Two world premieres, a salute to women’s suffrage and the finale of the multi-year Beethoven 250 celebration are among the artistic highlights of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-2021 season, which starts Sept. 17 and runs through June 13.
Riccardo Muti, Zell Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Jeff Alexander, President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, announced the programming for the CSO and Symphony Center Presents, the CSOA’s presenting arm, on Jan. 28. The programming marks the CSO’s 130th season, Muti’s 11th as music director and the 90th season of Symphony Center Presents (including its predecessors, such Allied Arts).
Next season, the CSO will perform an array of important works from the symphonic repertoire, including Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Janáček’s Taras Bulba, Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, Mendelssohn’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 (The Great), Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 10 and 12, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ), Strauss’ Don Juan, Der Rosenkavalier Suite and Alpine Symphony, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5 and Francesca da Rimini, Walton’s Symphony No. 1 and Vivaldi’s Gloria.
In two artistic pillars, Muti will lead Beethoven’s Missa solemnis on Sept. 24-25 as the finale of the CSO’s commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, as well as the CSO’s first performances March 4-6 of Luigi Cherubini’s Mass for the Coronation of Charles X. Both programs feature a roster of distinguished soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Chorus Director Duain Wolfe. The Beethoven celebration spills over into the annual Symphony Ball concert Oct. 3, with two piano concertos, Nos. 3 and 5, featuring Yefim Bronfman.
The CSO also performs two world premieres of CSO-commissioned works by American composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, as well the first CSO performances of Her Story, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe. Co-commissioned by the CSO and four other major U.S. orchestras, the work commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote. In addition, internationally renowned singers including mezzo-sopranos Anita Rachvelishvili and Alice Coote, as well as soprano Krassimira Stoyanova and tenor Francesco Meli, join Muti and the CSO in vocal repertoire, including orchestral art songs and opera selections.
Several programs led by Muti feature members of the CSO as soloists. Principal Flute Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson and Principal Harp Sarah Bullen are soloists in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in the season opener. Concertmaster Robert Chen is soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in March and for tour performances. Muti also leads the first CSO performances of two contemporary concertos, William Kraft’s Concerto for Timpani with Principal Timpani David Herbert and Lalo Schifrin’s Tuba Concerto with Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny. Other CSO musicians making solo appearances this season are Principal Oboe William Welter under guest conductor Jane Glover in Mozart’s Oboe Concerto and Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson performing Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with guest conductor Bramwell Tovey.
Muti will lead 10 weeks of CSO subscription concerts in five residencies at Orchestra Hall, with fall appearances in September and October, and then in January, March and June.
In addition, the CSO continues its tradition of touring with concerts at the Kaufmann Center in Kansas City (Oct. 24) and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (Nov. 12). In the winter, Muti and the CSO return to Florida for tour concerts at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach (Jan. 19), a residency at Artis—Naples (Jan. 21-23) and a debut appearance at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando (Jan. 20). Community engagement and education activities organized by the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO are also planned for Florida. The domestic tour schedule also includes a two-concert residency in Costa Mesa, Calif. (March 12-13). A European festivals tour for Muti and the CSO also is planned for the summer, with details to be announced later.
Other noteworthy program highlights for 2020-2021 include:
Concert for Chicago, Sept. 17: Muti opens the season with the free Concert for Chicago with the CSO at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park with a program that includes Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem Sheherazade.
The Concert for Chicago is part of the Year of Chicago Music. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events have designated 2020 as the Year of Chicago Music. This citywide, yearlong focus on music is one of the first of its kind in the U.S. More information is available at chicago.gov/music.
Michael Tilson Thomas, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, Dec. 10-12: Guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, an Orchestra Hall regular, will conduct the CSO’s first performances of his Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind. First performed in 2016, Tilson Thomas’s semi-staged work is set to the poem of the same name by Illinois native Carl Sandburg and features a mixed ensemble of vocalists, a “bar band” complete with electric guitars and drum set, as well as a chamber orchestra featuring solo turns for most of the musicians.
Thomas Adès, March 25-26 and 30: The acclaimed British conductor and composer makes his CSO podium debut and conducts the first CSO performances of his Concerto for Piano featuring Kirill Gerstein, for whom the concerto was written.
Podium debuts: Making their CSO conducting debuts will be Jane Glover, music director of Music of the Baroque; Lahav Shani, chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and music director designate of the Israel Philharmonic; Constantine Kitsopoulos, who directs the Festival of the Arts Boca, Chatham Opera and New York Grand Opera, and Fabien Gabel, music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec.
Returning maestros: Return appearances are scheduled for acclaimed guest conductors Marin Alsop, Herbert Blomstedt, de Waart, Adam Fischer, Edward Gardner, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Philippe Jordan, Simone Young and Xian Zhang.