Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago's classical season kicks off in late September; by October, the notes are flying.  The variety of music is often staggering, from big symphonies in swanky concert halls to organ music in elegant cathedrals to new music in small clubs with a full bar. This fall, you can hear old favorites or expand your mind - often in the same week. It's going to be a great season.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's opening week of its 2014-15 season includes a free concert in Millennium Park on September 19. CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti (above) conducts an all-Tchaikovsky program including his Symphony No. 4 and Suite from The Sleeping Beauty. In October, the CSO features two of its principal players in solo appearances. Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin performs a Baroque-influenced trumpet concerto by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik on a program that includes Stravinsky's Firebird suite and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3. Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden returns for a series of programs featuring CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen as a soloist in music by Béla Bartók; he also leads the orchestra in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5, one of the CSO's signature pieces. The CSO performs at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets, schedule, and info:

JS Bach

Not only was J.S. Bach a musical genius and the single most important figure in Western music, he wrote more works for a single instrument (the organ) than any other composer ever. This fall, in one monumental concert series, WFMT 98.7 FM presents the WFMT Bach Organ Project: 10 concerts throughout Chicago area cathedrals in which every one of Bach's organ works will be performed. That's more than 900 minutes of fugues, chorales, concertos, pipes, stops, and pedals. The festival runs from September 21 through October 26, and features some of the country's finest organists, including Stephen Alltop, Bruce Barber, David Schrader, Michael Costello, and Nathan Laube. Tickets, schedule, and info:

Danish String Quartet

A longtime gem of the chamber music scene, the University of Chicago Presents series features a wide-ranging scope of music from the Medieval and Baroque ensembles to cutting-edge contemporary artists. In October alone, you can hear a little of what Chicago Presents offers:  a free early music competition from some of the best young Baroque ensembles in North America; the Danish String Quartet (above) performing Haydn and Schubert in its Chicago debut; jazz violinist Regina Carter with her quintet and Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda; and the stellar Pacifica Quartet performing Beethoven's "Razumovsky" Quartet. Tickets, schedule, and info:

Constellation Chicago has quickly become the epicenter for new music, and a haven for ensembles specializing in genre-bending styles and experimental concert formats. Fifth House Ensemble reprises its production of Black Violet (October 5), which mixes music of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Harbison, and Bloch in a graphic novel performance against the backdrop of the Black Plague in 17th Century London. Grammy-winning eighth blackbird teams up with Chicago bassist/composer Matt Ulery (October 10) to perform his latest project, In the Ivory, which combines jazz sensibilities with minimalism and Eastern European folk music in a thirteen-piece array of musicians. Spektral Quartet gives audiences another in its Sampler Pack series (October 25), featuring music by David Reminick that requires the quartet simultaneously play and recite poetry; the program alos includes music of Rands, Stravinsky, Ligeti, and Beethoven. Tickets, schedule, and info:

Third Coast Percussion

Based in Chicago, but often driving truckloads of percussion equipment across the country, Third Coast Percussion is becoming one of the nation's elite, young ensembles specializing in all things mallet. At the Arts Club of Chicago (September 25), TCP recreates the music of John Cage when the radical composer performed there in 1942. In a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the ensemble, TCP teams up with composer and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche to discuss the composing process and to preview their joint project, Wild Sound. Tickets, schedule, and info:

About the author: Elliot Mandel is a photographer, concert reviewer, and cellist. Find his reviews at, and his monthly recommendations, "Pulling Strings," at  On Twitter: @Cello_guy

Photos Courtesy of: Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Johann Sebastian Bach via Creative Commons; wikipedia; Danish String Quartet via wikipedia commons;  Third Coast Percussion via Creative Commons, wikipedia