Fall Culture Guide: The City’s 14 Best Blue-Chip Artists

Break out the bow ties—it’s about to get classy in here. Here’s a primer on the top tickets in Chicago this season.

Blue-chip artists performances for $55 and under

Photography: (Rorem) Jessica Griffin/AP; (Cabell) Devon Cass; (Zorn) Bernd Thissen/AP; (Denk) Dennis Callahan; (Jones) Carlos J. Ortiz/Chicago Tribune; (Queyras) Marco Borggreve; (Wilson) Fadil Berisha; Photo Illustration: Andrew R. Davis
 

From left: Ned Rorem, Nicole Cabell, John Zorn, Jeremy Denk, Bill T. Jones, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Terrence Wilson

In ascending order of median ticket price, ranging from $8 to $149.

Lower-Priced Performances

Ned Rorem
Composer
During the dark days of new music, when mid- and late-20th-century contemporary composers holed up in their academies with only numbers to keep them warm, Rorem continued to write exotically beautiful tonal pieces. Known especially for his art songs, he celebrates his 90th birthday with two chamber concerts at Northwestern University, which he attended briefly in the 1940s. Ticket prices top out at a bargain-basement $8 for the Ned@90 event. music.northwestern.edu/concerts. Oct. 10 to 11

Nicole Cabell
Soprano

When she’s not jetting off to Japan or Russia, this hometown diva usually performs for thousands at the Civic Opera House, Symphony Center, or Ravinia. This month, she sings a recital in Northeastern Illinois University’s Jewel Box Series, relocated from its usual hall to a comparatively capacious auditorium that seats 425. Fittingly for a more intimate performance, Cabell will sing Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Benjamin Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations. $25; neiu.edu. Oct. 18

John Zorn
Composer

A pioneer of the New York downtown scene, Zorn turns 60 this fall, and the International Contemporary Ensemble throws him a birthday concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The new-classical composer’s style flits from genre to genre, but he’s most famous for pastiches, such as Spillane, which distills noir into patchwork music. From $10 to $28; mcachicago.org/performances. Oct. 26

Jeremy Denk
Pianist

The classical Renaissance man—he’s a writer for The New Yorker as well as a pianist—takes a break from spiky 20th-century composers such as Charles Ives and György Ligeti to play J. S. Bach’s complete Goldberg Variations in a recital at Symphony Center, participating in a recent mini-trend of Bach completism. From $23 to $39; cso.org. Oct. 13

Bill T. Jones
Choreographer

This towering New York choreographer doesn’t just embrace complexities; he swims in them. Sure, he’s had his share of commercial successes via Broadway (Fela!, Spring Awakening), but in his own avant-garde creations, he tackles such taboo-for-dance topics as race, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, and terminal illness. Chicago audiences will have a chance to interact with this deep thinker twice: at the Columbia College Dance Center ($35 to $40, October 24 to 26) and in a public lecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival on October 20 ($15). dancecenterchicago.com, chicagohumanities.org

Jean-Guihen Queyras
Cellist

Considerably less familiar to U.S. audiences than to European ones, the French cellist specializes in the art of the superhumanly long solo. In this appearance, he plays Suite No. 1 by Bach, the Sonata in B Minor by the 20th-century Hungarian Zoltán Kodály, and Cello Suite No. 1 by Benjamin Britten, born 100 years ago next month, the specter floating over the entire fall classical season. From $5 to $35; chicagopresents.uchicago.edu. Oct. 15

Terrence Wilson
Pianist

The Bronx-born pianist will land here twice, appearing with two orchestras—the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Frankfort—that are fronted by young music directors. In Elgin, Wilson opens the ESO’s season ($25 to $60, October 5 to 6) with Gershwin’s Rhapsody No. 2; with the IPO ($35 to $55, October 19), he plays the Chicago-area premiere of the contemporary composer Michael Daugherty’s concerto Deus ex Machina, a depiction of trains, which Wilson premiered and recorded. elginsymphony.org, ipomusic.org

NEXT: Higher-Priced Performances

 

More in Fall Previews:
Comedy: Nick Offerman | Art: Insiders’ Guide | Art: Michelle Grabner
Theatre: Insiders’ Guide | Theatre: David Cromer | Music: Insiders’ Guide
Music: Numero Group | Music: Top 10 Shows | Classics: Blue-Chip Artists

 
Blue-chip artists performances for $55 and over

Photography: (Williams) Cheryl Mann; (Bennett) Luke Isley; (Mälkki) Simon Fowler; (Muti) Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune; (Osorio) Tedd Rosenberg; (Martinez) Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune; (Arbus) Gerry Goodstein; Photo Illustration: Andrew R. Davis
 

From left: Robyn Mineko Williams, Christiana Bennett, Susanna Mälkki, Riccardo Muti, Jorge Federico Osorio, Ana María Martínez, and Arin Arbus

Higher-Priced Performances

Robyn Mineko Williams
Choreographer

With one Hubbard Street Dance Chicago choreographer (Alejandro Cerrudo) on his way to becoming a national treasure, the contemporary dance company is busy fostering another: this Lombard-raised dancer and choreographer, whose 2012 work Recall toyed with the juxtaposition of fluid movement against stark geometric patterns. She will premiere a new dance in October featuring costumes by the dancer-turned-rising-fashion-star Hogan McLaughlin. From $52 to $77; hubbardstreetdance.com. Oct. 10 to 13

Christiana Bennett
Ballerina

In the second season of the CW reality show Breaking Pointe, Ballet West star Christiana Bennett auditions for the part of Cinderella. Anyone who has seen her perform knows how the episode ends: She nabs it, of course. The poised prima exudes the qualities that have made this Salt Lake City company, now under the artistic direction of former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute, a touring machine: grace, exquisite technique, and stamina. She’ll need the latter for her two-and-a-half-hour turn as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. From $30 to $90; balletwest.org. Oct. 4 to 6

Susanna Mälkki
Conductor

At 44, the young-for-conducting Finn’s expertise in contemporary music usually yields gushing reviews that single out her sharp interpretations and precise leadership. This fall, with the CSO, she conducts Sibelius, Adès, Debussy, and Stravinsky (with Leila Josefowicz, another modern specialist). From $31 to $113; cso.org. Oct. 17, 19, 22

Riccardo Muti
Music director

Giuseppe Verdi isn’t around to celebrate with on his 200th birthday, but second best is to celebrate with his music and arguably his foremost interpreter: Muti, the CSO’s music director and the author of Verdi, L’Italiano. The multiweek party features a concert version of the opera Macbeth with the Muti-groomed soprano Tatiana Serjan unable to clean her hands as Lady Macbeth and a one-night-only performance of Verdi’s totemic, moody, and meditative Requiem on the precise date of the bicentenary. From $44 to $191; cso.org. Through Oct. 11

Jorge Federico Osorio
Pianist

This mellow Mexican-born Highland Park resident takes a turn for the energetic this season, reminding us that the piano can be a percussion instrument. At Orchestra Hall, he’ll bring the piano concerto of the Mexican nationalist composer Carlos Chávez roaring to life; it’s a piece he recorded with the Mexican national orchestra this year. From $71 to $234; cso.org. Dec. 12, 13, 14, 17

Ana María Martínez
Soprano

Her masterly Mimi in last season’s La Bohème at the Lyric Opera was outbuzzed by Hurricane Anna: that is, the Chicago debut of megastar Anna Netrebko. But this season the Puerto Rican–born Martínez two-ups the Russian diva (at least locally) with starring roles as Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello to open the season and as Rusalka in Dvořák’s Rusalka in the winter. With her spirit and generous tone, Martínez seems ready to quietly overwhelm Chicago operagoers—as much as an operatic soprano can quietly overwhelm anything. From $34 to $264; lyricopera.org. Oct. 5 to Nov. 11

Arin Arbus
Director

Under the well-dissected conservatism of Lyric’s 2013–14 repertoire lies less-visible risk taking. This newcomer, still in her 30s, makes her Lyric debut with only her second opera ever: a new production of La Traviata, the warhorsiest of warhorses. Arbus’s success with New York productions of two Shakespeare plays, Othello and The Taming of the Shrew, suggests she can handily vivify the old stuff. From $34 to $264; lyricopera.org. Nov. 20 to Dec. 20

 

More in Fall Previews:
Comedy: Nick Offerman | Art: Insiders’ Guide | Art: Michelle Grabner
Theatre: Insiders’ Guide | Theatre: David Cromer | Music: Insiders’ Guide
Music: Numero Group | Music: Top 10 Shows | Classics: Blue-Chip Artists

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