LYRIC OPERA: "THE PASSENGER"
Through March 15
Easily the most captivating entry in Lyric Opera's 2014-15 season, Mieczyslaw Weinberg's "The Passenger" is a new opera—completed in 1968. It didn't receive its fully staged premiere until 2010, stymied as it was by an unsympathetic Soviet government during the composer's lifetime. The narrative centers on a looming encounter on a ship between a former SS overseer at Auschwitz and one of her former prisoners years after World War II's end. The jarring juxtaposition of the posh ocean liner and the concentration camp is visually arresting, and Weinberg's deft score stands to carry post-concert conversations long into the night. There are just three performances left.
CSO AT THE MOVIES: "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY"
Timpanists owe Stanley Kubrick a beer for making their instrument ubiquitous with his inclusion of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" in the soundtrack to "2001: A Space Odyssey," and new-music fans will need to pick up the next round, given that he brought the music of Gyorgy Ligeti into the mainstream. We can't think of a better reason to pick up a ticket than the prospect of one of the world's foremost orchestras providing a live soundtrack to this cinematic masterpiece. If you pass this one up, "it can only be attributable to human error."
LAURIE ANDERSON AND KRONOS QUARTET: "LANDFALL"
Though the term "innovative" is about as potent as iceberg lettuce these days, Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet each have worn this mantle in its truest form for decades. Anderson's new composition, "Landfall," surveys her experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. With proprietary software triggered by the players projecting pithy text on a screen overhead, "Landfall" is equal parts incisive storytelling and inventive instrumental expedition.
MUSICNOW: "BOULEZ'S WORKSHOP"
Pierre Boulez is resolutely regarded as one of the world's greatest living musicians and aural philosophers. During the week of the composer's 90th birthday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrates with a performance of his "Derive 2" as well as numbers from outgoing CSO composers-in-residence Anna Clyne and Mason Bates. Following Boulez on a program is a losing battle, so we're relieved to see it as the final entry.
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA:
"UCHIDA PLAYS MOZART"
An annual fixture in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra season, Mitsuko Uchida returns with two staples of the keyboard repertoire, concertos Nos. 6 and 26 ("Coronation"). A baton would be redundant in this context, given the pianist's elegant and meticulous phrasing, so we're excited to see she'll be conducting from the Steinway again. The pastrami in this Mozart sandwich is none other than Robert Schumann's sumptuous (though dubiously gender-stereotyped) "Frauenliebe und -leben," sung by soprano Dorothea Roschmann with Uchida at the keys.
A substantial number of classical music aficionados were led to the sonic concoctions of Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka, through the German's collaboration with violin ace Hillary Hahn for the 2012 album "Silfra." This prepared-piano (think bits of paper, wood and a host of other materials woven through the strings of the instrument) protagonist is no stranger to such artistic alliances, but the birth of his first son led Hauschka back into the solipsistic world of the lone-wolf pianist. Touring in support of his most recent album, "Abandoned City," the composer and improviser has chosen new-music crucible Constellation as his Chicago forum.
INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ENSEMBLE: ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR
News of composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's talent is spreading faster than a bovine-triggered fire in our fair city. (Sorry, too soon?) The Icelander's 2014 album, "Aerial," positively commandeered top 10 lists last year, and for good reason. Thorvaldsdottir possesses a preternatural ability to transform a traditionally orchestrated ensemble into an immense wilderness of sound. Few groups are more primed to bring this gripping music to life than the International Contemporary Ensemble, and for its Museum of Contemporary Art appearance, it brings with it a recently commissioned piece, "In the Light of Air." We're especially keen on seeing the interactive lighting, manipulated by the ensemble through the players' breath.
CHICAGO OPERA THEATER: "A COFFIN IN EGYPT"
April 25, April 29, May 1, May 3
The cornerstone of composer Ricky Ian Gordon's new opera, "A Coffin in Egypt," is none other than mezzo-soprano luminary Frederica von Stade. The beloved diva was enticed out of retirement for the role, and reports from early productions of the opera have been incandescent. As the 90-year-old Myrtle Bledsoe taking stock of her life near its end, von Stade's is the only singing role, and she's just the diva to pull it off.
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: "SALONEN CONDUCTS RAVEL"
May 7-9, May 15
The New York Philharmonic named Esa-Pekka Salonen its composer-in-residence for the next three years, and after 17 seasons raising the profile of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as its music director, the creative polymath seems to be everywhere. Equally specialized in contemporary and traditional repertoire, he arrives in Chicago packing a Francophile set list of Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" and "L'Enfant et les Sortileges" in addition to Debussy's "La Damoiselle Elue."
- Doyle Armbrust