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Area Orchestras Back in Session

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2011 7:20PM

Harpist Ann Hobson Pilot helps the Sinfonietta kick of its new season. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sinfonietta)
How great is the academic calendar?[1] We thought about getting a PhD solely so we could be on that schedule. Unfortunately, carving out a career as a college professor is as daunting as...well, as being an orchestral musician.

The two bear a lot of similarities: the required skills and knowledge are highly specialized; the job market blows, with the supply of qualified candidates far outpacing demand; that supply-demand discrepancy leads to ludicrous job application processes; except for a small handful of gigs, people are underpaid; and workers go where there are job openings, leaving little control over where they live. The plus side is that a talented (and lucky) few get to earn a living with their passion. There's also the huge perk of the September-May calendar.

This week, a couple hundred of the most talented and luckiest Chicagoans, who took the plunge into these treacherous career waters, creep back from various summer haunts and get back to work. Over the next few days, three city orchestras get their seasons underway, and all are doing it in style.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The CSO once again opens its season with a free concert, this time at the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn. The Riccardo Muti-led show is a juicy one, with Pyotr[2] Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Jacques Ibert's Flute Concerto that'll feature CSO principal flute Mathieu Dufour. The program also includes the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi's[3] opera Giovanna d'Arco, because Muti includes Verdi on his celebratory concerts like Paula Deen uses butter. The program will be repeated on Friday afternoon and Tuesday evening, with the Verdi swapped out for music by Godfather score composer Nina Rota.
Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester, FREE; Friday at 1:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, $25 - $220

Chicago Sinfonietta
New music director Mei-Ann Chen leads the nation's most diverse orchestra in an appropriately diverse concert. Although the concert ends with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (arguably the most famous piece in the Western canon), the program starts with Saibei Dance by Chinese-Canadian composer An-Lun Huang and includes two works featuring former Boston Symphony Orchestra principal harp Ann Hobson Pilot: Ennanga by early 20th-century African-American composer William Grant Still; and On Willows and Birches, a harp concerto John Williams wrote for Pilot in 2009. Pilot joined the National Symphony Orchestra after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1966, moved to the BSO in 1969, and became the BSO's principal harp in 1980 - an astonishing career arc for an African-American woman in classical music, particularly given the era in which it occurred.
Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago, Naperville, $35-$45; Monday at 7:30 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, $26-$50

Civic Orchestra
Starry-eyed, talented young'uns of the CSO's training orchestra put on a good show, and for free, to boot, so try not to mention our second paragraph to them; there's nothing worse than a sad orchestra. The meat-and-potatoes program includes Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (remember what we said about it being the most famous piece?) and Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.
Sunday at 3:00 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, FREE

1. This is often mistakenly called the agrarian calendar.
2. That's Russian for "Peter."
3. Italian for "Joseph Green."