The Chicago Philharmonic (Chi Phil) wishes they could perform for you live during this challenging time. It’s exactly in moments like these when music shows what it can do. They know that the power of music is truly miraculous. But since they can’t play for you in person, Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Speck and the Chi Phil administration have been offering lists of favorite recordings for the past 3 weeks. There are some wonderful pieces for long days at home, and the entire set of these Volumes is included below.
Chi Phil is a remarkable orchestra with a unique structure. Comprised of nearly 200 independent musicians who also help manage the organization, they were founded by principal musicians from the Lyric Opera’s orchestra, and have acted as the official orchestra of The Joffrey Ballet for nine years; they are not incidentally one of the finest concert dance orchestras in the world. They put on a full season of concerts each year, appearing at The Harris Theatre for Music and Dance in downtown Chicago, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, and at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.
The Chi Phil musicians similarly teach and perform in many other groupings and venues. Artistic Director Scott Speck, the erudite author of several books on music and opera, with the help of Chi Phil’s musician-majority Artistic Committee , works hard to accomplish innovative and exciting curated themed concerts including guest artists, guest conductors, film, dance, circus acts. He is always offering introductory remarks on the pieces on the program, similar to his comments in the Volumes, below.
Lydia Penningroth, Sales and Communications Coordinator for Chi Phil, herself a knowledgeable and enthusiastic lover of music, spoke with me about the exciting content being shared by the orchestra for the benefit of people at home. We also discussed the healing power of music, its ability to elevate and sustain the human spirit, in times of despair, celebration, worship, and sheltering from a pandemic.
Penningroth advised me that from the very beginning of the Coronavirus precautions, Chi Phil musicians began working from home. She notes that it has been very difficult for these artists, as for all of us. “They have been in grief about the chamber concerts and season concerts we’ve had to cancel. The special problem for them is that what they’ve trained for, dedicated their lives to, and worked so hard for is a shared live experience. One overriding goal the Chi Phil musicians have striven for is to break down the barriers between the audience and the musician. They are always thinking about how they can give people more of an opportunity to be a part of each experience.
We have put on concerts in many of the communities in Chicago, held our first ethnic celebration, Chicago Philharmonic Festival Poland 2018 last season; we opened this year’s season, prophetically entitled Family, with a concert at Lincoln Park Zoo. We’ve had concerts about famous literary/historical romantic lovers, concerts based on silent films, on Hollywood epics- all geared toward reaching every possible personality and drawing them into the world of music.”
She continued, “We are a community outreach organization; we have free concerts in the Chicago parks in the summer, Side-by-Side concerts where we pair music students with virtuoso instructors, and for each season’s concert we have Music In The Foyer, where students perform in-between the concert space and the outside, for the enjoyment of guests.” Penningroth adamantly noted, “We will get back in front of audiences in every way possible as soon as we can, but until then, we will continue to provide content to raise the spirits and the hearts of listeners and their families with Maestro Speck’s curated Volumes of YouTube videos, with submissions from our staff, such as in Volume 2, in videos on our Facebook page, made by our musicians and their families, and by planning next season.”
After a pause, she went on to say, “No matter what the situation is like, The Philharmonic is going to reach out, find new ways to interact with people, and we will have a season”.
CLICK HERE to listen to Volume One of Chicago Philharmonic’s playlist on Youtube.
- Hildegard von Bingen, “O acutris vite, I Piccoli Cantori de San Bortolo.” What a way to ponder the mysteries of the universe! This music 12th century mystic, abbess, philosopher, scientist and composer Hildegard von Bingen connects us with eternity.
- Christopher Theofanidis. “Rainbow Body,” Atlanta Symphony, Robert Spano, conductor. This 21st century work is a meditation on the piece by Hildegard von Bingen above. Theofanidis uses the entire modern orchestra in all its glory to evoke the atmosphere of a Gothic cathedral. The Chicago Phil played this piece in October of 2017.
- Johann Sebastian Bach, “St. John Passion,” Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor. One of the most sublime pieces ever composed, in the best performance I know.
- Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 4, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Sergiu Celibidache, conductor. Nobody can make time stand still like Bruckner, and nobody conducts it better than Celibidache.
- Lili Boulanger, “D’un soir triste.” BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor. This music is melancholy, mysterious, troubled, and ultimately at peace.
- Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5, Swedish Radio Symphony, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor. This thrilling performance of a wonderful symphony by Sibelius breathes the rarefied air of Finland. Don’t miss the beautiful moment beginning around 27:25 in this video, when the sun comes out.
- Jennifer Higdon, “Blue Cathedral.” The program notes to this piece are in the link. The Chicago Phil performed this piece in 2015, and our principal musicians brought it on tour to Poland in 2018.
- Encore: Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” from West Side Story, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, Gustavo Deudamel, conductor. Simply put, the best performance of this sparkling encore ever captured on video. And this is how, in an ideal world, an orchestra and its audience family can engage with each other!
CLICK HERE to listen to Volume Two of Chicago Philharmonic’s playlist on Youtube.
- Stephen Sondheim, “Being Alive,” (featuring Barbara Streisand). “Nothing is better than Barbara Streisand signing a song from a musical. This favorite of mine comes from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical, Company. Also, it has a great message of needing a personal connection to feel alive, which we all need a bit more of these days.” –Kelly Wren, Marketing and Communications Manager
- Andrew Bird, “Pulaski at Night.” “This song reminds me of all the things I love about Chicago, which I’ve been missing as we are all stuck inside!” –Eryn MacNeil, Development Manager
- Cat Stevens, “Tea for the Tillerman.” “My roommate has this incredible record player and collection of records – this album brings a much-needed sense of calm in our apartment while we’re all working from home in our small apartment!” –Lydia Penningroth, Sales and Communications Coordinator
- Brad Mehldau, “Paranoid Android.” “Going through adolescence in the 90’s, I was a big Radiohead fan. As my love of jazz developed, I found Brad Mehldau’s many covers of my favorite songs combined two things I adored.” –Rhapsody Snyder, Community Engagement and Executive Support Manager
- Astor Piazzolla, “Invierno Porteño (Buenos Aires Winter).” “This is one of my go-to pieces no matter what I am going through. I love everything about it and it always reminds me of when I played this in my undergrad.” –Ana Santamaria, Operations Assistant
- Claude Debussy, “String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10,” Julliard String Quartet. “This work has seen me through some times, to say the least! Heartbreaks, graduations, mourning, celebrations, quarter life crisis, mid-30’s crisis, parenting. It’s always been there for me, whatever I need.”–Rhapsody Snyder
- Kirill Gerstein, “Tiny Desk Concert.” “NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts is great video series to start watching and discover some new musicians- also, the setting is so funky and intimate. Here Kirill Gerstein plays a classical set list on piano.”–Kelly Wren
- Encore: Luciano Berio, Sinfonia, New York Philharmonic, The Swingle Singers, Luciano Berio, conductor. “To me, Berio’s Sinfonia is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. It’s this dense, wacky collage of everything from Stockhausen to Mahler, with snippets of Samuel Becket and other authors thrown in. You could listen to it 100 times and notice something new with each listen.”–Lydia Penningroth
CLICK HERE to listen to Volume Three of Chicago Philharmonic’s playlist on Youtube.
- Florence Price, Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, The Women’s Philharmonic, Apo Hsu, conductor. A composer who is finally getting her due, Florence Price evokes the spirit of early 20th century America.
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, “Scheherazade,” Sinfónica de Galicia, Leif Segerstam, conductor. A spectacular performance of this beloved masterpiece. Especially notable for the moment at 45 minutes into the video, when Sinbad’s ship goes to pieces on a rock in a raging storm. This piece was last performed by the Chicago Phil in the spring of 2019.
- Arturo Marquez, “Leyenda de Milliano,” Orquesta Filarmónica de las Américas, Alondra de la Parra, conductor. One of Mexico’s most evocative composers, Arturo Marquez continues to thrill audiences with music exuding the many personalities of his native Mexico.
- George Gershwin, “Concerto in F,” Berlin Philharmonic, Marcus Roberts, piano, Seiji Ozawa, conductor. Marcus Roberts performed this piece with Chicago Phil in December of 2019. Here is the world premiere of his version of this concerto.
- Maurice Ravel, “Daphnis et Chloé,” Montreal Symphony, Charles Dutoit, conductor. For my taste, this is the greatest of all Ravel recordings.
- Richard Strauss, “Four Last Songs,” Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Jessye Norman, soprano, Kurt Masur, conductor. Desert island disc: this perhaps my favorite recording of anything.
- William Grant Still, Symphony No. 1 in A Flat Major, “Afro American,” Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi, conductor. The Detroit Symphony makes a brilliant case for this masterpiece, one of my favorite American symphonies.
- Encore: Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. During this challenging time, the Berlin Philharmonic is offering a free 30-day pass for everyone to the Digital Concert Hall, where you can watch hundreds of their past performances. I can’t recommend this highly enough. There’s so much to see and hear, but here is my favorite highlight from each of their last four Music Directors:
- Johannes Brahms, Symphonies No. 1-4, Herbert von Karajan, conductor
- Antonin Dvorak, New World Symphony, Claudio Abbado, conductor
- Johann Sebastian Bach, “St. Matthew Passion,” Simon Rattle, conductor (note: this performance includes stunning acting and “choreography” by Peter Sellars.)
- Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6, Kirill Petrenko, conductor
To get information on Chicago Philharmonic’s ongoing programs and resources, go to www.chicagophilharmonic.org
Wishing you hours of joyous listening — and great health.
All photos by Elliot Mandel