Unlike running, music has always been a passion in my life. My parents both sing and play an instrument (mom – piano, dad – guitar); my oldest brother played the saxophone during junior high and high school, played in a few “garage” bands (some actually in garages), has a degree in “sound” (I forget what it is exactly), and his career is in audio installation; I played the flute during junior high, high school and even with a couple community bands in the past few years, and also took piano lessons for 10 years. Even my middle older brother, the only one who hasn’t been formally trained on an instrument, has come around.

sheet music
Music folder from when I played with the American Wind Band
4th of July concert
Encore Concert Band 4th of July concert with live cannons (2009). I think I’m the second from right.

In addition to making music, I try to attend as many performances as I can afford (or acquire free tickets to via volunteering).

If you live in or around Chicago, you’ve hopefully heard of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (if you haven’t … you’re missing out). I’ve attended a few CSO concerts over the years, but never one conducted by their current Music Director, Riccardo Muti. However, I had heard that his concerts were truly something special, so I mentally added “attend a CSO performance conducted by Muti” to my mental bucket list.

As luck would have it, earlier in the month I received an email offer from the CSO to purchase tickets to a Muti concert at 50% off. Suddenly that made me skeptical that Muti concerts really were something special … if they  were, why the 50% off offer? Nevertheless, I purchased a pair of tickets anyway, because the cheapest seats were around $20.  And the very front row is among the cheapest seats in the house, because you get a spectacular view of everyone’s legs and risk a neck cramp. But I’m on a budget, and didn’t want to risk seats with no legroom, so I went with the front row.

Friday night was the concert, and The Sailor couldn’t go, so I invited my cousin, whose art of choice is dance, but I figured would appreciated this form of live artistic performance.

From the moment the concert started and Muti walked out on stage, the next two hours were basically band nerd fandom for me. I was entranced with everything going on in front of me. We had a great view of the cello section (our seats were right in front of the first cellist), as well as the rest of the strings (violin, viola, bass). When you’re up that close, you can see the sheet music, you can see the broken hairs on their bows, you can watch their fingers on the strings, you can see the deep concentration on their faces, and even compare the different types of tuxedo pants the men wear, and wonder why so many of them seem to be wearing what look like wedding bands on their right hands. (Sadly because of the angle, I couldn’t see much of the orchestra beyond the strings, meaning I couldn’t see my pals in the flute section.)

But the best part? Getting to watch Muti from that close (maybe 15 feet away). Seeing how he conducts the orchestra, how he brings out the nuances of each moment of the music, the expression on his face when you can assume they just got through a particularly challenging section of the song, and got through it well.

The concert included a Violin Concerto, but the highlight was the second half – Symphony No. 6 by Anton Bruckner. I was honestly a little nervous – this piece was 54 minutes long, and I was not familiar with it. I’ve sat through plenty of pieces that were nowhere near that long but felt like they dragged on.

But on Friday night? Led by Muti? That piece felt maybe 20 minutes long. It was beautiful. Truly a work of art performed by masters of their craft, led by someone who so clearly understands the beauty of live music that can stand the test of time. When I could tell they were getting to the end of the piece (one benefit to being able to see the sheet music), I was honestly a little sad. I didn’t want it to end. Almost an hour long, and I wanted more. Clearly the audience felt the same way, as the concert ended with a standing ovation and two curtain calls.

The 2011-2012 season comes to a close this weekend, but I highly recommend checking out their 2012-2013 season (or seeing them at Ravinia over the summer). And if you can go to a Muti concert? Go. Now I feel spoiled; like anything else would be a disappointment. OK, not really, I’m still a band nerd at heart, and usually eat up every performance I attend.

Local plug: if you live in the south suburbs (even if you don’t), check out our local treasure, the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra

Photography is not allowed in Orchestra Hall, so I don’t have any pictures from the concert, but I do have some from before the concert when I had some time to kill and walked around Grant Park.

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