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Bates’ new concerto is feather in violinist’s cap when Slatkin leads CSO in American concert

Bates’ new concerto is feather in violinist’s cap when Slatkin leads CSO in American concert

April 18, 2014 – 11:18 pm | No Comment | 63 views

Review: What an engaging, stimulating change of pace, this weekend’s all-American concert fare offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin at Orchestra Hall. Extending from classics by Barber and Gershwin through William Schuman’s bold, robust Sixth Symphony to youthful Mason Bates’ cleverly crafted Violin Concerto, the program heard April 17 offered a resounding reminder of this country’s enduring contribution to orchestral music in the modern era.

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‘The Great God Pan’ at Next – When narrative runs out of thread, the drama is left dangling

April 17, 2014 – 1:41 pm | No Comment | 56 views

Brett Schneider plays Jamie and Kristina Valada-Viars is Paige in Amy Herzog's 'The Great God Pan' at Next Theater. (Michael Brosilow)Review: “The Great God Pan” by Amy Herzog, at Next Theatre through May 11. ★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

The setup of Amy Herzog’s play “The Great God Pan” is intriguing: A man in his early thirties reconnects with a childhood chum who makes deeply disturbing claims about their formative years. Problem is, where we ultimately expect catharsis the playwright leaves us merely teased. And despite director Kimberly Senior’s sensitive and tempting effort, the current production at Next Theatre cannot magically spin this fragment into whole cloth.  Read the full story »

Esa-Pekka Salonen, in double duty as conductor and composer, sparks energy surge with CSO

April 13, 2014 – 10:28 pm | No Comment | 284 views
Esa-Pekka Salonen, in double duty as conductor and composer, sparks energy surge with CSO

Review: The Finnish-born, California-invigorated composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, at 55, could not be more robustly complementary in nature to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s elegant 72-year-old Italian-born music director Riccardo Muti, who has taught Chicago so much about the composers in close orbit to Old Vienna. In March, Muti made familiar Schubert seem new again. In April, Salonen made new music sound familiar.

Clarinetist Anthony McGill, star of Met Opera Orchestra, comes home for Mozart, Brahms

April 11, 2014 – 5:04 pm | No Comment | 296 views
Clarinetist Anthony McGill, star of Met Opera Orchestra, comes home for Mozart, Brahms

Preview: Chicago-born clarinet virtuoso Anthony McGill returns to his native soil this weekend for a rare concert double: With the Pacifica Quartet, resident ensemble at the University of Chicago, he will play Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major and Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor on April 13 at the Logan Center on the UC campus.

In ‘Starcatcher’ romp, goofy pirate lends a hand and Peter (Pan) learns no man is an isth-s-mus

April 7, 2014 – 10:08 am | No Comment | 416 views
In ‘Starcatcher’ romp, goofy pirate lends a hand and Peter (Pan) learns no man is an isth-s-mus

Review: Despite the exuberant ridiculousness of “Peter and the Starcatcher” — a show that channels Groucho Marx and Gilbert & Sullivan and Monty Python as it traces the backstory of the boy who became Peter Pan — you will turn misty at the end. To be an adult at Broadway in Chicago’s Peter Pan “prequel” is to be pricked with the realization that, for just about everybody in the world except Peter, and maybe Equity actors, one’s youth relentlessly fades. ★★★★

With ‘Lemminkäinen’ epic, Salonen and CSO capture Sibelius in youthful flower, prowess

April 6, 2014 – 4:03 pm | No Comment | 379 views
With ‘Lemminkäinen’ epic, Salonen and CSO capture Sibelius in youthful flower, prowess

Review: This is a perfect moment to reflect on Sibelius’ early mastery, in light of the great achievements by the twentysomething Schubert we’ve been hearing from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and music director Riccardo Muti. And it is the fully flowered young Sibelius, before the First Symphony, caught up in the allure of Finnish myth and in absolute command of his symphonic craft, whom the CSO and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen celebrate in a season-peak program heard April 3 and to be repeated April 8.

Cornwall’s Kneehigh troupe revisits ‘Tristan’ with antic comedy and double take on Yseult

April 3, 2014 – 6:01 pm | No Comment | 526 views
Cornwall’s Kneehigh troupe revisits ‘Tristan’ with antic comedy and double take on Yseult

Review: Imagine that consummate romantic legend of heroic Tristan and beautiful Isolde, thrust together into illicit love by circumstance and a potion, as a tragi-comedy. No? Can’t conceive of that? Then you have yet to see the visiting Kneehigh theater company’s outlandish “Tristan & Yseult,” which now bounces about the boards at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. ★★★

‘Good Boys and True’ at Raven: The fast track throws some curves into the path of privilege

April 2, 2014 – 4:00 pm | No Comment | 470 views
‘Good Boys and True’ at Raven: The fast track throws some curves into the path of privilege

Review: One always comes away from a play performance, whether the staged work is new or familiar, with a single dominant impression. It may be a complex impression, but there’s always that ruling aspect, the starting point from which the conversation evolves. In the case of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Good Boys and True” at Raven Theater, it is a sense of relentless circularity. ★★

‘Starcatcher’ turns clock back to an adventure before Peter Pan could fly, before Capt. Hook

March 31, 2014 – 10:16 pm | No Comment | 273 views
‘Starcatcher’ turns clock back to an adventure before Peter Pan could fly, before Capt. Hook

Preview: John Sanders, who portrays the psychopathic Black Stache in the Peter Pan back-story play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” can’t stop talking about the physical demands of the touring show, which comes to the Bank of America Theatre on April 2 under the aegis of Broadway in Chicago.

Riccardo Muti sets personal seal on Schubert with CSO’s agile turn through 2 symphonies

March 29, 2014 – 1:50 pm | No Comment | 1,174 views
Riccardo Muti sets personal seal on Schubert with CSO’s agile turn through 2 symphonies

Review: At the end of an exhilarating Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, the third installment of music director Riccardo Muti’s season-long traversal of Schubert’s symphonies, the maestro walked to the lip of the stage with a slightly self-deprecating smile and disarmed his audience with a droll remark about the “Italianate influence” in Schubert’s Second Symphony, which the orchestra had just played. Ripples of laughter ensued, but Muti was serious about the echoes of Salieri and Rossini in the Viennese composer’s music.

Role Playing: Hillary Marren’s charming, rapping witch in ‘Woods’ shaped by hard work, free play

March 28, 2014 – 11:41 pm | No Comment | 497 views
Role Playing: Hillary Marren’s charming, rapping witch in ‘Woods’ shaped by hard work, free play

Interview: In creating his musical “Into the Woods,” composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim perhaps viewed the witch’s show-stopping number about her vegetable garden as a direct descendant of the patter songs long associated with Gilbert and Sullivan. But to Hillary Marren, who plays the old crone in The Hypocrites’ imaginative staging, the veggie song is exactly what it sounds like in her disarming, rapid-fire delivery — a very smart rap.

To heavenly length of Schubert 9th Symphony, Muti and the CSO bring transcendent poetry

March 21, 2014 – 5:01 pm | No Comment | 665 views
To heavenly length of Schubert 9th Symphony,  Muti and the CSO bring transcendent poetry

Review: Riccardo Muti’s season-long traversal of the complete Schubert symphonies with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a few stops remaining, but it’s hard to imagine the musical arc rising much higher than the “Great” C major Symphony heard March 20 at Orchestra Hall.

Fleming, Kaufmann offer Lyric Opera faithful festive tribute to love and the art of singing

March 20, 2014 – 6:35 pm | No Comment | 1,040 views
Fleming, Kaufmann offer Lyric Opera faithful festive tribute to love and the art of singing

Review: Charting a memorable arc from the flustered panic of love’s first rush to the sorrowful tenderness of lovers whom death has parted, soprano Renée Fleming and tenor Jonas Kaufmann gave Chicago’s Lyric Opera loyalists quite the evening of music to treasure on March 19.

‘Water by the Spoonful’ at Court: Nearing abyss in grip of drug addiction, haunted conscience

March 19, 2014 – 10:37 pm | No Comment | 708 views
‘Water by the Spoonful’ at Court: Nearing abyss in grip of drug addiction, haunted conscience

Review: “Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue,” the first play in Quiara Alegría Hudes’ trilogy about the moral and psychological distress of a Marine back from duty in Iraq, almost captured the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The trilogy’s second installment, “Water by the Spoonful,” won the Pulitzer, and the merits that pushed it over the top are evident in every nuance, impulse, collision and aspiration of the current production at Court Theatre. ★★★★★

Beethoven from Andsnes and Uchida contrasts physical prowess with aura of poetic ferocity

March 19, 2014 – 8:32 am | No Comment | 913 views
Beethoven from Andsnes and Uchida contrasts physical prowess with aura of poetic ferocity

Review: Leif Ove Andsnes’ physically exuberant all-Beethoven program at Orchestra Hall — an ingenious traversal from Op. 22 to Op. 101, from Beethoven at age 30 to Beethoven at 46 — followed one week after the Japanese-British pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s fiercely poetic reading of the “Diabelli” Variations. It was the second time this season that the series has offered such back-to-back interpretive contrasts of a single composer.

Griffin Theatre’s ‘Golden Boy’ traces a fighter’s tragic search in rings of destruction

March 13, 2014 – 11:16 pm | No Comment | 1,116 views
Griffin Theatre’s ‘Golden Boy’ traces a fighter’s tragic search in rings of destruction

Review: Meet boxer Joe Bonaparte: smart kid, tough, determined, wickedly fast hands. And one more thing, self-destructive. You could say Joe, the anti-hero of Clifford Odets’ classic 1937 play “Golden Boy,” launches his own career, hurtles himself into a high orbit. The beauty, if that’s the word, of Nate Santana’s portrayal of this increasingly ugly character, in Griffin Theatre’s punchy production, is that you can’t take your eyes off him even as he pummels his life into a bruised mess. ★★★★

For two Chicago Symphony oboists, Ray Still was virtuoso career model, inspiring teacher

March 13, 2014 – 9:25 am | No Comment | 1,175 views
For two Chicago Symphony oboists, Ray Still was virtuoso career model, inspiring teacher

Report: The legacy of Ray Still as an unforgettable musician is preserved not only in the dozens of recordings he made through four decades as principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but also in the vivid memories of musicians whose lives he influenced, among them Eugene Izotov and Michael Henoch, the CSO’s current principal oboe and assistant principal.

Sarasota Aisle: Chicago maestro Mei-Ann Chen captures audience and accolades in Florida

March 11, 2014 – 11:02 am | No Comment | 805 views
Sarasota Aisle: Chicago maestro Mei-Ann Chen captures audience and accolades in Florida

Review: There’s an infamous jest that if you ask six reviewers about the same event, you’ll get seven different opinions. As there is more than a grain of truth in that, conductor Mei-Ann Chen surely is entitled to put a notch in her baton after winning a consensus of enthusiasm from a dozen arts writers from across the U.S. and Canada following her guest appearance March 9 with the Sarasota Orchestra.

Maestro Davis, two stellar singers lead mixed Lyric Opera revival of Mozart’s ‘Clemenza’

March 7, 2014 – 3:37 pm | No Comment | 1,054 views
Maestro Davis, two stellar singers lead mixed Lyric Opera revival of Mozart’s ‘Clemenza’

Review: Mozart died in 1791 just months after writing “La Clemenza di Tito,” about the first-century Roman emperor Titus and his struggle to rule with generosity of spirit. Performances are still a rarity, and the most successful aspect of the production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is the unmistakable fineness of the music itself. ★★★

‘Playboy of the Western World’ at Raven: A killer on the lam, town eager to crown him a hero

March 4, 2014 – 11:07 pm | No Comment | 813 views
‘Playboy of the Western World’ at Raven: A killer on the lam, town eager to crown him a hero

Review: We cannot watch or read the likes of Brian Friel’s “Translations” or Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” without sensing the sublimated presence of John Millington Synge’s 1907 comedy “The Playboy of the Western World.” It is a cornerstone of modern Irish theater, and it’s all there in Raven Theatre’s idiomatic staging — the brisk dialect and wry humor, the tumbling physicality and muted hues, the seed and genesis of everything we love about Irish drama in the present tense. ★★★★

‘Heartbeat of Home’ shows new face of Ireland when dance cultures meld in touring spectacle

March 3, 2014 – 5:31 pm | No Comment | 516 views
‘Heartbeat of Home’ shows new face of Ireland  when dance cultures meld in touring spectacle

Preview: Jamaican-born dancer Teneisha Bonner is a seasoned theater veteran, but she admits she had no idea of the world-widening experience awaiting her in the multi-ethnic dance spectacle that is “Heartbeat of Home.” The new extravaganza, from the same team that created “Riverdance,” makes its U.S. debut in Chicago on Tuesday night at the Oriental Theatre for a run through March 16.

Ravinia Fest 2014 runs gamut from enduring stars to first twinkles, with 3-pack of opera

February 27, 2014 – 5:33 pm | No Comment | 453 views
Ravinia Fest 2014 runs gamut from enduring stars to first twinkles, with 3-pack of opera

Report: Ravinia Festival music director James Conlon leads Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni,” soprano Patricia Racette stars in Strauss’ grisly “Salome” and Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki makes her festival debut in the 2014 summer series announced Thursday.