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September sizzles with sumptuous music and theater
September is one of the most beautiful months of the year in Chicago, and with it comes some wonderful music and theater. Following is a look both forward and back to some of the most interesting.
GRANT PARK MUSIC FESTIVAL: Swiss guest conductor Thierry Fisher led the Grant Park Symphony in an exciting Russian program. Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, which Sir Georg Solti so memorably conducted with the CSO, emerged exuberant and brilliant: so nice to hear Stravinsky beyond the overplayed "Rite of Spring."
The fine French conductor Emmanuel Villaume, who has also conducted the CSO and Lyric Opera, presented a highly unusual program of four pieces. The "Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna" by Franz von Suppe was a rousing curtain-raiser, and Mozart's "Paris" Symphony was well-enough played, if a bit on the dull side. The Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 proved perfect music for a summer night in the performance by pianist Andrew von Oeyen, while the very seldom played Bizet "Roma" was a welcome rarity.
Thomas Wilkes, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led the Grant Park Symphony in some lighter fare, starting with film composer Jerry Goldsmith's exhilarating "Fireworks: A Celebration of Los Angeles." William Grant Still's Symphony No. 3 eloquently expressed the composer's religious feelings growing out of the African-American experience in the South.
Dvorak's Symphony No. 6 is so well-suited to an outdoor performance with its suggestions of bird calls and meadows. One happily recalls a Ravinia-CSO performance led by Sir Andrew Davis.
Chief Grant Park conductor Carlos Kalmar's Wednesday evening program with pianist Inon Barnatan was so offbeat and appealing that it should have been offered on the weekend: Barnatan's Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 was thoughtful and dreamy, and the rare Symphony No. 2 by Randall Thompson, much admired by Leonard Bernstein, was strongly argued. Even more infrequent was the zestful, appealing seven-minute Jazz Symphony by George Antheil, from 1925.
Kalmar's pairing of Haydn and John Adams also proved imaginative. Haydn's Harmony Mass showed both orchestra and chorus at their considerable best, with guest Canadian chorus master Michael Back and his four soloists most deserving of praise. John Adams's "Harmoniehehre" ("Theory of Harmony") alternated an exciting opening part with a dreary middle section.
Overall it's been an outstanding season to date. Riccardo Muti will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a free performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 1 at the Pritzker Pavilion Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
RAVINIA: On a picture-postcard perfect night at Ravinia, Carlos Miguel Prieto, one of the bet young conductors in Mexico, led the CSO in an invigorating program. Dubravka Tomsic was the soloist in an articulate, forceful Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, and Michelle DeYoung the flavorful singer in music by De Falla. There was a thrilling encore: "La Boda de Luis Alonso" by Gernonimo Gimenez. What a find!
CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER presents The Tempest, with magic effects by Teller of Penn and Teller and songs by Tom Waits from Sept. 8–Nov. 8. Call 312-595-5600.
BLACK ENSEMBLE THEATER presents The Black White Love Play (The Story of Chaz and Roger Ebert) Sept. 19–Nov. 1. Call 773-769-4451.
And, much more theater is coming in October!
Joe Cuniffe is a Chicago-based arts writer.