CSO brings back in-person concerts at Symphony Center for May and June

Doug George, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play three programs at Symphony Center in May and June, the first for the orchestra since the pandemic brought concerts to an abrupt halt in March last year.

According to an announcement Tuesday from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), each program, created with artistic guidance from music director Riccardo Muti, will have four performances to limited-capacity audiences in accordance to new city and state COVID-19 guidelines. The concerts will be May 27 through June 13; tickets go on sale to subscribers this week and to the public May 11.

“Of course we’re all excited about the return to Symphony Center,” said CSOA president Jeff Alexander. “Its been quite a gap in live performances.”

Thinking about the lineup for the concerts, which will have musicians socially distanced on stage as well, began few weeks ago when the CSOA was in conversations with the city. At the time, rules specified a capacity of 50 for the giant Orchestra Hall; CSOA countered if it would be possible to make that 50 per floor instead? The city seemed interested in the idea, Alexander said, so they began planning this series, which will be spread out over what would have been the last three weeks of the 2020-21 season.

Rules for indoor concerts have loosened since then; a total of 398 tickets (Orchestra Hall seats 2,522) will now be sold for each performance — still hundreds less than the maximum 25% capacity of Orchestra Hall but also allowing for audience pods and social distancing.

The CSOA is fine with starting small, Alexander said. “We think it’s good to move prudently.”

“Fanfare” (May 27-30): Music for brass and percussion with 22 musicians on stage. Fittingly celebratory musical choices for the first shows include Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and Barber’s 20th century interpretation of a Bach chorale. Paired with works influenced by jazz and film by Tilson Thomas, Bernstein and Schuller, conducted by CSO trombone Michael Mulcahy.

“We also thought an all-American lineup would be appropriate for Memorial Day weekend,” Alexander said.

Healthcare workers from Rush University System for Health will be invited for the first night to thank them for their partnership with the CSO during the pandemic, including their administering of COVID tests to musicians and film crews while the orchestra was creating its streaming series.

“Strum” (June 3-6): A diverse program of works led by former CSO conducting apprentice Erina Yashima for 47 musicians. Opening with two “Novelettes” by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, plus Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, the string orchestra version by newly appointed composer-in-residence Jessie Montgomery. Concludes with Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta.”

“Overture” (June 10-13): Works by Mozart and Wagner — a populist sort of lineup, Alexander said — with 42 musicians led by conductor Edo de Waart. Including Mozart’s “Overture to Don Giovanni,” Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

Audiences can expect extra COVID precautions including e-ticketing systems and staggered entrance times, plus upgraded HVAC systems and cleaning; more about those precautions at cso.org/SafeAndSound. Concerts will be less than 90 minutes with no intermission and concessions will remain closed. The performances will also be filmed for presentation via CSOtv some time next fall. Look for news about the CSO’s fall performance some time midsummer, Alexander said, and in the meantime the CSO returns to its annual outdoor series at Ravinia Festival in July and August.

Each weekend of concerts will be Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 1:30 p.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets ($29-$99) go on sale to the public 10 a.m. May 11 at 312-294-3000 and cso.org

dgeorge@chicagotribune.com