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The best things to do in Chicago this month,
selected by our culture criticsMay 2016

Classical, New Music, Opera

Abdiel Vázquez
Pianist Abdiel Vázquez Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Cultural Center


5/6 at 7:30 The imprecisely named festival celebrating the master of compositional precision concludes its three-week sojourn by pairing Cantata No. 21 (“I Had Much Grief”) with The Art of Fugue, a piece so pure that Bach didn’t specify instrumentation. $10–$80. Anderson Chapel, North Park U., 5149 N. Spaulding. bachweek.org


5/4 at 12:15 The pianist Abdiel Vázquez, big in Mexico, takes a breather from touring south of the border to scratch out transcriptions from the operas of Wagner and Verdi. Free. 78 E. Washington. explorechicago.org


5/28 at 7:30 Juggling a clown car of classics, including The Firebird, Carmen, and Swan Lake, this collaborative orchestra partners with the touring circus troupe Cirque de la Symphonie. While the orchestra plays, the cirque swirls out its acrobats, contortionists, and dancers. $25–$125. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. chicagophilharmonic.org


5/21 at 8, 5/23 at 7:30 The Sinfonietta orbits back to José Francisco Salgado, the artist and then Adler astronomer who created videos to accompany live performances of Holst’s The Planets for the orchestra 10 years ago. Along with Mars and Jupiter from that set, Salgado’s work will show auroras with John Estacio’s Borealis, photos from the International Space Station with Un Bal from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. $10–$60. 5/21: Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College, 171 E. Chicago, Naperville. 5/23: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. chicagosinfonietta.org


5/5, 7 at 8, 5/10 at 7:30 Frequent CSO collaborator Donald Runnicles leads a program including Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Edward Elgar’s clearer-than-they-sound Enigma Variations. $30–$217.
5/12, 14 at 8 Spanish composer Manuel de Falla falls frequently into concert programs with his piano-orchestra nocturne Nights in the Gardens of Spain and ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. Both pieces appear in conductor Charles Dutoit’s lineup, alongside Ravel’s shortie Alborada del Gracioso and Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (famous from the broom scene in Disney’s Fantasia). $34–$217.
5/13 at 7:30, 5/15 at 3 Beyond the Score, the CSO’s live-documentary exploration of classical music, wasn’t renewed for its 12th season. This swan song sings of Manuel de Falla and the many historical threads that braid into his quintessentially Spanish music. $26–$132.
5/19 at 8, 5/20 at 1:30 Dutoit goes extravagantly for Stravinsky, stringing together the meteoric Fireworks, the neoclassically rectilinear Symphony in C, and the flighty Firebird. $36–$238.


5/21 at 8 Dutoit burns a ring around Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Fireworks and Firebird. Lang Lang solos in a one-night collaboration with the orchestra that gave him his break at Ravinia 17 years ago. $39–$299.

5/26–31 Holst’s The Planets will pull audiences in for this program by CSO guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru, but the star is Pascal Dusapin’s nature-inspired cello concerto Outscape, a world premiere played by MacArthur “genius” Alisa Weilerstein. $39–$287.
Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. cso.org


5/8 at 8:30 Fifth House Ensemble premieres Voices from the Dust Bowl, a concert of works by living Americans and narratives from 1930s migrant workers. $10–$15. 3111 N. Western. constellation-chicago.com



5/6 at 7:30, 5/8 at 2 Baroque opera has a (mostly undeserved) reputation for stodgy plots. La Calisto, the 1651 intrigue by Francesco Cavalli, laughs off this accusation. It’s got plenty of seductions—one a transgender affair with Jupiter (named Jove in this production) disguising himself as Diana to bed her nymph, Calisto—jealous rages, and even a character that turns into a bear. $27–$57. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. haymarketopera.org


5/21 at 4 After a well-reviewed premiere in New York, ICE brings Untempered, a program of pieces for various pairings of guitar, harp, saxophone, and percussion, to Chicago. The difficult compositions stretch musical imagination, occupying tones between half steps that might normally sound out of tune. Free. Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park. iceorg.org


5/29 at 6:30 Mahler’s concert-length Symphony No. 2 stuffs the stage with a gigantic orchestra—seven percussionists, 10 horn players, vocal soloists, and a full choir—performing the five-movement piece featuring a dizzying number of themes, and more bombast than a conductor could shake a stick at. Northwestern University ensembles and the Apollo Chorus team up. Free. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph. events.music.northwestern.edu


5/14 at 7:30 For a decade, the Music Institute has operated a training center for whiz kids on track to major musical careers, often racking up cabinetfuls of trophies at competitions. To toast 10 years, the school hosts a concert featuring alumnus violist Matthew Lipman as well as the violinist Rachel Barton Pine. $10–$30. Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago, Evanston. musicinst.org


5/19 at 7 The CSO’s new-music series sets a spring-themed piece by Carla Iannotta and a song cycle by Christopher Trapani as bookends to a 15-tet called Wald by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen. If that doesn’t sell you, there’s pizza and beer in the lobby afterward. $26. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. cso.org/musicnow


5/22–23 at 7:30 Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 stands out in a baroque program as the most familiar ingredient alongside Telemann, Vivaldi, and the Neapolitan composer Francesco Durante. $38–$63. 5/22: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie, Skokie. 5/23: Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. baroque.org


5/15 at 7:30 The Cheng-Chow Trio of pianists bugs out with music for as many as six hands at one or two pianos. $10–$30. Galvin Recital Hall, 60 Arts Circle, Evanston.
5/19–22 Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah stands as one of the few operas written in the second half of the 20th century to fuel repeat performances. Northwestern’s conservatory remounts the story of the titular beauty and the witch hunt she inspires, sung through Appalachia-tinged music. $8–$18.
Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston. events.music.northwestern.edu


5/6 at 7:30 Pianist Nicholas Phillips tours a recital of music so new that the oldest piece has never known a world where “Paris Hilton” meant only a hotel. The featured composers include New Yorkers Nico Muhly and Judd Greenstein and the local Stacy Garrop. $10–$20. Pianoforte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan. pianofortefoundation.org


5/14 at 7:30 The erudite early-music chamber choir lets loose a program called Caged Byrd, gathering shiny sacred motets and feathering in harpsichord music from the busy local keyboardist Jason Moy. $10–$25. St. John Cantius Church, 825 N. Carpenter. schola-antiqua.org



5/7 at 8, 5/13 at 7:30 This colorful and energetic string quartet builds a concert from Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1, Bartók’s No. 5, and Fratres, a set of variations musing on eternity by the monkish Estonian contemporary composer Arvo Pärt. Free–$15. 5/7: Fulton Recital Hall, 1010 E. 59th. 5/13: Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago, Evanston. spektralquartet.com


5/1 at 3 After battering a Ravinia piano with Prokofiev’s complete sonatas last summer, the pianist Yefim Bronfman returns to excerpt the composer’s dramatic Nos. 6, 7, and 8 (the “War Sonatas”). $29–$95.
5/3 at 8 The 20-something star Matthew Aucoin conducts the Civic Orchestra, the CSO’s training ensemble, in Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, a piece composed when Schubert was even younger than Aucoin is now. Free.
5/16 at 8 Nicholas Kraemer, most familiar to local audiences from his work with Music of the Baroque, leads the Civic in Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Free.
5/22 at 3 Marc-André Hamelin spreads Mozart, Debussy, and Schubert across his own Pavane Variée and Variations on a Theme by Paganini. $29–$95.
220 S. Michigan. cso.org


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