Top 10 Classical Concerts This May / by Doyle Armbrust

Eighth Blackbird with Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly
Save that tax refund, because May is going to be lousy with brilliant live music. Bridging the Apr/May divide are local heroes Eighth Blackbird alongside My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, the National's Bryce Dessner and composition/piano paragon Nico Muhly. Other than Philip Glass's Two Pages (1968), the program is comprised entirely of music written in the past five years, including works by Tristan Perich, Steve Mackey, David Lang, Muhly, Dessner and Worden. We are especially curious to hear a world premiere original by 8bb pianist Lisa Kaplan, scored for piano four hands. 
Museum of Contemporary Art. May 1 (and Apr 30) at 7:30pm. $28, members $22.

Zoë Keating
With thrasher Helen Money, a.k.a. Alison Chesney, not slated to play (hometown) Chicago until June, addicts of the solo electric cello can spike a vein with the endpin of looper Zoë Keating. Radiolab listeners will recall the Canadian's alluring hooks from the "Quantum Cello" episode of the show, but we're intrigued to see Keating building her sonic layers live in the intimate confines of Old Town. 
Old Town School of Folk Music. May 5 at 7, 9pm. $22, members $20. 

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Britten at 100
A John Cage centennial last year, and Benjamin Britten's this year? #Winning. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is bringing a top-tier program to the Harris, and we're absolutely itching to hear the devastating strains of Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac for Tenor, Countertenor and Piano, Op. 51. Also of note are the menacing Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and String Trio, Op. 2 and the technically harrowing Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, Op. 65
Harris Theater. May 8 at 7:30pm. $15–$30.

Ensemble Dal Niente & High Concept Labs: WERKplaats
Using the composer-performer collaborative framework of Amsterdam's WERKplaats collective of the 1970s as a launch point, Ensemble Dal Niente has teamed up with members of the High Concept Labs' "Sponsored Project Program" to produce a knock-out manifest of new works custom written for individual Nientes. Robert Honstein's commission for the project,My Heart Iz Open, mines mistakenly sent e-mails the composer has received as its libretto, and we are amped to see the formidable talent that is Chicago composer Morgan Krauss appears on the bill with Overcast for bass flute, bass clarinet and baritone sax. Grant Wallace Band also plays (see below). 
National Pastime Theater. May 11 at 7:30pm. $25, students $15.

Frequency: Coppice / Katherine Young / Hal Rammel
The brand-new Frequency Series at Constellation is coming out swinging with some serious new-music swagger, including this dynamite mashup of Coppice (bellows and electronics), Katherine Young (composer, bassoon) and Hal Rammel (custom instrument builder, visual artist and composer). We caught Coppice wheezing and scrobbing it up at High Concept Labs last year and are already big fans of Young's bassoon dominance, so we expect this event will be one of May's most memorable. 
Constellation. May 12 at 8:30pm. $8–$10.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Smetana, Takemitsu, Villa-Lobos, Beethoven
Those unfamiliar with Toru Takemitsu's oeuvre should track down a copy of the 1964 filmWoman in the Dunes to get a taste of film-scoring genius…and then grab a ticket to the CSO's performance of his riverrun. Beethoven's 6th, Villa-Lobos's Amazonas and Smetana's The Moldau, No. 2, are all wonderful listens, but to witness Peter Serkin, the pianist for whom riverrun was written, at the keys is the reason to rush to the Loop. 
Symphony Center. May 16, 18 at 8pm; May 21 at 7:30pm. $24–$208.

Access Contemporary Music: 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago
ACM has a reputation for developing some of the city's more imaginative performance formats, whether it be live-scoring silent movies, playing inside of and in response to architectural landmarks, or its latest project: a live radio play. Composers Seth Boustead (ACM founder) and Amos Gillespie have joined forces with Strawdog Theatre Company in bringing 1920s Chicago journo Ben Hecht's short story collection 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago to life amid the relics of Architectural Artifacts. Can't make the show? Crank up 98.7 WFMT on your FM dial for the live broadcast. 
Architectural Artifacts. May 21 at 7pm. $20, online $12, students and seniors $8.

Third Coast Percussion: Rock Dots, Knick-Knacks and Wrist Watch Geology
There might not be much left of Mayne Stage but rubble once Third Coast Percussion wraps its Chicago season. The program's trifecta of rock, Renaissance counterpoint and electronics features world premieres by Chicago composers Ryan Ingebritsen and Marc Mellits, Alexandre Lunsqui's Shi (performed in part on whiskey bottles), Mark Applebaum's Wristwatch Geology(the score of which is inscribed on the faces of four wristwatches), Röckdöts by Dmitri Tymoczko (think Zappa), and Nico Muhly's Pillaging Music (rubble, people). 
Mayne Stage. May 23 at 8pm. $20, students and seniors $15.

Grant Wallace Band
If Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt had gone on a triple-date with John Fahey, Dock Boggs and Bill Monroe to an Anton Webern concert, you'd be somewhere in the neighborhood of Grant Wallace Band. We love the weird, rhythmically complex landscape of proto-bluegrass composers Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Ben Hjertmann and Luke Gullickson have created, and we are equally enamored with the tiny train-wait-station venue of Comfort Music in Logan Square. Rumor has it an Appalachian murder mystery ballad will be featured on the setlist. 
Comfort Station. May 30 at 7:30pm. Donation.

International Contemporary Ensemble & David Lang: The Whisper Opera
MCA has been killing it this year on the music front, and the museum continues the trend with David Lang's tight-lipped Whisper Opera. Scored for flute, clarinet, percussion, cello and solo soprano (sung by the illimitable Tony Arnold), the new chamber opera slithers into the world of secrets, concealed and confessed. Lang is a master of unearthing the sublime from within gloom, and we anticipate a ruminative ride home after the show. 
Museum of Contemporary Art. May 31 at 7:30pm. $28, MCA members $22, students $10.

- Doyle Armbrust

Originally published in Time Out Chicago's #Chicago blog on April 25th, 2013