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Source: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

CHICAGO—Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to Chicago in March to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in two subscription concert programs and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in a free, open rehearsal. Muti and the CSO perform the music of Haydn and Mozart in subscription concerts at Symphony Center on Thursday, March 15, at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 17, at 8:00 p.m., as well as Friday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Wheaton College. In addition to symphonies by Haydn and Mozart, the program features violist Paul Neubauer in his CSO debut alongside CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen as soloists in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante. The Chicago Symphony Chorus (CSC), under the direction of Duain Wolfe, joins Muti and the Orchestra in subscription concerts on Thursday, March 22, at 8:00 p.m., Friday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 24, at 8:00 p.m. to perform Schubert’s Mass in E- flat Major, on a program that serves to mark the 60th anniversary of the Chorus in March 2018. This program also includes Weber’s Overture to Oberon and the world-premiere performances of Three Lisel Mueller Settings, a CSO-commissioned work composed by CSO Viola Max Raimi and featuring mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong in her CSO debut. Muti leads the Civic Orchestra in a free open rehearsal at Symphony Center on Sunday, March 18, at 7:00 p.m.

In the first program of his March CSO residency (March 15-17), Muti leads a program of classical masterworks which opens with Haydn’s Symphony No. 89 in F Major. Composed in 1787, the work borrows musical material from a concerto for lira organizzata (organ lyre), a keyboard instrument favored by one of the composer’s noteworthy patrons, Ferdinand IV, king of Naples, who commissioned Haydn to write several works for the instrument. The symphony’s slow movement and finale are derived directly from the concerto, to which Haydn added an opening Vivace movement and sparkling Minuet to realize a work that highlights the composer’s inventiveness, wit and gift for melody. The program continues with Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, a work that combines elements of both a symphony and concerto and features the violin and viola soloists intertwined in brilliant, singing melodic lines set against a backdrop of rich orchestral sonorities. Completing the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz), which takes its subtitle from the city in which it was written. The symphony includes Mozart’s first use of a slow introduction, which gives way to an exuberant Allegro spiritoso in the first movement of the work. The inventive work also includes a more formal, courtly Minuet and thrilling finale.
Muti’s second March program (March 22-24), opens with the overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon. Based on a medieval French fairytale, the opera features a delightful overture considered to be one of Weber’s finer works for orchestra. Muti and the CSO are joined by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Duain Wolfe, for the closing work on the program, Schubert’s Mass in E-flat Major. These performances feature soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass Nahuel Di Pierro, as well as mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong and tenor Paul Appleby in their CSO debuts. The final of six masses Schubert composed during his lifetime, the Mass in E-Flat Major is known for its powerful setting of the traditional mass text, including its reverent opening of the Kyrie and majestic declamations of the Gloria.
These concerts also mark the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, which gave its first performances in March 1958. Then-music director Fritz Reiner sought to establish a chorus commensurate with the Orchestra, and invited the distinguished choral conductor Margaret Hillis to do so. Hillis, who served as a conductor for the New York City Opera and the founder of the American Choral Foundation, took on the monumental task, and the Chorus gave its first public performances with the CSO in Mozart’s Requiem on March 13 and 14, 1958. Over the next decade, the Chicago Symphony Chorus rose to become one of the finest professional ensembles in the country, releasing its first commercial recording with the Orchestra in 1959 and making their debut at Carnegie Hall in 1967. Hillis served as chorus director for 37 years until her retirement in 1994. Then-music director Daniel Barenboim appointed Duain Wolfe as Hillis’ successor in June that year, and Wolfe continues to serve as the Chorus’s director. The Chorus has won 10 Grammy awards for its recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for Verdi’s Requiem, led by Riccardo Muti on the CSO Resound label.
An additional focal point of this program is the world premiere of Three Lisel Mueller Settings, written by composer and CSO Viola Max Raimi, a member of the Orchestra since 1984. A CSO Commission, which received additional funding from The Poetry Foundation, the work features text from three poems by Pulitzer Prize-winning, Chicago-based poet Lisel Mueller, sung in these performances by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong. Raimi was first introduced to Mueller’s work on reading her “A Poem about the Hounds and the Hares” shortly after she received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. “This poem hit me between the eyes, and I couldn’t get it out of my imagination,” Raimi notes, “and I knew immediately that I wanted to set it to music.” Since then, Raimi has forged a friendship with Mueller through their artistic common ground. Such collaboration is core to Raimi’s process, which he attributes to his dual roles as a composer and an orchestral musician.

The first setting, “The Story,” suggests a darkly comic tale of the marriage between water and fire, in which “opposites attract, but are fundamentally unsuited to be together,” says Raimi. Taking the shape of what the composer describes as a “dark waltz,” it plays to the notion of a tragic dance of opposites, and features a distinctive solo line for the clarinet. The second setting, “An Unanswered Question,” sheds light on the perspective of a captive woman pining for her lost people, unable to communicate with strangers in a unfamiliar world. Themes of isolation and oppression play out in anguished lines and poignant solo moments for the bassoon. The final setting, “Hope,” takes the striking imagery of the original poem as a point of departure for the music. In the opening lines, the mezzo-soprano sings “it hovers in dark corners, before the lights are turned on” over a prominent string bass solo before the mezzo- soprano soars up to the top of her range.
Audiences attending the March 22 world premiere of Raimi’s work can experience poetry in a new way during a special event hosted by Poems While You Wait. This Chicago-based collective of poets with their vintage typewriters will provide patrons with an unexpected and decontextualized encounter with poetry. Poems While You Wait will be stationed in the Grainger Ballroom prior to the March 22 performance. For a $5 donation, one of six poets will compose an original poem on any topic of the patron’s choosing, to be composed during the concert. Attendees may sign up to request a poem starting at 7 p.m. before the concert on a first-come, first-served basis, and poems will be available for collection at the end of the concert. All donations will go to the non-profit publisher Rose Metal Press. 
In conjunction with world-premiere performances of Raimi’s Three Lisel Mueller Settings, the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO and The Poetry Foundation organized several educational activities for local music students. These included a lecture on text painting in music by the composer for students at Chicago High School for the Arts on February 26 and Raimi leading a chamber ensemble of students performing three of his own works at Merit School of Music’s tuition-free conservatory on March 3.
In addition to his subscription concert programs, Muti also returns to the podium to lead the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in an open rehearsal at Symphony Center on Sunday, March 18, at 7:00 p.m. Muti rehearses the members of the Civic Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz). While the rehearsal is free and open to the public, tickets are required. The Civic Orchestra is a program of the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO.

Following his CSO residency in February 2018, Muti led the Orchestra in the second of two domestic tours in the 2017/18 season. The five-city, eight-concert East Coast tour launched on February 7 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with a concert that marked Muti’s 350th performance with the CSO. The tour continued to New York City where Muti and the CSO participated in a multi-day residency of engagement activities and concerts at Carnegie Hall on February 9 and 10. Muti and the Orchestra then traveled to Florida for a concert at Hayes Hall in Naples (February 12), presented by Artis—Naples, which recently announced a new, three-year residency for Muti and the CSO for 2019-2021. This was followed by two concerts on February 14 and 15 at the Raymond F. Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, including a performance on the day of the school shooting in nearby Parkland, Florida. Muti and the Orchestra dedicated their performance of the encore—Schubert’s Entr’acte No. 3 to Rosamunde—to the memory of victims and their families on February 14. The East Coast tour concluded with a return appearance at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for two concerts, on February 16 and 17, as well as master classes with music students from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s music department.
For the East Coast tour, Muti led the Orchestra in varied programs that included works by Stravinsky, Verdi, Britten, Brahms, and Chausson, as well as many words of love by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Samuel Adams. Tour programs also featured performances of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, featuring the Orchestra’s legendary low brass section, which received its world premiere with the orchestra during Muti’s February residency at Symphony Center. The East Coast tour performances garnered wide critical acclaim for Muti and the Orchestra with Anne Midgette of the Washington Post hailing their opening night at the Kennedy Center as “[an] evening that offered a taste of what a really great orchestra sounds like” and James R. Oestreich of The New York Times noting that their performances were “richly sonorous and warmly expressive” and “honed to a fine touch by Mr. Muti.” Xenia Hanusiak of the Financial Times declared that “Muti’s disciplined ensemble plays with a clarity of texture and meticulous intonation unmatched by most orchestras.”

The CSO’s music director position is endowed in perpetuity by a generous gift from the Zell Family Foundation.

Bank of America is the Global Sponsor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. United Airlines is the official airline of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The performances on March 15 and 17 are generously sponsored by the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Fund for the Canon.

The performances on March 15, 16 and 17, as well as March 22, 23 and 24 are supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The March 16 performance at Wheaton College is generously sponsored by the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation.

The March 22, 23 and 24 performances are generously sponsored by the Zell Family Foundation.

Funding for Max Raimi’s Three Lisel Muller Settings comes from The Poetry Foundation.

Support for the 60th Anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Chorus is provided by the Walter E. Heller Foundation in honor of Alyce DeCosta.

The appearance of the Chicago Symphony Chorus is made possible by a generous gift form Jim and Kay Mabie.

Tickets for all CSOA-presented concerts can be purchased by phone at 800-223-7114 or 312- 294-3000; online at, or at the Symphony center box office: 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604.

Artists, programs and prices are subject to change.

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