Prieto Conducts CSO with Yeh in Spotlight Review – Varied Program Gives Much to Savor


Without the benefit of the CSO’s ever insightful and professional program notes, many of us might not have realized that the second piece of the evening, Scottish composer James MacMillan’s “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” was actually a religious piece in keeping with the season, or perhaps more accurately Easter.  MacMillan is a devoutly religious man who wants to use his music to promote his religious viewpoints. 



“Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” is a concerto for percussion and orchestra, and while it may some day be viewed primarily as central to the pantheon of liturgical music this performance was noteworthy as a visual spectacle as much as an auditory one.  



Our attention was riveted on Cynthia Yeh, CSO Principal Percussionist , in a stylish sparkling gown that helped to showcase the athletic grace at work in her performance.  In turns she played both pitched and unpitched percussive instruments -- gongs, drums, woodblock, vibraphone, marimba, cymbals and bells. 



She moved from one side of conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto to another. 


As regular CSO concertgoers have come to expect, it was Yeh’s rapt concentration that seemed to pull you almost as much as the precision of her sound.   



In a surprise ending, layers of the entire orchestra take up ringing little bells for the piece conclusion.  There aren’t too many concertos for percussion and orchestra and this one is so fun that you are wont to begin thinking how nice it would be if you got to hear more.



The Yeh solo with orchestra was actually the second piece of the evening, following Prokofiev’s “Suite from Lieutenant Kijé, Op. 60”.  This music is often so light-hearted that you can imagine it as a cartoon score more than the film score that it actually was.  This film tells the story of how a  military bureaucracy schemed to avoid the excesses of their Emperor by inventing a fictitious lieutenant to take blame for lapses.  You can watch the film on Youtube at this link below—



Following intermission the program’s travel around the globe continued.  In recent years since Uruguayan native Carlos Kalmar became its conductor, the Grant Park Music Festival has brought several compositions by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas to Chicagoans.  In this concert, Prieto, Music Director of  Orquesta Sinfónica de Mexico since 2007, led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Revueltas’ short composition “Sensemayá”, an interpretation of a poem by Nicolás Guillén about the ritualistic killing of a snake.   As the pre-concert lecturer William White put so well, “…it’s not often that you get to hear a tuba solo..and this feels so you are in the sweltering jungle.”



For a finale this global program hopped to Poland and conductor Witold Lutosławski’s “Concerto for Orchestra”.  Here too White aptly prepared us in the pre-concert lecture by calling the score at times like a film noir.  Yes, at times this is dark music. At other times the violins seemed to conjure scattering insects.  We  were carried by the ensemble of bases plucking the melody at one point and also by an English horn solo.   In this piece and the concert as a whole there was much variety to savor. 


If the architects of this program meant to give us a varied evening that above all was stimulating to counter the string of Chicago’s grey winter days they succeeded.


Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be performing at Symphony Center throughout the winter and into early summer.

For a complete performance schedule visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website or call 312 294 3000.


Symphony Center

220 South Michigan





Photos:  Todd Rosenberg



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