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S.F. Symphony in Chicago: Talk About Filling a Niche

March 25, 2012

The San Francisco Symphony opened the 10-day road show of its American Mavericks project on March 21 with works by Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, and John Adams in Chicago’s Symphony Center. The young, enthusiastic audience clearly relished what they heard from Michael Tilson Thomas and his excellent players. A double helping of early 20th-century American music — Cowell’s lushly exotic Synchrony from 1931 and A Concord Symphony, a 1995 orchestration by Henry Brant of Ives’ monumental Piano Sonata No 2 from 1920 — plus Adams’ brand new, exuberant Absolute Jest; not exactly standard fare on the home turf of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Though Adams has been featured on some CSO concerts, newer, non-mainstream repertoire in the Windy City has usually meant Elliott Carter and Pierre Boulez rather than early or mid-century modern American mavericks.

The West Coast visitors, the men looking hip in black shirts or black shirts and jackets rather than the usual white tie and tails, sounded cohesive and expressive. Though MTT is a regular guest with the CSO, it’s been 12 years since the San Francisco Symphony visited Symphony Center. In a town that knows from great brass playing, the symphony’s precise, powerful brass section earned hearty applause and whooping cheers.

The tour continues with concerts, master classes and other events Mar. 22-25 in Ann Arbor, Mich., and concludes Mar. 26-30 with concerts in Carnegie Hall and additional events throughout New York City.

Wynne Delacoma was classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1991 to 2006. She is currently a freelance arts writer, lecturer, and adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.