The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on tour in the Canary Islands; Essen, Germany, and Luxembourg from Jan. 6–19. In each city, CSO musicians will engage with students, seniors and community members through performances and master classes.

On a frigid Monday, as a well-publicized polar vortex brought frigid temperatures to the Midwest, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra bid farewell to family members as they headed to O’Hare International Airport for a journey that would take them to warmer climes – the Canary Islands, a group of Spanish islands off the coast of northwest Africa.

The first stops on the CSO’s winter tour were the Canaries’ twin capital cities – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife – where the CSO performed as part of the International Canary Islands Music Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this season. Over a busy six days that included multiple rehearsals and four full orchestra performances, several musicians made time for additional community performances and master classes as part of the CSO’s Citizen Musician programming.

In the same way that orchestra members practice citizen musicianship through a variety of projects in Chicago communities, they take these commitments with them wherever they travel. In fact, many CSO musicians make efforts to organize extra chamber performances during their own personal travels, as violinist Yuan-Qing Yu did at the Mother Teresa Center in Calcutta last winter and horn David Griffin at an orphanage in Panama this fall. In recent years, the CSO’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training has started organizing Citizen Musician tour opportunities so that they are open to all CSO musicians, extending CSO Institute programming to international locations.

Concertmaster Robert Chen and assistant principal trumpet Mark Ridenour offered master classes for students at the Las Palmas and Santa Cruz campuses of the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Canarias. Two chamber ensembles offered presentations at “centros sociosanitarios,” or health and social service centers, at a location in each city. The centers serve elderly and mentally ill individuals through day and residential programs. In Las Palmas, the musicians were joined by a member of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria, who helped bridge the language barrier between audience and performers. “They look like angels dancing on the music,” one enthusiastic audience member observed after the presentation. CSO musicians and staff were touched by the compliment, and appreciative of the opportunity to share a moment with music lovers who might not be able to join them for performances in the concert hall.

While many of the activities took place in the capital cities, a group of musicians also visited La Orotava, a town in the center of the island of Tenerife. The impetus for organizing a community recital there came from local musicians of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, who were eager to welcome CSO guests with a joint recital. The program featured Mozart’s clarinet quintet and several solo and duo selections of Bach, Mozart and Bartók from the CSO ensemble, with a little-known and unfinished Mozart quintet for clarinet, basset horn, violin, viola and cello performed by the Tenerife musicians.

The Teobaldo Power Concert Hall in La Orotava was packed with an audience of approximately 900 community members eager to experience the artistry of the CSO in their hometown. A late start to the brief sound check delayed audience members from taking their seats, causing a line to form around the block, despite the “very cold” weather of roughly 55 degrees. Chicagoans may beg to differ about what constitutes “very cold,” but the reception for the performance was warm indeed, making the extra wait well worth the effort.