Bringing The Sexy

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I’m a classical music dabbler.  I don’t profess to have the ability to be conversant about Mahler’s “Symphony No.5” or Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” in the same way I am about August: Osage County or Macbeth or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but I like my classical music fix here and there, either in the hallowed halls of Symphony Center or under the bucolic greenery of Millennium Park or Ravinia during the summer.  I mean, come on, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been ranked as one of the top five orchestras in the world, and it is acclaimed everywhere it goes during its extensive world tours. But I do think classical music performances among my demographic and younger continue to have that air (some would call stigma) of inaccessibility, more so than the rest of the performing arts – unlike theater or film, there aren’t clear-cut narratives and dialogue to follow; unlike pop or rock music concerts, there isn’t as much of a visceral impact.  But Chicago is packed with young, talented, boundary-pushing classical musicians and ensembles, and if you keep yourself in the loop, great opportunities to hear them in places other than Symphony Center, Ravinia, Millennium Park, or the myriad of concert halls that dot the city.  A couple of weekends ago, I managed to have a double dose of classical music performance in between the non-stop theatergoing I do- one night I was at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow event called Mercury Soul at, of all places, The Metro, in the last-remaining tiny patch of grunge in the outer edges of frat-jock central Wrigleyville.  The next night I attended the End-of-Season concert (and party) of the fantastic, fast-emerging Spektral Quartet in a clandestine performance arts space on the outer edges of nowheresville Chicago (actually an industrial stretch of Elston that is literally a dump – there was a garbage truck parking lot on it). Both were essential experiences for any Chicago cultural adventurer, and both proved that classical music was indeed sexy and relevant. On both evenings, I kinda had to pinch myself on how lucky I was to live in this vibrant arts city.

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Back on the Circuit

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cruches-for-new-year.jpgIn the midst of compiling New Year’s resolutions that I’ll most likely not be able to follow through on (do thirty sit-ups a day, eat more fruits, stop flirting with straight boys even if they offer to buy me a sidecar, finally break my vow never to see a Renee Zellweger movie again), I’ve been browsing the action-packed January calendars of the various arts and culture institutions in Chicago.  After the cultural wasteland that is the month of December (really, how many Ghosts of Christmas Pasts and Snow Queens can you stomach outside of the Boystown Halloween parade?), the beginning of the year is offering quite frankly, and wonderfully, an embarrassment of artistic riches. 

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Another Chicago Cultural Coup

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) announced yesterday that it has named Riccardo Muti, one of the biggest, greatest, names in world classical music, and former music director of Milan’s famed La Scala Opera, as its 10th music director beginning with the 2010-2011 symphony season.  Muti succeeds the great Daniel Barenboim, who stepped down from the CSO music director post in 2006.  This is tremendous news, again another confident and loud signal to the world that Chicago is an essential global cultural capital, or as the Chicago Tribune says in it’s headline announcing the news:  “Luring of charismatic musician helps Chicago maintain hold in top tier of world culture.”  Yes!  I find it very amusing that the New York Times said, with a hint of barely disguised condescension (or was it envy? insecurity?), in its write-up about Muti’s new role that his coming to our fair city “(adds) a layer of luster to the city’s cultural profile.”  Well, here’s a news flash to the New York Times, and to New Yorkers who still hold up their nose at Chicago’s cultural and artistic vibrancy, and to Chicagoans or anyone else who continue to live in a delusional haze that Chicago arts is an also-ran to New York’s:  we don’t need an additional ”layer of luster”; Chicago already dazzles brilliantly and powerfully in the global cultural firmament, with spectacular and world-class theater, visual art, museums, opera, and symphony music all enriching the lives of its residents and visitors.  Oh by the way, Muti turned down the offer of being music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2000- just a little tidbit to keep those New York arts-centric fans in line.  As a warm-up to Muti’s first season, he will be conducting the CSO for the Verdi Requiem on January 15-17, 2009 and for two still-to-be-announced weeks during the 2009-2010 subscription season.  Get your tickets as soon as they are available- these concert dates will probably sell out like crazy!