A classic year
Faust and forward–thinkers thrilled us, while Muti's brief shadow still lingers.
The most anticipated, hype-worthy and frustrating classical event of the year was, of course, the fleeting first leg of the CSO’s tenth music director, Riccardo Muti. The good-natured maestro, who told us earlier this year that he’s “fascinated by Chicago,” couldn’t stick around for his inaugural concert series: Suffering from exhaustion, the 69-year-old flew home to Milan in October to recuperate; he’ll continue as planned in February 2011. Almost 30,000 Chicagoans caught the exhilarating kick-off Festa Muti event in Millennium Park, which ended in a fitting flurry of fireworks. Mutimania continued when the conductor led his first Orchestra Hall concerts as music director in a mesmerizing Berlioz program featuring a crystalline Symphonie fantastique and its seldom-heard sequel, Lélio, deftly narrated by French screen icon Gérard Depardieu.
Another major development was the start of a 16-month exploration of Soviet works created under the Politburo. Shauna Quill, executive director of the University of Chicago Presents concert series, organized the Soviet Arts Experience festival after learning of the Pacifica Quartet’s plan to perform all 15 of Shostakovich’s string quartets. The ensemble’s emotional installment at Roosevelt University featured the first three quartets and confirmed Pacifica’s place at the top of the heap when it comes to performing Shosta.
The Lyric’s current season includes an übersleek, modern Macbeth and a fun take on Carmen, but it was Brit director Stephen Langridge’s production of The Damnation of Faust in February that pushed contemporary opera in exciting directions. Some old-schoolers kvetched about stripper rats waving their tails like whips and a messy onstage birth, but I was smitten with the neon ’80s vibe, a bold set design and bass-baritone John Relyea, who nailed his smarmy Méphistophélès.
The city’s younger movers and shakers put a memorable stamp on 2010. Aside from rereleasing an excellent debut album, Relax Your Ears, musician, composer and Old Town School of Folk Music teacher Joel Styzens organized Chicago’s first official tinnitus support group. For Styzens’s last show of the year at his regular haunt, Uncommon Ground, the guitarist and cellist Sophie Webber performed a brilliant collection of new works inspired by the Botanic Gardens. Styzens is now holed up in the studio working on a new record, which will feature works written for hammered dulcimer.
The new group Spektral Quartet—which features violinist and Anaphora cofounder Aurelien Fort-Pederzoli, ensemble dal niente violinist J. Austin Wulliman, Northwestern chamber coach Russell Rolen on cello and TOC contributing writer Doyle Armbrust on viola—played an outstanding mix of Mozart and Philip Glass to a packed room in Preston Bradley Hall. In 2011, this supergroup hits venues as diverse as the University of Chicago and the Empty Bottle.