Shock and awe
Both visiting and local musicians turned in a lot of heart-stopping music this year
Classical presenters are weird. Instead of going by the real calendar, they stick to the scholastic one, beginning their seasons in the fall and ending the following summer. So in our year-end roundup, there are a few concerts from 2004. There was a lot of great contemporary music last season, along with the standbys of eras gone by, often in venues you might not have expected. And now, the list, in chronological order:
Arnaldo Cohen. Mandel Hall, October 15, 2004. Cohen stepped in at the last minute for a solo-piano recital last year, when AndrÁs Schiff called in sick. Cohen surprised everyone ("Arnaldo who?") with his performance of all of Chopin's Preludes and a moving rendition of Busoni's transcription for piano of the Chaconne from Bach's Second Violin Partita.
Don Giovanni.Civic Opera House, September 18, 2004. Legendary director Peter Stein made his American debut with a focused take on Mozart's story of retribution. With baritone Bryn Terfel as the Don and a cast that included heavyweight talents like mezzo Susan Graham, Stein had the goods to deliver, and did.
Fulcrum Point.Fourth Presbyterian Church, December 19, 2004. Stephen Burns assembled a program alternating Jewish, Arabic and Iranian composers and got it performed in the glowing interior of Fourth Pres for the annual Concert for Peace. That solemn hope carried even more force with the traditions sharing the space without any animosity.
MusicNOW.Harris Theater, March 14, 2005. Pierre Boulez's whiz-bang Derive 2 had the musicians panting while keeping up with its breakneck tempo, but the 80-year-old composer, who just happened to be conducting, was as unflappable as ever.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra.Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center. March 15, 2005. It was Boulez at the podium and Daniel Barenboim at the piano to recreate their debuts with the CSO 36 years ago. Barenboim powered his way through Bartõk's First Piano Concerto with Boulez etching the accompaniment in steel.
Beaux Arts Trio.Dominican University Performing Arts Hall. April 3, 2005. The celebrated threesome turned 50 last year and made three local appearances. In this one, the first, they showed no signs of slowing down, with a vicious performance of Shostakovich's aggressive Second Piano Trio.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Harris Theater, May 16, 2005. With Britten-specialist Alexander Platt in the pit and trouble-making director Andrei Serban pushing the boundaries of good taste, Chicago Opera Theater had the right hands on the reins to lead its usual cast of hardbodies who could sing.
Steans Institute for Strings and Piano.Bennett-Gordon Hall, July 17, 2005. The outdoor programming at Ravinia last summer was lackluster at best, but that wasn't the case indoors. The young Steans students gave a heart-rending performance of Schoenberg's dark Verklärte Nacht and showed no end of exuberance in Dvorak's Piano Quintet this afternoon.
Grant Park Orchestra.Pritzker Pavilion, August 10, 2005. Powerhouse pianist Valentina Lisitsa was a surprising choice to play Rhapsody in Blue, but she made it swing almost as well as Leonard Bernstein and the crowd—more than 10,000 strong—ate it up.
Mike Svoboda.Renaissance Society, September 19, 2005. Experimental music's home on the South Side brought in this stunning trombonist for more than an hour of solo trombone-playing. From the humor of Berio's Sequenza V to the quirks of Xenakis and Cage, Svoboda made it all sound easy.