Chicago Music Preview: CHARLES DUTOIT / YO-YO MA (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

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by Barnaby Hughes on March 9, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


For the second of two concert programs featuring the work of French composers, the celebrated Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit joins forces with the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The highlight of the concert is Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D-minor. Written in 1876, the piece begins with a dramatic Lento that slowly builds into an intense Allegro maestoso. The second movement, by contrast, alternates Édouard_Lalo_by_Richard_Parairebetween playful levity and introspective meditation. In the third and final movement, Lalo brightens up the music with some lively give-and-take between cello and orchestra and more excursions into the major. Stylistically similar to Sir Edward Elgar’s somewhat later Cello Concerto, it is a glorious composition that lasts about 27 minutes.

The 59-year-old Yo-Yo Ma, CSO Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant since 2009, is no stranger to the Lalo Cello Concerto, having recorded it early in his career at the age of 25. Ma then went on to record many of the more famous cello concertos, including those by Barber, Beethoven, Dvořák, Elgar, Finzi, Haydn, and Shostakovich. Dutoit has also recorded Lalo, but he is known primarily for his interpretations of twentieth-century French and Russian music, which helps to explain the rest of the concert’s repertoire.


Beginning with the impressionistic works of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, the program slowly moves backward in time to the late romanticism of Camille Saint-Saëns and Lalo. Published in 1912, Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales comprises a suite of waltzes in eight movements. Although named in homage to Franz Schubert, Ravel’s waltzes couldn’t be more different, featuring jarring dutoitmelodies and prominent woodwinds. Written in 1911 for Gabriele D’Annunzio’s mystery play The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, Debussy’s substantial Symphonic Fragments—four in all—showcase some incredibly vivid and creative incidental music.

Ma joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the program’s second half, which begins with Saint-Saëns’s aptly titled La muse et le poète, scored for violin, cello, and orchestra. Also written in a minor key, it complements Lalo’s Cello Concerto beautifully. Concertmaster Robert Chen plays the violin in duet with Ma. One could say about this program what Victor Hugo said about music more generally, namely that it “expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

Yo-Yo Ma CSO

photos courtesy of CSO

Charles Dutoit & Yo-Yo Ma
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales
DEBUSSY: Symphonic Fragments from The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
SAINT:SAËNS: La muse et le poète
LALO: Cello Concerto
Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.
Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 8:00
Friday, March 20, 2015 at 8:00
Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 8:00
for tickets, call 312-294-3000 or visit

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