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Mutual Admiration Society—Chicago And The CSO

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 31, 2014 4:10PM

I'm a fan of the unique and have been a card carrying member of the CSO Adoration Society since my early years in beginning band. So it wasn’t a hard decision to go see Chicago [the band] play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I bundled up and was psyched to see these worlds collide.

Chicago was always a band I got into, given the prevalence of horns and its combination with the rock I cut my teeth on. And Chicago itself has always had its associations with the CSO. Woodwinder Walt Parazaider studied under assistant principal clarinetist Jerome Stowell in the late 1950s, while trombonist and composer James Pankow was also under CSO tutelage. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane played in the Civic Orchestra, the CSO’s training orchestra. So this was truly a homecoming and a first time the band was excited about.

Pankow wrote an energetic introduction that was rock-heavy, and the first time the orchestra chimed in, it was almost overwhelmed by the rockers. But the balance settled and listeners were treated to two tunes from their debut album, Chicago Transit Authority along with quite a few favorites. One of the highlights for me was the beautiful orchestration during “Wake Up Sunshine,”and the extra emotion that the CSO added to the mournful “Look Away.” The performers finished out the first half with “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan” which was Pankow’s effort to give the band’s sound a more classical slant, with a change in feeling coming through in each movement.

After the very full house had shuffled back to their seats, Chicago was again ready to go, diving in to more of their best work. The highlight of the night for me was a beautifully orchestrated “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” that had the audience beaming and the orchestra members singing along when they weren’t playing.

With the songs being shorter than standard symphonic fare, we got to hear all the hits and some we’d forgotten. It was plain to see that each member of Chicago was exceptional, with amazing solos by everyone, one of our favorites being Tris Imboden's unbelievable drum solo. The band members didn’t tend to talk a lot, but what they did express more than adequately was their absolute awe at where they stood. When the final strains of "25 or 6 to 4" faded, Chicago graciously accepted the standing ovation they were given before they emphatically waved the thunderous applause towards the members of the CSO. Pankow later remarked that it had been “surreal to be on stage with a symphony of legend.”

Overall, I got what I was hoping for out of it. At times it seemed as though the mixing might have been slightly off and vocals or the buttery beautifulness of the strings would be swallowed up, but we can’t complain. It was a great night of symphonic rock with a band that was glad to be there and an orchestra that could sing along with the crowd.