Chicago's classical music scene is one of the best things about living in Chicago. The variety of music covers the very old to the brand new, large ensembles in lush concert halls to chamber music in intimate venues. You'll find some of the world's best musicians and composers who call Chicago home; and you'll hear top players from around the globe. The audience is as diverse as the music, dress code is mostly casual, and tickets are often more affordable than sports events. So find your classical jam and get an earful of Chicago.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra enjoys a consistently high ranking among the world's finest orchestras, and routinely attracts the world's best conductors and soloists to the stage of Symphony Center. On any given night, you will find the CSO in top form, playing repertoire from Bach and Mozart to world premieres by today's leading composers. This spring, Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden leads the CSO in a three-week festival (May 22 - June 8) exploring the works of 20th Century masters Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten. Riccardo Muti, the CSO's music director, returns to close the season in June with performances of Schubert and Mahler. The CSO performs at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., in Daniel Burnham's elegant Orchestra Hall. Tickets, schedule, and info: www.cso.org
There is nothing quite like a night at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Whether you see every production every season, or you average one opera every five years (or if you've never seen one at all), the opera experience at Lyric is unmatched. The Civic Opera House has the feel of an art deco cathedral from the instant you walk in; the opulence of the lobby is surpassed only by the soaring and ornate theater itself. The cast of any given opera at Lyric is compiled from the world's best singers, and the drama is wonderfully big. Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (through March 23) is the story of betrayal, sex, and power (great stuff, right?). If you love a musical, Lyric closes its season with The Sound of Music (April 25 - May 18). If opera is not your speed, you can see Renée Fleming (remember how great the Super Bowl National Anthem was?) and Jonas Kaufmann in recital on March 19. The incomparable and charming violinist Itzhak Perlman performs April 6. Tickets, schedule, and info: www.lyricopera.org
Located at the northern end of Millennium Park, the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph) welcomes smaller ensembles and dance companies from Chicago and around the country to its stage. Fans of Baroque music should not miss Chicago's Music of the Baroque in two performances this spring. Jane Glover leads MOB Orchestra and Chorus in Haydn's The Creation, featuring soloists Elizabeth Futral (soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Christòpheren Nomura (bass-baritone), on
Monday, March 31, 7:30pm. Nicholas Kraemer leads MOB in music of Handel and Bach on Monday, April 21, 7:30pm. Lastly, New York's Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center returns on Tuesday, April 29, 7:30pm. Co-Artistic Directors David Finkel (cello) and Wu Han (piano) perform all five of Beethoven's sonatas for cello and piano. Tickets, schedule, and info: www.harristheaterchicago.org
If you love chamber music, you won't do any better than the University of Chicago Presents series. Consistently programming a wide-ranging season from Baroque to the contemporary, and UChicago Presents attracts an international lineup of artists to its beautiful and intimate venues. Do not miss the Pacifica Quartet and clarinetist Anthony McGill on Sunday, April 13, 3pm, in a program of Mozart and Brahms quintets. On Friday, April 25, 7:30pm, esteemed pianist Rafal Blechacz makes his Chicago debut in a program of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin. The Shanghai Quartet presents an expansive program of music by Haydn, Penderecki, Zhou Long, and Verdi on Friday, May 2, 7:30pm. Tickets, schedule, and info: https://chicagopresents.uchicago.edu/
The Spektral Quartet has built a well-earned reputation as one of Chicago's top new music ensembles as it continues to change the concert experience. Committed to performing works by Chicago composers alongside standard quartet repertoire, SQ is equally comfortable in a concert hall as it is in a club. SQ's youthful energy and mature artistry breaks down the tired myths of classical music and embraces an audience hungry for adventurous programming. Catch them on Saturday, March 29, 8:30pm at Constellation (3111 N. Western) as they premiere Mobile Miniatures: contemporary ringtones for your phone. Head to Rockefeller Chapel (5850 S. Woodlawn) on Wednesday, April 16, 3pm, for a performance of Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ with chamber choir Seraphic Fire. SQ rejoins accordion dynamo Julien Labro for a CD release party at City Winery (1200 W. Randolph) on Wednesday, May 14, 7:30pm, in a program of contemporary South American music. Lastly, SQ resurrects its popular Sampler Pack concert at The Hideout on Saturday, June 14, 8:30pm; grab a beer and sample tunes new and old. More info: www.spektralquartet.com
The Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) boasts a tremendous variety of music - and it's all FREE. The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts feature rising classical stars every Wednesday at 12:15pm under the stunning Tiffany Dome in Preston Bradley Hall. The Loops and Variations series presents the best new music ensembles such as Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, and Fifth House Ensemble. Speaking of new music, these three groups, along with Spektral Quartet and eighth blackbird, have given Chicago a prominent place in the world of contemporary sounds. Their concerts constantly expand musical boundaries, and are highly collaborative among other artists and composers.
In the summer, you can find the Chicago Symphony Orchestra up north at its summer home, the Ravinia Festival. Downtown, you'll find the free Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park. An evening with GPMF includes eclectic and engaging programs and the best outdoor sound system in the city under Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion. For chamber music, head to St. James Cathedral (65 E. Huron) for free, 30-minute performances every Tuesday presented by Rush Hour Concerts.
About the author: Elliot Mandel is a concert reviewer, photographer, and cellist. Find his reviews at ChicagoMusic.org, Chicago Classical Review, and his monthly recommendations, "Pulling Strings," at GapersBlock.com. On Twitter: @Cello_guy