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Let the ideas flow in CSO’s monthlong study of rivers

Mei-Ann Chen

Mei-Ann Chen

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Unless otherwise indicated, all events at Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan.

Florence Price’s
“Mississippi River”

† Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen

† 8 p.m. Thursday and May 11 and 7:30 p.m. May 14

† Tickets, $31-$215

Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 6, “Pastoral”

† Civic Orchestra of Chicago, conducted by Cliff Colnot, with cellist Yo-Yo Ma

† 8 p.m. May 13

† Tickets, free ($2 processing fee)

Heitor Villa-Lobos’
“Amazonas”

† Chicago Symphony
Orchestra, conducted by Juanjo Mena

† 8 p.m. May 16 and 18 and 7:30 p.m. May 21

† Tickets, $24-$212

Symposium with river
experts and noted musicians

† 10 a.m. May 18

† Tickets, $5

Orbert Davis’ “The Chicago River”

† Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

† 8 p.m. May 24

† Tickets, $23-$74

“Shall We Gather
at the River”

† Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass and Chicago Children’s Choir, conducted by Riccardo Muti

† 4 p.m. June 9

† Ping Tom Memorial Park, 300 W. 19th St.

† Free admission (no tickets required)

Full schedule and other information: cso.org/rivers. Tickets: (312) 294-3000 or cso.org.

Kyle MacMillan

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Rivers curve and flow across continents, quench thirsty farmlands and serve as thoroughfares of commerce and culture. They define the character of cities great and small, and they inspire poets, novelists, composers and everyday dreamers.

The many facets of these essential waterways will be highlighted Thursday through June 9, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents a multidisciplinary festival titled, “Rivers: Nature. Power. Culture.”

In addition to festival-related performances by the symphony itself, its related ensembles and performance series will present programs tied to the theme, and there will be such special events as a symposium on May 18, with historians, scientists and musicians.

“To me,” said Martha Gilmer, the orchestra’s vice president of artistic planning and audience development, “the relevance of an orchestra in its community is revealed by something like this festival. Here’s an opportunity to ask people to look and listen in a completely different way and see connections where they might not have seen them. That’s what is exciting.”

Since 2009, the CSO has presented three spring festivals, but this year’s installment takes a decidedly different turn. Rather than centering on a composer or musical instrument as before, “Rivers” draws its inspiration from beyond the boundaries of music.

“As a cultural institution and as musicians,” Gilmer said, “we are connected to the community that we serve, that we are part of, and there is a natural component to that, too, especially in Chicago, where the river as well as the lake form so much of this city’s history and its success. So this might have been a leap in a different direction than what we’ve been doing, but it’s a logical leap.”

While the environmental, commercial and other roles of rivers will get attention, this event is at its core a music festival. The relationship of these natural arteries to music as both enduring sources of inspiration and modes of cultural exchange will be at the heart of the offerings.

Many composers have written works devoted to rivers, including classics like Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau” or “Mississippi River” (1934) by the underappreciated African-American composer Florence Price — a work that Gilmer sees as a festival touchstone.

Also featured will be contemporary works, such as Kaija Saariaho’s “Trois rivières” and Chicago Jazz Orchestra leader Orbert Davis’ “The Chicago River,” which was written for this occasion.

“Once you start pulling back the cover, the relevance and connection between composers and rivers reveals itself quite dynamically,” Gilmer said. “At the end, when got down to programming, there were many, many pieces that we could not find a way to include.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.



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