The WPI fellowship is not only about being immersed in the U.S. media landscape, nor is it just about deep discussions on business models, threats to democracy, polarization in the United States, or the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the profession. Nor is it just about exchanges with renowned columnists or famous hosts like the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman or CNN’s Kaitlan Collins or Fox’s Sandra Smith, just to name a few. Rather, it is also about taking every single opportunity to be in touch with American culture. And when it comes to culture, music plays a major role in my world, since I have also majored in musicology alongside journalism.
During the past nine weeks, I have been able to attend in (almost) every city some of the most interesting classical music performances. These moments helped me digest the profound discussions we had during our hectic days. From Minnesota to New York, Austin (Texas), Washington D.C., and Chicago, music was present in every single place on our trip.
The most memorable among these performances was the one given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), one of the finest orchestras in the world. Going to Chicago without seeing the CSO, is like going to Rome without seeing the pope. At least in my understanding.
The CSO’s concert at the Symphony Center was outstanding on all levels. On the program: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8.
Vladimir Jurowski’s conducting was exceptional in both works. That was clear from the beginning of the concert with soloist Martin Helmchen. The German pianist displayed lots of grace, taste and subtlety, exactly what is required when performing Mozart’s works. Even though Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 is not among the most looked for by pianists, Helmchen’s vision was convincing and the artistic partnership with Jurowski solid.
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 was, on the other hand, an opportunity for the CSO to display what it is known for: its warm sound, its precision and its clarity. Jurowski excelled in translating the heaviness, bitterness, and tragic aspects of the work. The moving performance of the symphony with its somber and melancholic depiction of war brought back to mind the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Dmitri Shostakovich composed his symphony at the height of the Second World War just after finishing the Leningrad or war symphony.
The CSO performance was definitely among the highlights of my “musical journey.” However, it does not overshadow some of the amazing concerts I have attended: the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Stephen Hough’s piano recital in New York or even Laura Cocks’ modern music performance in Austin.
Among the general observations regarding the public’s relation to performances, one could think of the encores. When in France and Europe in general, the soloist or the conductor would come back after an impressive performance for at least two or three bows under massive applause in a request for additional musical moments. The American public, however, seems to be satisfied with what it gets.