Top picks for the classical concerts this winter / by Doyle Armbrust

Nov. 13

Those who love under-the-radar movie recommendations have their classical music equivalent this month with the obscenely skilled Arcanto Quartet. Though made up of established European heavyweights, the group hasn't yet broken through in the U.S. Bach's "Art of the Fugue," Schumann's String Quartet in A minor and Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 are on the bill for this "University of Chicago Presents" season highlight.


Nov. 21

Looking for a killer night out? Try Stine Janvin Motland's appearance in the Lampo experimental music series. The Norwegian conjures hypnotic and at times unnerving improvisations with just her voice and a microphone, and for her current project, "In Labour," moves beyond the stage and even the exit doors as she manipulates sound.

Nov. 21-22

The Callipygian Players deliver some of Chicago's finest Baroque and early music concerts. They team up again this season with top-drawer chamber choir Bella Voce for the city's only full-length "Messiah" performed on gut strings and period instruments. "Messiah" overdose is a cause for which Sean Penn and/or Alec Baldwin may one day endow a foundation, but in the meantime, confine yourself to excellent examples like this one.

Dec. 7-Jan. 17

Guns! Stockholm Syndrome! Opera fanboys! That's an opera plot cocktail of which we're eager to order a round. For its sole not-written-by-a-dead-white-guy offering this season, Lyric Opera is presenting a new commission from composer Jimmy Lopez and librettist Nilo Cruz based on the best-selling Ann Patchett novel "Bel Canto." We're especially eager to hear soprano Danielle de Niese take the Lyric stage once again after her rousing turn as Cleopatra in 2007.


Jan. 10

Northwestern University recently named the Dover Quartet its quartet-in-residence, which may result in an outbreak of sweaty palms among the undergraduate chamber groups it will coach but also means Chicago will enjoy regular performances by this dynamite foursome. Concertgoers will get to see the chops of the competition-slaying Dovers on full display for Beethoven's Op. 59, No. 1, and Dvorak's "American Quartet," but the real bait here is Alban Berg's String Quartet, Op. 3.

Jan. 23-24

This season, local new music exemplars Eighth Blackbird are in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The forward-thinking museum gives the curious an opportunity to see the group rehearsing, as well as hosting hot-ticket shows like the upcoming "Hand Eye." For it, the ensemble throws in with composer collective Sleeping Giant for multiform pieces inspired by everything from Internet memes to soul jam sessions.


Feb. 5

Third Coast Percussion delivers show-after-sterling-show of blistering percussion head bangers. This isn't the ensemble's first rodeo playing on household objects, as it will do for Thierry De Mey's "Table Music," and this concert presents a relatively rare chance to hear the music of harmonic necromancer Donnacha Dennehy for a new commission by Third Coast. Steve Reich's leviathan Sextet anchors the program.

Feb. 11-16

Two of these are not like the others, but we're on board for conductor Riccardo Muti's curious twist of programming, and to see the elder statesman captaining the mighty CSO. For a season light on new(er) scores, Gyorgy Ligeti's mesmeric "Ramifications" is a welcome sight, as is the world premiere of Elizabeth Ogonek's "Lightenings." Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for String Orchestra" and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto are well-trod territory, but you just know CSO principal clarinetist Stephen Williamson is going to Kyle Schwarber that one right out of the park.

Feb. 28

Most of the contemporary scores Ensemble Dal Niente tackles would drive one to drink, but for the group's "Hard Music, Hard Liquor" series, the audience will be the only ones imbibing. The path-carving Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians is enjoying a long-overdue reboot in visibility this year for its 50th anniversary, and we're thrilled to see two George Lewis compositions on the program. Finger-bleeding numbers from Beat Furrer, Richard Barrett and Sivan Cohen Elias also are primed for detonation on this installment of Dal Niente's popular showcase. 

- Doyle Armbrust

Originally published in Crain's Chicago Business on Oct 29, 2015