Reminding the audience that “only Beauty, with a capital B, can save the world,” Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, concluded a warmly received community concert Nov. 15 at Lane Tech College Prep High School on the city’s North Side.
The CSO concert, attended by a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, was the capstone event of a week featuring master classes by CSO musicians and a chamber performance for Lane Tech students, all presented by the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute in partnership with Lane Tech College Prep High School. It marked the eighth annual community concert since Muti became music director in 2010 and the first at Lane Tech, the city’s largest high school, with an enrollment of more than 4,500 students. The program featured two works that Muti and the CSO performed on their U.S. fall tour, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.
The pre-concert excitement from Lane Tech students was tangible, and many received priority seating on the auditorium’s main floor. And the orchestra did not disappoint. Its performance of the iconic works by Schubert and Brahms seemed invigorated by the audience’s energy. Trading their traditional formal attire for suits, slacks and skirts, Muti and the CSO quickly adapted to the venue’s acoustics and filled the aisles with Schubert’s Allegro moderato, a beloved theme recognized by veteran and novice concertgoers alike.
Equally recognizable is the theme from Brahms’ Second Symphony, colloquially referred to as “Brahms’ Lullaby.” By the time the CSO brass declared itself in the fourth movement, however, no one in the audience felt lulled, as demonstrated by the multiple standing ovations.
After taking his final bow, Muti remarked that the evening’s program was chosen with purpose. “Many of you are young and the generation of the future, and the music that we heard tonight is a message of love and beauty,” he said. “Remember, all of you, only Beauty, with a capital B, can come to save the world.”
In her opening remarks, Lane Tech Assistant Principal Sarah Hanly expressed similar sentiments. Having the CSO in residency and in concert demonstrated “a great opportunity to see what music education can do for [the students],” she said. Given recent budget cuts to the arts and arts education, “the participation of the CSO is appreciated and valued.” This was a poignant statement from an administrator of a CPS school with a well-respected music program and one of the few thriving school orchestras. Fewer than two dozen Chicago high schools had orchestras last year, according to data from the arts education advocacy group Ingenuity.
The Lane Tech events were organized by the Negaunee Music Institute, the CSO’s education and community-engagement department. Jon Weber, the Institute’s director of school and family programs, emphasized that the annual community concert demonstrates the CSO’s commitment to access. “[These concerts] use the transformative power of music to build connections with Chicagoans who may not be able to attend concerts at Symphony Center.” Along with the free concert, Weber added that the Institute “was thrilled to offer a series of educational activities with band and orchestra students.”
The chamber ensemble was led by CSO bass Bradley Opland on Nov. 10, and master classes were given on Nov. 13 by CSO Assistant Principal Clarinet John Bruce Yeh and Assistant Concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu.
Rebecca Vazquez, a senior at Lane Tech, and a nine-year student of the violin, participated in Yu’s master class. After playing a passage from Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Yu worked with Vazquez to help her “watch the phrasing and play it better.” Vazquez added that it was “amazing to express myself [through music] to my friends and receive such positive and helpful feedback.”
After the concert, Vazquez was among a group of Lane Tech students greeted by Muti, who warmly invited them to attend one of the CSO’s open rehearsals at Symphony Center.
Muti’s closing remarks took on a tone of cosmic purpose — appropriate considering that NASA recently named a main-belt asteroid in his honor, 37735 Riccardomuti. “We all need each other, so everything we do for good, is for the good of mankind,” he said. “Everything that we do badly is bad for the entire world. And you have great responsibility because you belong to a great nation, and so from your behavior and your attitude, can your honesty be the honesty of the entire world.”
Speaking on behalf of the CSO, Muti concluded, “This is our message: because we are all citizens of this lonely planet in this universe, we need to meet each other in the universe tomorrow.”
To learn more about the community engagement programs of the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute, visit cso.org/institute.
Benjamin C. Wise is the programs assistant for the Negaunee Music Institute.