If you really don’t want to go to Pitchfork, but want to sit outside listening to a combination of old hits and challenging recent work featuring headlined by a still-cutting-edge vet, Krzysztof Penderecki is conducting Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and his own Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra Friday and Saturday night with the Grant Park Orchestra.
Penderecki’s best-known piece is his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which probably remains his most famous work—though you might recognize Polymorphia from The Shining and The Exorcist—and is part of Tom Service’s handy beginner’s guide to classical music. His Concerto grosso is a decade old, but only made its Chicago debut a couple months ago:
[D]espite the Baroque implications of its title, the Concerto grosso inhabits a decidedly 21st-century world. Penderecki may have toned down some of his more outré avant-garde elements, but this is hardly soft or squishy, eager-to-please Neo-romanticism.
The issue with his variety is not that more traditional music is inferior to modernism but that composing in settled styles requires much more originality than this work, the Concerto grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra, has in structure, form, or its total lack of development over 35 minutes. Rare it is to hear a piece simultaneously unstructured and dully unchanging.
It’s not as grim as his soundtrack appearances would suggest—it’s kind of nervous. On first listen, my thought was “this sounds like Shostakovich with all the pages out of order,” at least the anxiously martial bits. Well, there’s the Eroica anyway, and it’s free. See for yourself; the second performance of the piece is on YouTube, and it’s pretty good quality. Here’s Part 1: