Chicago venues showcase classical music talent

By Manasi Vydyanath

These are scintillating times: classical music is in a state of unprecedented and unparalleled metamorphosis. Some claim that it will not outlast the next decade. Others maintain that we are in the midst of a renaissance. Even as you read these words, styles are being created, idioms explored, concepts forged, and music is being written that could change the course of what is soon to become history. People could look back at this very moment and trace to it the conception of some of the greatest pieces ever written. The borders of the art form are dissolving, and paradoxically prompting the emergence of an ever more precise definition of what it really means to be “classical.”

Here in Chicago, one finds oneself at the heart of the process, being able to literally experience developments and trends as they unfold in real time. Whether one does so as a critic, an artist, an enthusiast, a speculator, or an explorer into uncharted realms, one could end up immensely enjoying every minute of it. Here are some of the places where classical music is created and re-created:

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra


Symphony Hall on 220 S. Michigan (across the street from the Art Institute)

Right by #6 Jackson Park Express bus stop

Housing one of the finest orchestras in the world, the CSO is probably the best place to experience classical music in the city. Daniel Barenboim is the current artistic director, with Pierre Boulez and Leonard Slatkin as regular guest conductors. It features a full season of concerts, including chamber music, recitals, visiting orchestras, monthly jazz concerts, and special events. The programming is usually superb, although there is a slight frisson of conservatism running through it.

This season is likely to be excellent, with some interesting repertoire being explored under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, David Robertson, Andrey Boreyko, Antonio Pappano, Boulez, and Slatkin. There’s also a recital by Ian Bostridge, the Kremerata Baltica and Ivo Pogorelich, and the New York Philharmonic is visiting. Take a look at the calendar that’s on their website. The season goes from September to June. Student “rush” tickets are sometimes sold on the night of the concert—these range from $10-17, depending upon the concert. The symphony hall isn’t sold out most of the time, but try and give them a call before you go.

You might want to catch the pre-concert conversations as well—these are usually exceedingly well conducted and discuss some aspects of the program in detail, essentially giving you a blueprint of what to listen for. They normally begin an hour and fifteen minutes before each performance.

The Chicago Lyric Opera


Civic Opera House on 20 N. Wacker

Six blocks from Red Line Monroe stop, or eight blocks from Jackson Park #6 bus stop

Referred to as “The Gold Standard,” this is Chicago’s pride, the best place for operatic repertoire. There are eight productions per year, under the baton of musical director Sir Andrew Davis, with a cast that includes world-renowned soloists. The staging is reputed to be a shade old-fashioned, but this is changing. Their orchestral and choral work is absolutely mesmerizing.

This season starts with Mozart’s Don Giovanni and goes on to present Verdi’s Aïda and Janácek Cunning Little Vixen. There’s also Wagner’s Rheingold, William Bolcom’s The Wedding, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Puccini’s incandescent fairytale Tosca, and some more Wagner. Tickets start at $29 ($39 on weekends) for the upper gallery. They do occasionally have student matinees ($5-15), and some dorms go on subsidized trips to the Lyric.

Music of the Baroque


Plays at various locations in Chicago and surrounding cities

Founded in Hyde Park in 1975, this is one of Chicago’s most interesting period ensembles. It presents seven programs every year, directed by Jane Glover—a famous exponent of period performance practices and technique. Student discount tickets are $20. If the thought of experiencing the ancient as it was experienced by the ancients intrigues you, this is the place to go.

Chicago Opera Theater


Harris Theater for Music and Dance at 205 E. Randolph, just east of Michigan Ave in the Loop

The COT puts on about three productions a year. This season consists of Handel’s la Ressurezione, Mozart’s La nozze di Figaro, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tickets are $30-97, and students get a discount of 50 percent.

Classical Music on Campus

The University of Chicago campus is a vibrant center for classical music. Although not a conservatory, the music department presents a superb series of professional as well as student-performed concerts each season. The University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the renowned Barbara Schubert, as well as numerous other ensembles, play several concerts each quarter, as do the Contemporary Chamber Players and the Pacifica Quartet, our artists in Residence. Events usually take place at Mandel Hall or at the Fulton Recital Hall. Weekly noontime concerts and the quarterly Chamber Music Showcase usually feature student performances. The department also holds periodic music colloquia that explore interesting themes in musicology, contemporary issues and research.

The University of Chicago Presents


This is the University’s very own professional subscription series. It is also one of the best in the city. Hosted by the Reynolds Club’s Mandel Hall, the series consists of six chamber music events, and four early music concerts. Marna Seltzer, the series director, was named one of the Chicagoans of the Year by the Chicago Tribune Tempo section, and she continues to invite a high-profile mix of legendary older artists and some of the most promising and exciting young musicians. The recent years have seen the appearance of artists like Ian Bostridge, Cecilia Bartoli, as well as the Kremerata Baltica, and the Juilliard, the Emerson and St. Lawrence string quartets.

The first concert of the series—on the 15th—presented the Chicago debut of the renowned pianist Arnaldo Cohen, and the next concert is the Kopelman quartet on the 29th, playing Prokofiev’s second string quartet, Miaskovsky’s string quartet no. 13, and Tschaikovsky’s quartet no. 3. Almost every concert on the season is noteworthy, but Truls Mørk’s Chicago début recital on the 12th of November and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble’s concert in February should prove to be particularly enthralling.

Student subscriptions are only $60 for the chamber music, and $40 for the early music series; individual tickets are $11. If you would like to volunteer to be an usher—and get to see the concert free of cost—e-mail the concert office at