ninth symphonies and podium debuts
Listeners seeking to test theories about the “curse of the ninth symphony” will have three opportunities next season, as Muti conducts Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, Jakub Hrůša leads Mahler’s Ninth and Thomas Wilkins conducts Dvořák’s Ninth. Wilkins makes his CSO subscription debut in that program, which also includes the first CSO performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Suite from Hiawatha and Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson as soloist.
Other prominent conducting debuts include Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska leading the aforementioned Tchaikovsky concerto, alongside Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Birds of Paradise II by Sweden’s Andrea Tarrodi on Dec. 8-10.
Israeli conductor Lahav Shani celebrates the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninov’s birth with a program Feb. 9-11 featuring the composer's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Beatrice Rana as piano soloist, and Symphonic Dances.
British conductor and composer Thomas Adès makes his CSO conducting debut April 6-11, leading his own Concerto for Piano with Kirill Gerstein as soloist, along with literary-themed works by Liszt, Sibelius and Janácek.
Baroque gems and film classics
The CSO presents its early-music bona fides in two programs. Giovanni Antonini leads an all-Vivaldi feast that includes the composer’s beloved Gloria, and Bernard Labadie surveys music by Vivaldi, Boccherini and Mozart with the Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas.
The CSO MusicNOW series, which returns to Orchestra Hall, after almost two decades at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, showcases living composers in four relaxed-format concerts, all programmed by Montgomery.
Chamber music includes starry pairings of violinist Midori and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the violinist Joshua Bell with pianist Daniil Trifonov. The Emerson Quartet gives a Chicago farewell before retiring in the summer of 2023. Piano recitalists range from the young stars Víkingur Ólafsson and Seong-Jin Cho to the eminent keyboard poets Emanuel Ax and Maria João Pires. And visiting ensembles consist of the Berlin Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Two 1980s film classics anchor the CSO at the Movies series: "Amadeus" (1984) and "The Princess Bride" (1987). John Williams, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, is the other main focus with a film-and-orchestra presentation of "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" and a composer-led concert of selections from his iconic scores.