Classical venues | 2012 Student Guide
See Time Out Chicago’s weekly magazine or go to timeoutchicago.com/classical for up-to-date Classical listings and events.
✽ Recommended or notable
Chicago Cultural Center 78 E Washington St (312-744-6630, explorechicago.org). This massive city-run building originally served as Chicago’s main library, and it now houses art exhibits, historical exhibits, classical music concerts and a whole lot more.
✽ Civic Opera House 20 N Wacker Dr (312-419-0033, civicoperahouse.com). As soon as you lay eyes on the elegant architecture and opulent lobby at this hall, you’ll realize that subtlety isn’t the order of the day at the Civic Opera House. The prestigious Lyric Opera of Chicago has made its home here since 1954 and now presents eight productions each season. It’s regularly ranked as one of the top opera companies in the country, boasting a talented stable of singers alongside an excellent orchestra under the musical direction of Sir Andrew Davis, and is also seen as one of the most traditional in terms of both repertoire and style of production. Famed soprano Renée Fleming, who joined the Lyric as its first creative consultant in 2010, has projects in the works nodding to both the traditional and the contemporary: curating a world-premiere opera slated for 2015 and a brand new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma in spring 2013. In the meantime, the 2012–2013 season’s shows include all-new productions of Strauss’s Elektra, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Massenet’s Werther.
Fine Arts Building 410 S Michigan Ave at Van Buren St (312-566-9800, fineartsbuilding.tv). This historic artist’s haven is home to Curtiss Hall and the performance space of PianoForte, which showcases up-and-coming talent in a room once used as a drama studio in the late 1890s. The building will also provide the new digs of Music in the Loft, a popular gathering of fresh-faced chamber ensembles.
✽ Ganz Memorial Hall, Roosevelt University 430 S Michigan Ave (312-341-2238, roosevelt.edu). Formerly a hotel banqueting hall and a Masonic lodge, this impressive space now stages recitals by student and faculty members at Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, alongside regular concerts by visiting soloists and ensembles.
Gottlieb Hall, Merit School of Music 38 S Peoria St (312-786-9428, meritmusic.org). This cozy 372-seat hall, which opened in 2005, has been embraced by the city’s chamber ensembles: The Rembrandt Chamber Players, Chicago a cappella and the Chicago Chamber Musicians have all played here in recent times. The near-downtown location is a boon both to musicians and concertgoers.
✽ Harris Theater 205 E Randolph St (312-334-7777, harristheaterchicago.org). The sleek Harris Theater prides itself on being the area’s least pretentious theater for brand-name acts. The home of numerous forward-thinking new music groups (Fulcrum Point New Music Project, eighth blackbird), the Chicago Opera Theater, the CSO’s MusicNOW series and the city’s bigger dance troupes, the Harris is the Chicago’s best mainstream-alternative hall, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. The COT breaks in a new general director, Andreas Mitisek, in the upcoming season. The opera company is wonderfully pushing ahead in the 21st century. The gem of 2013 looks to be Philip Glass’s The Fall of the House of Usher.
✽ Heaven Gallery 1550 N Milwaukee Ave (773-342-4597, heavengallery.com). For those who prefer John Cage to ancient dudes named Johann, there is this arty loft in Wicker Park. Cutting-edge classical, or at least pieces that still sound cutting-edge after 80 years, are on tap in Heaven’s regular chamber gigs (the space also hosts avant-folk and free jazz jams). Melt and/or expand your brain with improvisational, interactive, computer-based compositions.
Lyon & Healy Hall 168 N Ogden Ave (312-786-1881, lyonhealy.com). A 200-capacity hall housed in (and run by) the Lyon & Healy harp factory, this relatively recent addition to the local music scene is highlighted by its unusual design: The stage is backed by a huge window that affords concertgoers breathtaking views of downtown. The music’s pretty good, too. L&H’s recitals series includes some impressive names, and many local musicians also rent the space.
Mandel Hall, University of Chicago 5720 S Woodlawn Ave (773-702-8068, chicagopresents.uchicago.edu). Part of the University of Chicago, the distinguished, century-old Mandel Hall plays host to internationally recognized string quartets, opera singers (in recital) and early-music groups. Many of today’s classical stars, among them violinist Hilary Hahn, made their Chicago debuts here.
✽ MCA Stage, Edlis Neeson Theater 220 E Chicago Ave (312-397-4010, mcachicago.org). The modern art museum books, well, creative modern bills. Super cool ensemble-in-residence ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) is on the bleeding edge of modernism, crafting programs that appeal to Pitchfork readers, Autechre heads and contemporary chamber music. This season, ICE serves up a commissioned chamber opera by David Lang, as well as bills spotlighting composers John Cage and John Zorn. In late April 2013, local new-music group eighth blackbird collaborates with Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner, the guitarist from the National.
✽ Millennium Park, Pritzker Pavilion 205 E Randolph St (312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org). We’ll clear up the confusion right now: The Grant Park Orchestra plays in Millennium Park, not Grant Park. For years, the Grant Park Music Festival was in Grant Park, but when the splashy new playground that is Millennium Park opened in 2004, the festival moved with it. Postmodern architect Frank Gehry designed the pavilion’s flying stainless-steel sails and its spidery trellis. Those sails are either his signature or an example of his artistic repetitiveness; either way, they’re eye-catching. The trellis holds the speakers that broadcast the amplified orchestra above the lawn (where seating is free).
Music Institute of Chicago, Nichols Concert Hall 1490 Chicago Ave, Evanston (847-905-1500, musicinstituteofchicago.org). This hall has caught on with musicians in a very big way, and for good reason. The acoustics are clear and vibrant, the sight lines are excellent and it has a Steinway that players gush over. Ticket prices tend to be reasonable, and the school’s within walking distance of the El.
Newberry Library 60 W Walton St (312-943-9090, newberry.org). David Douglass is the new leader of the Newberry Consort, which is the ensemble-in-residence here and Chicago’s oldest period-instrument ensemble.
Northeastern Illinois University, Salme Harju Steinberg Fine Arts Center Recital Hall 3701 W Bryn Mawr Ave (773-442-5921, neiu.edu).This little-known gem of a concert hall is far on the Northwest Side beyond the reach of the El, but it hosts some fine musicians in its Jewel Box series. The acoustics are admirably clear, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.
✽ Northwestern University, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall 50 Arts Circle Dr, Evanston (847-491-5441, pickstaiger.com). This somewhat sterile mid-1970s structure on the campus of Northwestern University provides good sight lines, a sun-lit lobby and warm acoustics for its local and international acts. The annual Winter Chamber Music Festival, Segovia Classical Guitar Series and opera productions are star attractions; local ensembles such as the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the Chicago Philharmonic and the Evanston Symphony Orchestra regularly rent the space. The theater also doubles as a performance and rehearsal space for the university’s acclaimed School of Music; senior and doctoral recitals are free and open to the public.
Ravinia Pavilion 418 Sheridan Rd, Highland Park (847-266-5100, ravinia.org). While it’s true that the Ravinia Festival, with its outdoor concerts throughout the summer in suburban Highland Park, is the pleasure-serving palace of the well-heeled, the ticket prices aren’t outrageous, and excellent music is on display almost every night of the week. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs here throughout the summer swelter and plays many neglected composers under Ravinia’s music director, James Conlon. If you can, scrape up the cash to sit in the pavilion, because you can’t see anything from the lawn and the amplified sound doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s coming from the stage.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago 5850 S Woodlawn Ave (773-702-2100, rockefeller.uchicago.edu). Names can be misleading: This University of Chicago cathedral is no tiny “chapel,” and it’s devoted to the worship of God—not John D. Rockefeller, although he did pony up part of his fortune to get the university off the ground. The University of Chicago Presents uses this space for some of its early-music and vocal offerings, two genres that benefit from the holy glow of the chapel’s stone walls.
St. James Episcopal Cathedral 65 E Huron St (312-787-7360, saintjamescathedral.org). There’s a quaint midcentury vibe to the River North church, with its azure stained-glass windows melting down mustard walls and a glossy brown balustrade. Between June and August, it is chamber music that is worshipped, with the venerable Rush Hour Concerts.
Sherwood Conservatory Recital Hall Columbia College, 1312 S Michigan Ave (312-427-6267, colum.edu). This hall is home to the weekly PianoForte Salon Series, broadcast live every Friday afternoon on WFMT. Tickets are still free since the series relocated from the Fine Arts Building in 2008. The Sherwood, with its no-frills decor, also hosts a variety of educational music programs that feature musicians of all ages and experience.
✽ Symphony Center 220 S Michigan Ave (312-294-3000, cso.org). As the architectural centerpiece in Chicago’s classical-music landscape, Symphony Center is appropriately multifunctional. Its primary role, of course, is as the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which performs in Orchestra Hall every weekend from autumn to early summer. Coming off of a tough first year, heralded and hyped music director Riccardo Muti aced his second season. The CSO’s main program is supplemented by occasional visits from touring soloists, small ensembles and orchestras; Saturday morning family concerts; sporadic pop and jazz shows; and occasional concerts from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the CSO’s training orchestra for young musicians) and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Also on-site is Buntrock Hall, an auxiliary space for chamber music; the elegant Grainger Ballroom, which stages lectures and small ensemble performances; plus a learning center, a music-themed restaurant and a shop selling gifts and CDs.