Chicago Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Semyon Bychkov Review – Showcasing Two 20th Century Masterpieces


I don’t know whether it was Prokofiev, Walton, Bychkov, pianist Kirill Gerstein or something else again, but last night’s crowd had far more millennials in attendance than your average concert.  How welcome a change!  This was especially apparent after intermission, when a few older attendees left having heard Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 In G Minor, Op. 16”.



It’s interesting to think that a piano concerto so violently hated in its world premiere would become the perceived draw.  Prokofiev was a happy rebel and challenger to the music establishment and when the audience was reported to liken this piece to “cats on the roof” one can only imagine that he took secret glee. 


Unlike his very popular pieces such as the recently performed “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Love for Three Oranges” or certainly “Peter and the Wolf”, this piece has few melodic lines you will leave humming.  Rather, its interesting weaving of one discordant line after another keeps you engaged and marveling at the new harmonies you hear.



Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No.2 in G Minor, Op. 16” requires tour de force pianist talent, and soloist Kirill Gerstein is more than up to the task.  Reading that he is also strongly rooted in jazz performance one marvels at his flexibility on the keyboard.   The second movement in particular, “Scherzo: Vivace”, is a spotlight on piano virtuosity, nonstop sixteenth notes in unison octaves, with the orchestra adding more of a background touch here and there. 


To give a gander of Gerstein’s great range, here are two clips—one where he accompanies the inimitable Storm Large in Gershwin’s “Summertime”, followed by a performance of Prokofiev’s first and even more controversial piano concerto No. 1.




Those few who left at intermission missed William Walton’s “Symphony No.1”.  These four movements, including one that is titled “..con malizia” are inspired by a failed romance with Baroness Imma von Doernberg, which had taken over Walton’s life. 



Musicologists liken parts of this symphony to Beethoven, Elgar and Sibelius.  Knowing that won’t prepare you for the unique and intriguing mix that is this symphony.



World-renowned  Maestro Semyon Bychkov was cheered loudly by the audience and in turn exuded great warmth to the orchestra, walking to many members of the orchestra during the standing ovations to give them what seemed to be heartfelt handshakes.  His CDs and DVDs of several operatic and symphonic works have won many awards.  He has conducted periodically at the CSO since 1988 and his future performances are highly recommended.


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra season at Symphony Center (220 South Michigain) is in full swing.  For a complete listing of scheduled performances visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website  or call for tickets and information 312 294 3000.






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