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Civic Orchestra of Chicago

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CIVIC ORCHESTRA OF CHICAGO

Though Duke Ellington occupies an unassailable place in the pantheons of jazz and popular music, even now, 100 years after his birth, many orchestras still consider even the most ambitious and Eurocentric of his works too lightweight for their repertoires. Fortunately for Chicagoans, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the CSO's farm team) has repeatedly treated him with the respect he deserves, as an American master of Gershwin's caliber. For its season opener the Civic will perform Ellington's Harlem, an 18-minute concerto for orchestra that's been compared to Rhapsody in Blue for its kaleidoscopic evocation of a milieu. In 1943 Ellington gave his Black, Brown, and Beige the subtitle "A Tone Parallel to the History of the Negro in America," and Harlem, written in 1950 on a commission from maestro Arturo Toscanini, was meant as a tone parallel to its eponymous neighborhood; it would also be Ellington's last extended composition. The double bass mimicks footsteps, leading the listener on a walking tour that traverses a multitude of moods, highlighted by lively, affectionate tributes to the Cotton Club and the Harlem Renaissance. Stunning solo licks erupt throughout, and at one point the instrumental "shouts" of civil rights protesters echo down an imaginary street. The Civic's roster doesn't include a jazz virtuoso like Johnny Hodges, Ellington's star saxist, so it probably won't be able to squeeze all the intensity out of this unclassifiable classic. But its members can certainly do justice to Ellington's groove, as they did a couple seasons back on Black, Brown, and Beige--and that concert's director, William Eddins, will guide the Civic at these two. A Barenboim protege and the CSO's resident conductor, Eddins has an exceptional feel for the exuberance of American music; he's also an appealing pianist, and will play Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 21 here. Rounding out the program is Brahms's Symphony no. 3. Like all the Civic's regular concerts, these performances are free, but tickets are required. Sunday, 3 PM, New Regal Theater, 1665 E. 79th, and Monday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. Ted Shen

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