The Chicago Philharmonic 2018-2019 Season Preview – An interview with Artistic Director Scott Speck

Scott Speck conducts The Chicago Philharmonic with Cirque de la Symphonie; photo by Elliot Mandel
Spread the love

The Chicago Philharmonic 2018-2019: Celebrate Polonia/Heroes and Legends 

This year the award-winning Chicago Philharmonic season begins with fall’s highly anticipated Chicago Philharmonic Festival: Poland 2018turning the spotlight of celebratory music on 100 years of Polish independence and one of Chicago’s most prominent communities. Spring’s programming elevates the heroes and legends of literature and popular culture through classical music, taking audiences on a fanciful journey through time and place, showcasing beloved characters of fiction and folklore, both comic and tragic.

Maestro Scott Speck, Artistic Director, The Chicago Philharmonic; photo by Ben Harper


This reviewer had the opportunity to talk with Chicago Philharmonic Artistic Director, Conductor Scott Speck about the Orchestra, the upcoming season, and some of his sources of inspiration. A man of almost extravagant artistic gifts, Speck is also Music Director of the Mobile Symphony, of the West Michigan Symphony, and of Chicago’s own Joffrey Ballet; he has formerly held other such positions. He has travelled the world conducting symphony, opera and ballet to much acclaim, speaking and reading numerous languages.

Speck has been a radio commentator on NPR, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting System, and the Voice of Russia. He is a sought after public speaker, featured in TED talks, and is also the best selling author of several of the world’s most accessible books on music and ballet for popular audiences; he’s likewise published in magazines and journals.

The Maestro has a rare talent for crafting concert programs, enunciating themes, collating great music in the rubric, adding wonderful guest artists, helping select key performers from the Philharmonic’s great depth of musicians. Finally, he is a masterful Conductor, firmly controlling and directing the experience, bringing out fine solo, ensemble and orchestral performances; he shares the stage in an elegant way.

A gracious, affable, verbally generous man, he is as enthusiastic in person as he is at the podium with a baton. I have watched him conduct many times; the joy is palpable, as real as the fine technique. Speck is a learned musician, an aesthete who shares relevant and intriguing information about each piece on his superbly well-curated programs with the audience.

Maestro Speck peppered our discussion with stories and anecdotes. For example, after we discussed his love for the Russian composers, particularly Tchaikovsky, about whom he has said, “Tchaikovsky was a fountain of melody from beginning to end!” he told me about visiting the great composer’s grave. At Tikhvin Cemetery, located at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg, Russia, near the graves of many other notable artists and musicians interred therein, such as Rubinstein, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka and Borodin, Scott Speck paused in front of the grave of Tchaikovsky, and ceremoniously turned over every page of his personally favorite score.

The Chicago Philharmonic, Scott Speck conducting; photo by Elliot Mandel

Speck’s thoughtful and thought-provoking words in response to my questions  are paraphrased as follows:

In describing the non-traditional makeup of the Chicago Philharmonic, he advised: “Classical music is a vital, dynamic form. We have between 200-300 great musicians in the Chicago Philharmonic’s community, and we draw from them depending on the requirements of each concert. For the chamber music series, motivated musicians come forward; some are better suited to jazz, some to baroque. Because the Philharmonic musicians have a real stake in the organization, the music they make is their own”.

As to his vision of the Philharmonic’s mission, “Collaborations bring out more than the best of each artist involved. We want to make a difference, do something valuable. It’s not enough to play amazing music. If we can make a substantial, notable difference in people’s lives with our outreach and the music, it’s the noblest thing we can do. In our Night Out in the Parks program, for instance- 6 events scheduled this year- community musicians join in our concerts”.

About the upcoming season, “We hope to do a festival every 2 or 3 years. The motivation behind Festival: Poland 2018,  is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and Polish Independence in our city, which has such a vibrant and important Polish population. The concerts in Heroes and Legends focus on symbols of peace and hope invested in tales and icons.”

In response to my query about the seemingly magical craft of conducting, Maestro Speck told me, “I strive to energize the music that’s in the score. The secret is all about empowerment of the musicians”.

Łukasz Krupiński, pianist; photo by Bruno Fidrych

THE 2018-2019 SEASON:


1) The Silesian Quartet,
Nov 7, 2018 7:30 pm, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago

2) Andrzej Białko, Organ,
Nov 8, 2018 7:30 pm, St. John Cantius Church, 825 N. Carpenter St., Chicago

3) Piotr Orzechowski, Jazz Piano,
Nov 9, 2018 8 pm, Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave.,

Celebrate Polonia, November 10, 2018 7:30 pm, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago

Scott Speck conductor
Łukasz Krupiński piano

Paderewski Piano Concerto
Chopin Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante
Szymanowski Concert Overture
Panufnik Tragic Overture

Chicago Philharmonic presents a free Concert for Peace, November 11, 2018 1:30 pm, St. Hyacinth Basilica, 3636 W. Wolfram, Chicago

Chicago Philharmonic with members of Paderewski Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Marek Moś conductor
Natalia Rubiś soprano
Katarzyna Sądej mezzo-soprano
Jesse Donner tenor
Kurt Link bass
Andrzej Białko organ

Kilar Missa Pro Pace (Mass for Peace)

Conductor Marek Moś; photo courtesy of the Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy

6) The Roaring Twenties, March 9, 2019, 7:30 pm, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, %0 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston

Scott Speck conductor
Aldo López-Gavilán piano

Weill Suite from The Threepenny Opera
Ravel Piano Concerto in G major
Harbison Remembering Gatsby 
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

Aldo López-Gavilán, pianist; photo courtesy of The Chicago Philharmonic

7) Silent Sherlock, Film with live music, March 24, 2019, 4 pm, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

Tom Nazziola composer and conductor

Featuring the silent films:
“Sherlock Jr.” starring Buster Keaton
“Fadeaway” featuring Koko the Clown
“Sure-Locked Homes” featuring Felix the Cat

8) Defying Destiny featuring Scheherazade, April 7, 2019, 3 pm, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston

Scott Speck conductor
Robert Everson timpani

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade with David Perry, violin solo
Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
Daugherty Raise the Roof (timpani concerto)

Robert Everson, timpanist;
photo by Bob Ocken

9) Chicago Philharmonic & Cirque de la Symphonie, May 26, 2019, 7:30pm,
Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive,  Chicago

Scott Speck conductor

Clowns, acrobats, contortionists and jugglers join the virtuosic musicians of the Chicago Philharmonic in an extraordinary spectacle for the eyes and ears at Harris Theater. Strongmen and aerialists perform superhuman feats onstage alongside the orchestra, perfectly choreographed to classic cinematic scores, in this spectacular family-friendly season finale. Not to be missed!

For information and tickets to all the great programming of The Chicago Philharmonic, go to the chicagophilharmonic website



Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.