Those lucky enough to have attended Ensemble Dal Niente's "The Party" in 2012 remember delectable edibles, succulent libations and a fluid concert format in which listeners could come or go as they pleased. Party 2014 at Jackson Junge Gallery features a program as brain-detonating as its predecessor with selections from top-shelf auditory instigators such as John Adams, Ted Hearne, Augusta Read Thomas, Beat Furrer, Franco Donatoni and George Lewis.
Nov. 17-Dec. 20
While the high drama that can ensue around a Thanksgiving dinner table may be entertaining, the passions that Lyric Opera is unleashing with "Porgy and Bess" are far more tuneful and cathartic. This quintessentially American opera, scored by George and Ira Gershwin, is studded with some of the 20th century's most memorable numbers, such as "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So," and is a superb entry point for opera skeptics.
If your "Baby It's Cold Outside" tolerance has been exhausted just thinking about the holidays, head to Constellation for an audio vaccine even Jenny McCarthy would endorse. The sterling Quince contemporary vocal ensemble is dishing up a set list that won't be found piping through any mall speakers, including Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang's bewitching "I Lie" and the celestial strains of "Christmas is Drawing Near," composed by avant-electronic duo Coil.
The roster of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is a who's who of top-tier classical heavyweights, and its upcoming Harris Theater Brandenburg marathon features no less than Paul Neubauer (viola), Cynthia Phelps (viola), Joseph Lin (violin) and Fred Sherry (cello), among many others. Bach's Brandenburg concerti stand as a pillar of the repertoire, and the virtuosity of the writing and this ensemble leverage this as a far better night out than any local "Messiah."
Dec. 19 and 20
New parents are easy prey for classical compilations claiming to jump-start an infant brain from babble to Neil deGrasse Tyson. What will fire those tiny synapses, though, is live performance, and DCASE's "Juicebox" is delivering the goods in a big way. With a rubber mat serving as audience seating, this toddler-focused series brings irrepressible and engaging groups like Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble to introduce youngsters to mind- expanding music and the visual vitality that accompanies it.
Morton Feldman is the Alinea of modern music: He will demand hours of your time, but the experience is simply sublime. Chicago is fortunate to be home to the Morton Feldman Chamber Players, an ensemble committed to performing the work of this underappreciated compositional black-belt. The hour-and-a-half "Patterns in a Chromatic Field" is on the menu, and coupled with the talents of Constellation's mixologists (drinks are allowed in the hall), we're inking this show in with a Sharpie.
Jan. 15, Jan. 16, Jan. 17
Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 is the ideal gateway drug with which to hook new listeners, and in the hands of Yefim Bronfman, this show promises to be highly addictive. Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti is on the podium—that alone is worth the price of admission—but Mr. Bronfman's colossal sound production means pedestrians within a 10-block radius may not need a ticket.
Jonny Greenwood's Grammy-nominated film score to "There Will Be Blood" is by turns solipsistic and exuberant, and thanks to theChicago Symphony's MusicNOW series, listeners will get a chance to experience the Radiohead guitarist's deft orchestral writing in a live setting. We're also keen to hear the shimmering harmonics in Salvatore Sciarrino's "Ai limiti della notte," an incentive as enticing as the event's free post-concert craft beer and pizza. At Harris Theater.
The Dover Quartet has been tearing up the chamber music scene since winning the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, including a primo gig as ensemble-in-residence at the Harvard of music conservatories, the Curtis Institute of Music. We expect its Mozart (String Quartet No. 20 in D major) and Beethoven (String Quartet Op. 59 No. 3 in C Major, "Razumovsky") to be uncompromising, but we're most eager to hear the foursome tackle Kaija Saariaho's stirring "Terra Memoria." At Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.
Jan. 25, 3 p.m., $25
It's the Crosstown Classic of chamber music on Jan. 25, with Dover Quartet on the Far North Side and hometown heroes the Pacifica Quartet representing the South Side at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts. Determined fans may be able to make both shows; coincidentally, both will be dipping into Beethoven's Opus 59. Elliott Carter's brilliant bit of sonic architecture, "String Quartet No. 1," is preceded by a very good reason to pack a handkerchief: Puccini's heartbreaking "Crisantemi."
- Doyle Armbrust