For the 2018-19 season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will explore three main main themes: the power of narrative in orchestral music, a celebration of masterworks in the classical canon and music of reflection, inspired by the end of World War I.

Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s Zell Music Director, and Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, announced on Jan. 30 the details of the 2018-19 programming for the CSO and Symphony Center Presents, which marks the orchestra’s 128th season and Muti’s ninth as its music director.

‘A Time for Reflection — a Message of Peace’

Next season, the CSO observes the 100th anniversary of the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, that ended World War I, often then referred to as “the war to end all wars.” This historic moment offers an opportunity for reflection and contemplation of pathways that may lead to a more peaceful future. Composers across different musical eras have found compelling ways to honor victims of war and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit through the transformative power of music. Accordingly, the CSO’s programming has been titled “A Time for Reflection — a Message of Peace.” Several programs will showcase works, with their timeless messages of hope and peace, that remain relevant in a modern world. In addition, the CSO has commissioned a new work to commemorate this anniversary.

“Music is a necessity of the spirit. It acts as a balm that allows us to remember, to heal and ultimately to grow,” Muti said. Nowhere is this sentiment more apparent than in Verdi’s Requiem, a work that Muti returns to as part of the Armistice anniversary observations in November. Joining him and the CSO are the Chicago Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Duain Wolfe, and a roster of distinguished soloists. Recognized with two Grammy Awards for the 2010 CSO Resound release of the Verdi Requiem, Muti and company offer the first Symphony Center performances of this landmark work since the live streaming concert on Oct. 13, 2013, which marked the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth.

For the opening subscription program of the 2018-19 season, Muti leads the CSO, the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and bass Alexey Tikhomirov in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar), which features the vivid poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Shostakovich wrote the symphony in response to a devastating wartime tragedy and in the process created a work of great power and beauty.

“A Time for Reflection — a Message of Peace” continues with an October program that officially commemorates the Armistice anniversary. Presented with support from Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), president and founder of the Pritzker Military Foundation, and the president and CEO of TAWANI Enterprises, Inc., the program features the world premiere of Threnos, a work by French composer Bruno Mantovani, commissioned by the CSO and the Pritzker Military Foundation. The world premiere is part of a larger set of programs and events tied to the Armistice centennial that consists of lectures, archival displays and musical performances at Symphony Center, the Pritzker Military Museum and other offsite locations.

In addition, several subscription concert programs will showcase other significant works that offer a spirit of hope and peace, including Nielsen’s The Inextinguishable Symphony, William Schuman’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem (the latter two led by Muti) and A Requiem in Our Time, a 20th-century work for brass band and percussion by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.

 “Maestro Muti has programmed a series of powerful works from the symphonic repertoire with a meaningful thread of peace and reflection throughout the 2018-2019 season,” said CSOA President Jeff Alexander. “We are pleased to share these life-enriching performances with our audiences, along with our impactful education and community engagement programs in Chicago, and on tour in the U.S. and Asia.”

‘A Powerful Narrative’

A second theme of the 2018-19 season explores the power of narrative in music. Stories and texts in this diverse range of works spring vividly to life in ballet scores, symphonic poems, programmatic symphonies, works for chorus and soloists and opera scores. 

These program highlights include Hindemith’s Symphony from Mathis der Maler, based on the life of German renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald; Stravinsky’s suites from The Firebird and Pulcinella, the latter featuring dancers from the Joffrey Ballet in a new artistic collaboration with the CSO; Berlioz’s lyric scene for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, The Death of Cleopatra, led by Muti and featuring Joyce DiDonato; Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid, and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, led by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and featuring bass John Relyea and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. The season culminates with a work that depicts human drama on an epic scale: concert performances of Verdi’s Aida, led by Muti with the CSO and Chorus, and featuring internationally celebrated soprano Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role.

‘Masters of the Masterworks’

The 2018/19 season also celebrates some of the great orchestral masterworks, interpreted by Muti and other esteemed conductors. Highlights include Muti leading Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade; former CSO music director Daniel Barenboim making a much-anticipated return, leading Smetana’s ultimate symbol of Czech nationalism, Má vlast; Bernard Haitink leading Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6; Michael Tilson Thomas with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6; Esa-Pekka Salonen with Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra; David Afkham with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7, and Jakub Hrůša with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

Video: Season announcement trailer