Chicago music has long gone gaga over the Brits, and not simply because the city's two leading opera companies are, or were, run by thoroughly capable Englishmen – Anthony Freud at Lyric Opera and Brian Dickie, who retired last year after 13 seasons as general director of Chicago Opera Theater.
For now, let's raise a pint to the two English conductors, music director Jane Glover and principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer, who are shaping the artistic fortunes of Chicago's Music of the Baroque. Thanks to their musical leadership, a proficient orchestra and chorus, and steady hands on the managerial tiller, the organization can point to a decade of artistic and audience growth unhampered by a sputtering economy.
Indeed, the stylistic awareness, interpretive depth and sheer ebullience of outlook Glover has brought to MOB's core Baroque and Classical orchestral and choral repertory in the course of her 10 years here have made it one of the most admired groups of its type in the nation.
"I'm astonished that it's been 10 years already, which I think shows that we're having such a good time," says Glover, who will conduct MOB's annual Mozart birthday celebration at weekend concerts in Chicago and Skokie.
Making music here "is actually my favorite thing to do – I love it more than anything else I do in the whole year and in the whole world," she exclaims. "I think Chicago is one of the most thrilling cities on the planet. I've made very good friends here."
Glover's love affair with Chicago is remarkable, given her British loyalties and extensive involvement with various orchestral and choral ensembles in her native land. Before coming to MOB, the Yorkshire native served in various leadership positions with the Glyndebourne Opera, London Choral Society, London Mozart Players and Huddersfield Choral Society. Since 2009 she has from all reports been thriving as artistic director of opera at London's Royal Academy of Music.
When asked to what she attributes her successes over the last decade here, she replies, "I inherited a wonderful team and we've built on that. We have established the sort of repertory we do best, with Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart as our musical foundation. We've got the most wonderful choir, directed by William Jon Gray, in addition to the most wonderful set of players," drawn from the ranks of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera orchestras.
"I respect the way our players can come from rehearsing Bruckner or Wagner in the morning to rehearsing Bach or Handel with us in the afternoon. Within 20 minutes we've retrieved our own sound – that speaks volumes for the quality of the musicians we have.
"What I love about our lot is that everybody contributes and takes responsibility. We don't make these players try to be something they're not." Even so, "together we have found our own 'house style,' which is informed by the fact that a lot of us work with period instrument groups.
"Now, I'm not biased or anything," she adds, "but I would say this is one of the best chamber orchestras I know."
Glover tries to be even-handed when parceling out repertory between herself and Kraemer, she says. "We're very good friends, and although our repertory is very similar, it's also complementary – he's good at certain things I'm not so good at, and vice versa. We sort of dish out the big Bach works between ourselves."
As a matter of fact, the music director will conclude MOB's current season in May with two performances of J.S. Bach's "St. John Passion," which Kraemer conducted with the group in 2006. Her big Handel oratorio of the year will be "Israel in Egypt," scheduled for two performances in April. Kraemer will direct two Haydn symphonies and Handel's "Water Music" suites at MOB concerts in February.
A renowned 18th century scholar and author of the compelling history, "Mozart's Women," Glover says playing so much of Wolfgang Amadeus' music over the years has nurtured and refined the way MOB approaches the rest of its repertory.
"Mozart is absolutely one of the composers who is most important to me," she declares, noting that during the last 10 years her orchestra has performed all the major Mozart symphonies, some of them more than once. "I can never open a Mozart score without feeling a sense of intense excitement. You never get blase about playing his music, because he's always surprising and challenging you."
Although Glover has enjoyed a close association with Chicago Opera Theater concurrent to her tenure at MOB, Lyric Opera has never invited her to conduct any of its productions. Fortunately the Metropolitan Opera is not so blinded: She will make her company debut in December, leading Mozart's "The Magic Flute."
"I'm very lucky, I really am," the busy conductor says. "I realize that even when I'm exhausted at the end of the day. My life is very blessed."
Jane Glover will lead the Music of the Baroque orchestra in an all-Mozart program with soloists Vladimir Feltsman, piano, and Arianna Zukerman, soprano, at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; $27-$75; 312-551-1414, baroque.org.
CSO to play Morton Arboretum
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is following through on plans revealed last year to reach out to potential new audiences in DuPage County. The orchestra has announced it will present five concerts in late June at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, just ahead of its annual residency at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park.
Richard Kaufman will conduct film music by John Williams to open the west suburban series June 27. An all-Tchaikovsky program with Carlos Miguel Prieto conducting, and Jennifer Koh as violin soloist, is set for the evening of June 29. Prieto also will lead a family-oriented concert on June 30, program to be announced. During the day on June 29, an ensemble of CSO members will give two performances of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," from its "Once Upon a Symphony" educational series, for families with children ages 3 to 5.