One of the best deals in town are tickets to the Civic Orchestra performances at Orchestra Hall – monthly free performances (well, $1.00 seat fee) featuring guest artists and conductors. The next one, on March 8, features young Leo McFall, who served as Bernard Haitink’s assistant, conducting Sibelius’s 5th Symphony; tickets are still available, if you need a super-cheap Valentine’s Day present. If you want more background on Sibelius, the great Alex Ross’s essay “Apparition In the Woods: Rescuing Sibelius from silence” is a good start:

Joy is not the same thing as simplicity. The Fifth begins and ends in crystalline major-key tonality, but it is a staggeringly unconventional work. The schemata of sonata form dissolve before the listener’s ears; in place of a methodical development of well-defined themes, there is a gradual, incremental evolution of material through trancelike repetitions. The musicologist James Hepokoski, in a monograph on the symphony, calls it “rotational form”; the principal ideas of the work come around again and again, though each time they are transformed in ways both small and large. The themes really assume their true shape only at the end of the rotation—what Hepokoski calls the “telos,” the epiphanic goal. Music becomes a search for meaning within an open-ended structure—an analogue to the spiritual life.

If $1.00 is too rich for your blood, the Civic Orchestra also plays regular completely free ensemble gigs throughout the city, usually on a schedule of two or three different ensembles every week or two; check the CSO calendar for details. The woodwind ensemble plays the National Museum of Mexican Art next Friday; the brass ensemble plays Gage Park the same day.