ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA OF AMSTERDAM
Of all the exceptional symphonic ensembles in the world, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is most like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in history and sound. Both were formed during the late-19th-century industrial boom by proud burghers eager to promote high culture in their provincial towns. Both benefited from the long-term tenure of visionary leaders (Willem Mengelberg for the Concertgebouw, Frederick Stock for the CSO). Both are renowned for brawny, precise wind and brass sections, and both gravitate toward the German Romantics and the early-20th-century repertoire of Strauss, Bruckner, and Mahler. But there are some crucial differences: The eponymous home of the Concertgebouw (Dutch for “concert building”) boasts superior acoustics, which enhance its fabled elegance and clarity and soften its brass exclamations and wind utterances. Its strings are warmer and more disciplined than the CSO’s. And because of its proximity to Europe’s musical capitals, the Concertgebouw drew the attention of composers and arbiters as early as the 20s and 30s–the CSO, of course, had to wait for Georg Solti to put it on the map in the 70s. Richard Strauss dedicated the tone poem Ein Heldenleben to the Concertgebouw; Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg, among others, gladly trekked to Amsterdam to conduct their own works. But the foremost bit of artistic logrolling involved Mahler. The Viennese composer conducted the Concertgebouw in no fewer than six of his own symphonies, and Mengelberg studiously championed his cause. (The alliance is detailed in a fascinating new anthology, New Sounds, New Century: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.) Not surprisingly, Mahler’s Fifth is the centerpiece of the orchestra’s current North American tour. The conductor is Riccardo Chailly, who became the Concertgebouw’s first non-Dutch music director a decade ago; Frank Peter Zimmerman, one of Europe’s leading young violinists, is the soloist in Berg’s Violin Concerto. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Richard Chailly photo by Robert Schilingeman; Frank Peter Zimmerman photo by Peter Mountain.