Off the Beaten Path: 9 Underrated Venues for Classical Music in Chicago

By Daniel Goldberg |

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The Windy City is home to some of the greatest venues in the world to see classical music. From Symphony Center and Lyric Opera House to Millennium Park and Auditorium Theater, Chicago boasts large houses that are just as beautiful and grand as they are sonically pleasing.

Beyond these major houses, Chicago is filled with smaller venues that can bring a different experience, one that can be more intimate, interactive, or even more affordable. Here is a guide to some of the hidden and often overlooked classical music venues in Chicago. (Venues organized geographically)

Experimental Sound Studio

Edgewater • 5925 N Ravenswood Ave • Link
Experimental Sound Studio boasts numerous offerings for musicians and music lovers, including a recording space, artistic development, audio gallery, and an intimate performance venue. At ESS, you can hear newly-penned chamber music, sit in on improvisational jam sessions, and experience a variety of different music. On Monday nights between March and October, ESS presents OPTION, an affordable music series that brings new compositions to audiences.

Rob Mazurek, Lou Mallozzi, and Jacques Demierre perform at ESS's OPTION series (Photo courtesy of Experimental Sound Station)

Davis Theater

Lincoln Square • 4614 N Lincoln Ave • Link
The one-time Vaudeville theater-turned movie theater-turned arts center hosts Sound of Silent Film Festival, presented by Access Contemporary Music. The festival pairs newly composed film scores performed live to modern silent films from all around the world.

Inside the Davis Theater (Photo courtesy of the Davis Theater)

Constellation Chicago

Roscoe Village • 3111 N Western Ave • Link
In 2013, Constellation Chicago took over the old Viaduct Theater and transformed it into a performance space with a focus on jazz, improvisational, and contemporary classical music. The intimate space has comfortable seating, fantastic acoustics, and a great selection of beers and cocktails.

Natalie Joachim performs during the Resonant Bodies Festival (photo: Marc Perlish)

Elastic Arts

Logan Square • 3429 W Diversey Ave • Link
With the mission of fostering a community of art and music in the Avondale-Logan Square neighborhoods, Elastic Arts hosts a series of programs that highlight improvised, electro-acoustic, and jazz music. It is a great place to see beautiful and challenging music.

Photo courtesy of Elastic Arts

St James Cathedral

River North • 65 E Huron St • Link
The St James Cathedral plays host to classical music events throughout the year. And in summer, the International Music Foundation presents Rush Hour Concerts at the cathedral every Tuesday from June to August. You’ll hear some of best Chicago musicians along with music programming that spans 700 years. Best of all, it is free!

St James Cathedral (Photo: Craig Sinclair, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Chicago Cultural Center

The Loop • 78 E Washington St • Link
Originally the city’s first central public library, the Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most beautifully-designed buildings in the city. Along with rotating art exhibitions, the center hosts free music programs — many that run year-round — including the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, Chamber Music Mondays, New Music Chicago Presents, and Juicebox (children’s music programming). Many of these events take place in the impressive Preston Bradley Hall, which features the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome.

Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center

Guarneri Hall

The Loop • 11 E. Adams St • Link
A music incubator and venue, Guarneri Hall’s mission is to promote classical music and education to all communities in Chicago. The hall itself, which opened in 2018, features an acoustically engineered, intimate 60-seat venue that is one of the most pleasing places to hear music in the city. From big name performers to up-and-coming artists and inventive programming, Guarneri Hall is a hidden musical gem.

Guarneri Hall (Photo courtesy of Guarneri Hall)

PianoForte Chicago

South Loop • 1335 S Michigan Ave • Link
Part piano showroom, part performance space, part recording studio, PianoForte is one of the more extraordinary venues in Chicago. Plus, with a lush-sounding room, a constant influx of great pianists and other musicians, and affordable tickets it is a must visit for any piano music lover or player.

The Recital Hall at PianoForte Chicago (Photo courtesy of PianoForte Chicago)

Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago

Hyde Park • 915 E 60th St • Link
One of the most striking buildings in Hyde Park, the Logan Center for the Arts hosts a wide range of performances featuring both well-known and up-and-coming composers and artists through concert series like UChicago Presents and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition.

Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago (Photo courtesy of Logan Center for the Arts)