CSO Piccolo Jennifer Gunn and CSO Bass Trombone Charles Vernon are Soloists in Program that Features Piccolo Concertos by Vivaldi and Ken Benshoof and World Premiere of CSO-Commissioned Bass Trombone Concerto by Composer James Stephenson (June 13, 14 & 15)
Muti Leads the CSO and Chorus along with an All-Star Roster of Soloists in Performances of Verdi’s Aida (June 21, 23 & 25)
JUNE 13–25, 2019
CHICAGO—Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to Chicago in June for his final residency of the 2018/19 season to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in two subscription concert programs. Muti conducts Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Gershwin’s An American in Paris on a program that also features Jennifer Gunn as soloist in piccolo concertos by Vivaldi and Ken Benshoof, and Charles Vernon in the world premiere of composer James Stephenson’s CSO-commissioned Bass Trombone Concerto on Thursday, June 13, at 8:00 p.m., Friday, June 14, at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 15, at 8:00 p.m. The Chicago Symphony Chorus (CSC), under the direction of Duain Wolfe, joins Muti and the Orchestra and a roster of distinguished soloists for concert performances of Verdi’s Aida on Friday, June 21, at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, June 23, at 3:00 p.m. and Tuesday, June 25, at 7:30 p.m.
During the June residency, Muti also leads a CSO rehearsal open to invited senior and community groups on June 13, and receives an award for Distinguished Service to Music Education from the Chicago West Community Music Center at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala benefit on June 22. Muti will also participate in a special signing event immediately following the performance of Verdi’s Aida on June 23. Copies of Muti’s new book in Italian, L’infinito tra le note: Il mio viaggio nella musica (The Infinity Between the Notes: My Journey into Music), as well as the recent CSO Resound release, Riccardo Muti Conducts Italian Masterworks and A Portrait in Four Movements: The Chicago Symphony under Barenboim, Boulez, Haitink, and Muti—the new release from University of Chicago Press chronicling the recent history of the CSO through the writings of the late critic Andrew Patner—will be available at the signing event.
In the first subscription program (June 13, 14 & 15 ), Muti leads a varied program that includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, as well as several concertos featuring CSO musicians as soloists. Jennifer Gunn is soloist in Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C Major, RV 444, and the Orchestra’s first performances of American composer Ken Benshoof’s Concerto in Three Movements for Piccolo and Orchestra, a work that Gunn performed at its world premiere in 2016. The music of this concerto explores the colorful timbral range of the instrument, highlighting its throaty lower register as well as its characteristically shimmering upper range in movements entitled “Flowing,” “Calm” and “On the move.” Benshoof, a former Fulbright scholar, has an extensive body of work that includes many chamber works, among them eight scores commissioned for the Kronos Quartet.
Gunn was appointed Piccolo/Flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Daniel Barenboim in 2005. Her previous solo appearances with the Orchestra include 2008 performances of Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C Major, RV 443, and most recently of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2, 4, and 5 in 2014.
This program also features Charles Vernon in the world premiere of the Bass Trombone Concerto by composer James Stephenson. The work was commissioned for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund, which has a distinguished legacy of supporting new works for brass. A Chicago-area native, composer and trumpeter James Stephenson dedicated the work to Charles Vernon, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Riccardo Muti.
Divided into what Stephenson describes as two “chapters,” the concerto takes inspiration from the journey of life, with the bass trombone soloist serving as the protagonist. Chapter I evokes the uncertainties and joys of youth through ambling melodies and jazzy interludes. Chapter II opens with a triumphant theme, symbolizing the protagonist at the height of life, which gives way to poignant melodies that represent what the composer calls emotional “life-moments” before settling into a mood of solemn reflection in the Epilogue. In addition to being an accomplished performer, having spent 17 seasons as principal trumpet of the Naples Philharmonic, James Stephenson has developed an active career as a composer of orchestral music and specialty concertos. His music has received premieres from ensembles including the Boston, Minnesota and St. Louis symphony orchestras, among others.
Vernon was appointed Bass Trombone of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1986. His previous solo appearances with the Orchestra include the 1991 world premiere of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto for Bass Trombone; the 2006 world premiere of Chick‘a’Bone Checkout, a concerto for alto, tenor and bass trombones by trombonist and composer Christian Lindberg; and in the 2018 world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, which was also performed at Carnegie Hall as part of the CSO’s 2018 East Coast tour.
The 2018/19 subscription season finale program features Muti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe, and a roster of international soloists in concert performances of Verdi’s Aida (June 21, 23 & 25). These performances receive support from the Aida Patrons Circle, a group of 15 generous CSO patrons committed to this special program. One of Verdi’s masterworks, Aida is a tragic love story set against a backdrop of war between two nations. The opera’s heroine is Aida, an Ethiopian princess captured by the Egyptians. Aida and the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris are both in love with the Egyptian general Radamès, but Amneris conspires to keep Aida and Radamès apart.
Considered today’s preeminent interpreter of Verdi’s music, Muti most recently conducted Aida to wide critical acclaim at the Salzburg Festival in 2017. “Bar by bar, scene by scene, Riccardo Muti’s command of Verdi’s Aida is absolute,” hailed The Telegraph. “He draws out details in the score that have languished unsuspected under other conductors; he clarified every line of the most complex vocal ensembles; he makes every color, every note, every pause tell.” Previously during his tenure as music director, Muti has led the assembled forces of the CSO and Chorus and renowned soloists in concert performances of Verdi’s Otello (2011), Macbeth (2013) and Falstaff (2016).
Soloists for these performances of Verdi’s Aida include internationally renowned soprano Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role. Stoyanova, who last performed with Muti and the CSO and Chorus in critically hailed June 2018 performances of Rossini’s Stabat mater, also delivered acclaimed performances as Aida at La Scala in 2018 and at the Metropolitan Opera in 2017. Stoyanova previously appeared with Muti and the CSO and Chorus in the 2011 performances of Verdi’s Otello. Anita Rachvelishvili, who Muti called “without a doubt the best Verdi mezzo-soprano today on the planet,” in a 2018 New York Times article, makes her CSO debut singing Amneris, a role she last performed at the Metropolitan Opera in September and October 2018. Tenor Francesco Meli reprises his role as Radamès, which he debuted with Muti at the Salzburg Festival performances in 2017. He has since appeared under Muti in Verdi’s Macbeth at the Ravenna Festival in July 2018 and as soloist in Verdi’s Requiem with the CSO and Muti in Tokyo during the Orchestra’s 2019 Asia tour, and at Festspielhaus Baden-Baden in April 2019. Meli also previously appeared with Muti and the CSO in the 2013 performances of Verdi’s Macbeth. Making his CSO debut as Amonasro is baritone Kiril Manolov, whose recent performances include those at the Ravenna Festival and the Teatro de la Maestranza.
Having last appeared at Symphony Center with Muti and the CSO in Verdi’s Requiem in October 2013, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov returns to sing Ramfis. In recent seasons, Abdrazakov has made celebrated appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Salzburg Festival, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He is also featured with the CSO and Muti in Shostakovich’s Suite of Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti on a 2016 CSO Resound recording. Internationally renowned bass-baritone Eric Owens returns as the King, having recently given performances in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera in April and May 2019. Owens has appeared with Muti and the CSO on multiple occasions, including the 2011 performances of Verdi’s Otello. Tenor Issachah Savage makes his CSO debut as the Messenger; earlier this season, Savage sang Manrico in Verdi’s Il trovatore at the Seattle Opera in January 2019 and the title role in Otello at the Austin Opera in November 2018. Chicago Symphony Chorus sopranos Kimberly Gunderson and Tasha Koontz alternate in the role of the Priestess in these performances.
Following his CSO residency in May, Muti participated in a special program in Milan, Italy, to launch his new book, entitled L’infinito tra le note: Il mio viaggio nella musica (Infinity Between the Notes: My Journey Into Music), which was released by the Italian publisher Solferino on May 23. Later in May, Muti traveled to northern Italy to lead the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra in performances in Pavia on May 25 and 26, and in Florence on May 28 in a program that included Giovanni Paisiello’s Missa defunctorum featuring soprano Benedetta Torre, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, tenor Giovanni Sala and bass Gianluca Buratto as soloists. On June 5, Muti and the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra perform with pianist Maurizio Pollini at the Palazzo Mauro de André in Ravenna, Italy.
At the conclusion of Muti’s season-finale programs in Chicago, he travels to Athens, Greece, to lead the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and Greek musicians in a July 9 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as part of the annual Roads of Friendship concerts, presented by the Ravenna Festival. The concert will be performed again on July 11 in Ravenna at the Palazzo Mauro de André. Other summer 2019 activities for Muti include his annual Italian Opera Academy in Ravenna, this year with sessions for young conductors and répétiteurs planned around Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Muti, who has maintained a close relationship with the Salzburg Festival and with its great orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, for more than 45 years, also returns to the Festival in August 2019 for performances of Verdi’s Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera Chorus and soloists including Krassimira Stoyanova, Anita Rachvelishvili, Francesco Meli and Ildar Abdrazakov.