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Fall classical music preview: Rich sounds will abound

9-19-2010---CSO conductor Riccardo Muti with CSO Pritzker PaviliMillenium Park.-Sun-Times phoby Tom Cruze

9-19-2010---CSO conductor Riccardo Muti with the CSO at Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park.-Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:14AM

The fall classical music season used to appear like a set of comets in a dark sky after a quiet stillness following the Grant Park and Ravinia summers.

That stillness has subsided. This year, Ravinia is running through Sunday, with area-native soprano Dawn Upshaw performing with the hip orchestra the Knights. Grant Park has evolved from a pleasant musical picnic spot to a must-attend series that draws thousands to its 10 weeks of free concerts. An intimate Baroque opera company, Haymarket, launched its second season on Labor Day weekend, and the hot Spektral Quartet packed the Empty Bottle last week for its season sampler.

But the return of large-scale excellence to Orchestra Hall with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its hugely popular music director Riccardo Muti, along with an international roster of guest artists and additional orchestras, still excites. Lyric Opera of Chicago has added some youthful exuberance to its subscriber base. New leadership at the city’s leading chamber-music host, University of Chicago Presents, as well as an added architecturally commanding home for the presenter on the Midway Plaisance boosts the seriousness and the playfulness of this already essential destination.

Here are some picks from this bounty of autumn offerings:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Riccardo Muti has passed the tests of critics, audiences and even illness and accident to emerge as a figure both beloved and admired. From Grammy Awards, increased ticket sales, free public concerts and work with the incarcerated, Muti has shown himself a wit as well as a grand figure, a natural educator and a showman. His trademark blend of unusual programming with revivals of over-the-top former staples continues as he launches the first week of CSO subscription concerts Sept. 20-28 with the rarely played Fifth Symphony of Dvorak, the haunting Notturno of Giuseppe Martucci and the Technicolor swagger of Respighi’s “Roman Festivals.”

On Sept. 21, he brings his players back to the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for a free offering of last year’s sold-out “Carmina Burana” with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir and a new trio of vocal soloists.

He takes both of these programs and another eclectic composite of Cesar Frank, Mead co-composer-in-residence Mason Bates and a Wagner overture to New York in the first week of October to open Carnegie Hall’s season. Then it’s off to Mexico for two concerts — the CSO’s first in that country — in Guanajuato and Mexico City.

Then Muti winds up his fall residency Sept. 29 with the annual “Symphony Ball” fundraising gala, almost a pops program with the Wagner overture, Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and a rare indoor performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture, followed by dinner and dancing, this year at the Fairmont.

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric also has an unusual launch this year, with a black-tie Civic Opera House audience witnessing the murderous revenge of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” in a concentrated, 100 intermissionless Modernist minutes Oct. 6 before heading over to the Hilton for drinking, dining and dancing. It’s a new production from the usually brilliant David McVicar with the long-anticipated Lyric debut of American soprano Christine Goerke in the title role, and Lyric music director and Strauss natural Andrew Davis in the pit, fresh off his Santa Fe Opera success with Strauss’ much lighter and later “Arabella.”

Chicago Opera Theater

Even the normally spring-bound Chicago Opera Theater has wound up with a major presentation in the fall this year. The last production planned and cast by former general director Brian Dickie, an English-language “Magic Flute” will be the first new production in Chicago of the Mozart staple in 17 years. Preparations are under the watchful eye of new intendant Andreas Mitisek, whose own first season gets going in 2013 with a $500,000 blessing from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a revived commitment to American works. Supple-handed Briton Steuart Bedford conducts, with a Dickie-trademark young and promising cast onstage at the Harris Theater Sept. 15-23.

Beethoven Festival

Northbrook, Chicago or Paris? It’s hard sometimes to tell which is the real home of young pianist and not-for-profit impresario George Lepauw. With a busy concert and recital career of his own, the bilingual, bicultural musician who shook up classical music presentation last year by offering a week-plus Beethoven Festival in Pilsen, is back this fall with “Revolution 2012.” The equally neglected Uptown will serve as the hub of this Beethoven festival’s 60 programs over nine days through Sept. 16.

Full-scale symphonies and concertos are mixed with solo piano recitals, chamber works, commissioned miniatures, rock- and world-music influenced takes, all performed by a roster of rising international and local performers and veterans, surrounded by visual art exhibitions. In addition to the National Pastime Theatre in the Preston Bradley Center at Lawrence and Sheridan, “Revolution 2012” taps other venues throughout the city. And when the festival wraps, Lepauw returns to his spot centerstage as live pianist with TimeLine Theatre in the classical music-tinged play of the season, Moises Kaufman’s Beethoven-themed “33 Variations.”

Sundays at Orchestra Hall

Two current masters kick off “Symphony Center Presents” annual piano series this autumn. Murray Perahia plays a surprising mix of Classical and Romantic solo works on Oct. 14, and Andras Schiff takes up the full Book 2 of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” on Nov. 4.

On Oct. 21, Valery Gergiev leads the heavily international, truly all-star World Orchestra for Peace, founded by the late CSO music director laureate Georg Solti on the Budapest-born maestro’s exact 100th birthday anniversary with opera stars (and Solti discoveries) Angela Gheorghiu and Rene Pape and Solti’s widow Valerie narrating. And the young dynamo Gustavo Dudamel will bring his Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela to Chicago on Dec. 2 for the first time in several years.

University of Chicago Presents

The University of Chicago Presents, with its storied venues of Mandel Hall and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, has long been the undisputed center of chamber music and international early music in Chicago and the surrounding area. This fall it adds an additional site, the Performance Hall at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, which after a long “soft” opening will have its grand launch Oct. 11-13. Just a few blocks away from Mandel and Rockefeller, the Tod Williams/Billie Tsien-designed structure towers over the south side of the Midway Plaisance and summons visitors from the U. of C. and Hyde Park and also the Woodlawn community to the south.

New UCP executive director Amy Iwano, formerly exec director of the Chicago Chamber Musicians, has added an enticing series of free lectures by the university’s renowned music faculty before almost every concert and integrated UCP’s calendar of classical, early music, contemporary and jazz performances. Fall highlights include the fabulous Takacs Quartet at Mandel on Oct. 5, classical-contemporary fusion Turtle Island Quartet in an homage to Jimi Hendrix (!) at the Logan on Oct. 14, Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante also at the Logan in a co-presentation with the Chicago Latino Music Festival on Oct. 30, and local Grammy winners Pacifica Quartet kicking off its own series in its new Logan home on Nov. 4.

Andrew Patner is critic at large for WMFT-FM (98.7).

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