Top classical music performances this summer (2015) / by Doyle Armbrust

May 17

The preconcert announcement to “for the love of all that is holy silence your cellphone” won't apply to the four vocalists debuting iLophone, an iOS app designed by composer Levy Lorenzo for his new score, “Inside Voices.” We're chuffed that audience members will be able to download this pitch-bending instrument after the show, but the program, featuring Eliza Brown's site-specific musical theater number “Prospect and Refuge” and Monte Weber's illusory, lyrical jumbler “Cruel Anvil,” is what makes this season closer a prize ticket.

May 21-22

The captivating mallet-slingers of Third Coast Percussion are about to boost their indie street cred in a big way, teaming up with Wilco's Glenn Kotche. The drummer/composer has been a fixture in the contemporary music scene of late, and as the anchor of the program, his “Wild Sound” laces percussion, played on original instruments built by University of Notre Dame's School of Engineering, with an assemblage of field recordings from his many years on the tour circuit. Paired with bangers from Steve Reich and other Kotche selections, we're buzzing to hear this rambunctious coalition.

June 1

It may make up only a quarter of the MusicNow program, but the top-shelf jazz that will waft out of Harris Theater on June 1 is going to be burnin', and with no Green Mill-style waiting in line. Chicago-born pianist and composer Myra Melford brings her punchy “The Whole Tree Gone” to the MusicNow season closer, and though it stands as the only jazz entry on the program, legendary experimental jazzer John Zorn is represented as well, with selections from his “Goetia” for solo violin. Shoring up this fetching bill are local minimalist Marc Mellits (with “Octet”) and compositional dynamo Esa-Pekka Salonen (with “Dichotomie”).

June 29

While the Pavilion is dishing up primarily pop acts these days (Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett should be an interesting parley), Ravinia has done a superb job of keeping its annual roster accented with world-class quartets in its indoor theaters. Certainly an excellent reason to head to Ravinia this summer is the return of the eminent Juilliard String Quartet. Haydn's Quartet No. 29 in G major and Schubert's “Death and the Maiden” no doubt will receive sterling deliveries, but the real jackpot is Alban Berg's String Quartet, Op. 3.

July 5

The young talents of the Knights may need to purchase (or commandeer) summer homes in Highland Park, given that the New York-based chamber orchestra has become a fixture on the Ravinia season. Reliable for onstage exuberance and prismatic programming, the ensemble returns with the exquisite voice of soprano Dawn Upshaw for a slate of Berio, Dvorak, Ligeti, Schubert and Zhou Long.

July 15

The only gear necessary for the priceless—and ticketless—Grant Park Music Festival is a picnic blanket, and this season includes some sublime set lists. Under the baton of guest conductor Thierry Fischer, the orchestra lets the high drama of Prokofiev's “Romeo and Juliet” off the leash, but what has us vying for position at the Pritzker Pavilion lawn on July 15 is Stravinsky's blustering bit of genius, Symphony in Three Movements.

July 17-18

Forget Metallica headlining Lollapalooza. The real heavy this summer comes by way of “A German Requiem.” Featuring soprano Caitlin Lynch and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus out in front of the formidable batteries of the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, Brahms' rousing masterpiece is paired with Arnold Schoenberg's ravishing Verklaerte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”). For classical music fans looking to pop the question this summer, bring those engagement rings over to Millennium Park. This is your concert.

Aug. 9, 11, 13

World-renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman has grizzly paws for hands, and he'll need them for the Ironman-level challenge he's undertaking at Ravinia this summer. Over three August dates, the Uzbek-born soloist will trounce the entirety of the extensive Prokofiev piano sonata catalog. These pillars of the repertoire stand out for their melodic imagination and rhythmic origin¬ality, many requiring a healthy dose of tenacity and fortitude. Concerts centered on a single compositional voice often run the risk of listener oversaturation, but with “Fima” at the keys we have no doubt this will stand as a festival highlight.

Aug. 11

If you missed the Avalon Quartet's recent Beethoven or Bartok cycles at the Art Institute of Chicago, your opportunity for exoneration is at hand. Northern Illinois University's ensemble-in-residence is making an appearance on the city's most effective traffic circumventor, the Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral, and Beethoven's Op. 14, No. 1 and the mighty Op. 133 “Grosse Fuge” are on the menu. These free 30-minute performances at 5:45 p.m. are preceded by refreshments, and listening to Avalon digging into Beethoven beats a podcast on the gridlocked Eisenhower any day.

Aug. 30

The Lincoln Trio, a group that consistently serves up the fire in performance, calls Chicago home, but for its Ravinia slot this season the musicians' countries of origin provide the program's compelling launch point. Violinist Desiree Ruhstrat (Switzerland), cellist David Cunliffe (England) and pianist Marta Aznavoorian (Armenia) dive into the music of their homelands with Frank Martin's “Trio sur des Melodies Popularizes Irlandaises,” Rebecca Clarke's Piano Trio and Arno Babajanian's Piano Trio in F minor, respectively. An enticing collection of geographic and aesthetic contrasts, these pieces are slated for release on another Chicago favorite, the Cedille Records label.

- Doyle Armbrust

Originally published in Crain's Chicago Business on May 8th, 2015