On Saturday, February 4th, I went to my first Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. Since this was my first time attending a performance for classical music, I had no idea what to expect. As I arrived, I was blown away by the sophisticated, but also exciting, mood in Orchestra Hall. The venue was designed by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, and after many renovations, it continues to be the place where people are able to see and hear world-class musicians demonstrate their talent. The conductor of the concert was the highly acclaimed Bramwell Tovey, a Grammy and Juno award-winning conductor and composer. Tovey has travelled to China, Korea, Canada, Australia, and the United States, where he has taken on the role of a guest conductor while also inspiring many other musicians. It truly felt like an honor to be in his presence and to be able to see his impact on the music.
At 8 pm sharp, the lights dimmed down and the Chicago Symphony started their performance by playing a piece composed by William Walton, the first of three composers featured that night. William Walton was a famous British composer who was one of England’s most important composers. Walton was influenced by Edward Elgar, Igor Stravinsky, and Paul Hindemith and composed scores for numerous films like Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1947), and others. But that night the symphony played Orb and Sceptre, which really woke up and drew in the audience. The piece utilized the many aspects of sound, especially dynamics. It is also the march played for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Chicago Symphony played it so beautifully and the piece was memorable and sensational. Because of this, it completely makes sense that the symphony chose this march as an “entrance” for the rest of the concert.
They continued the performance by playing Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. As described in the name, this piece singled out every family of instruments in the symphony and allowed me to distinguish the different timbres. He introduced the higher pitched instruments like the piccolo and the flutes and then went down to the lower instruments and the percussion. Britten composed The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra because he was asked by the British Ministry of Education for it to be used in the short educational film Instruments of the Orchestra (1946). This piece was also featured in Wes Anderson’s film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012). I’m glad that the symphony played this because I was able to really focus on each family and appreciate how unique every different sound is.
After about a fifteen-minute intermission, the Chicago Symphony ended the night by playing Act 2 of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Before they started the piece, Tovey spoke to the audience about the story that goes along with Act 2, and how hearing the tone color and dynamics change throughout the piece allows you to imagine what’s going on in the story. As someone who has seen Disney’s Sleeping Beauty many times, I was amazed when I realized that the music wasn’t built on the story, but the story was built and inspired by the music. The symphony played the entirety of Act 2, which was almost an hour long. But there was not one second where the musicians showed any signs of exhaustion or boredom. It was fascinating to see how you could feel their passion not only by hearing the music, but also by watching their body language. Overall, I really enjoyed my first experience seeing the Chicago Symphony and I definitely will be coming back to see future concerts.