Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Emanuel Ax Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., May 24, 8 p.m., Fri., May 25, 1:30 p.m. and Sat., May 26, 8 p.m. 2012

It's ironic that Beethoven's fifth and final piano concerto became known as the Emperor, given his distaste for military autocracy—when Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor, the composer undid the dedication of his Third Symphony, which had originally been called "Bonaparte." By the time he finished the Emperor (the name was coined by the publisher), Beethoven was too deaf to perform—the piece was premiered by Carl Czerny, a Beethoven pupil made infamous by his teaching etudes. But despite his hearing loss, he was enjoying a period of extraordinary creativity. Written between 1809 and 1811, the Emperor made use of the new six-octave piano and was unprecedented in scale. Its opening movement, about 20 minutes long, begins with three big orchestral chords, each followed by an elaborate, improvised-sounding solo cadenza by the piano, which eventually lead to the energetic first theme. The lyrical second theme, in a minor key, combines pathos and hope, and the tender, breathtakingly orchestrated melody of the second movement leads directly into the rousing finale. The soloist is Emanuel Ax, whose playing is always best in music from the classical era. In addition to the concerto, the program includes Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) and Rachmaninoff's final work, Symphonic Dances (1940). David Robertson conducts. —Barbara Yaross At 10:30 tonight at the same venue, Ax will join comic piano duo Igudesman¬†& Joo for a program called "A Little Nightmare Music." Tickets are $20.

Price: $30-$172

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