As Chicagoans, we appreciate hot and breezy nights, especially when we think of the alternative. Despite the heat and some gusts of wind that nearly blew sheet music right off the stands, Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra maintained their cool as they presented a free “Concert for Chicago” at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Thursday, September 20.
The concert launched CSO’s 128th season, an achievement in itself, but the evening also celebrated the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s 100th season. Founded in 1919 by Frederick Stock, the CSO’s second music director, Civic is considered the first training ensemble associated with a major American orchestra. Civic musicians joined the CSO for a side-by-side performance, with nearly 150 musicians on the Pritzker stage.
In his greeting to the 10,000-plus crowd, Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, mentioned that there are more than 5,000 musicians who have played in Civic, and alumni have held orchestral positions around the world, including in the CSO. The concert program even included a proclamation from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who declared September 20, 2018, “Civic Orchestra of Chicago Centennial Season Opening Celebration Concert Day in Chicago.”
Maestro Muti also addressed the concertgoers and said Civic musicians are “the musicians of tomorrow,” asking the young professionals to stand and be recognized. In his joking manner, he added, “They must play well—if not, they will ruin the work of their colleagues!” The Civic musicians certainly contributed to the iconic sound of the CSO in 3 large works: Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, Verdi’s Four Seasons Ballet from I vespri siciliani, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The maestro noted that “all 3 pieces connect the desire of freedom, libertà, liberty!” He went on to explain how the program shows perseverance over oppression—the Swiss over the Austrian occupation in William Tell; the Sicilian triumph over the French in I vespri siciliani; and the Russian triumph over (yet again) the French in the 1812 Overture.
Muti made sure to note that “the famous theme [in the Overture to William Tell] has nothing to do with ‘The Lone Ranger!'” A burst of laughter erupted across the park. “[It’s] a call for freedom…The message of music is the message of love, brotherhood, freedom…this city reflects this meaning, and in this spirit, we play for you.”
After the rousing finale to the 1812 Overture, Maestro Muti acknowledged the audience once more in a call to action. “There is still a lot of work…to bring musical culture around the world. The more society is cultivated, the more life will be peaceful.”