Recently, I had the privilege of seeing the infamous Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform one of my all-time favorite works, Carl Orff’s magnum opus Carmina Burana. For those of you not quite familiar with the name, you will quickly recognize its most well-known movement “O Fortuna,” which starts the hour-long piece. Not only was this such a special performance because I went with my boyfriend for my birthday, but I have a lot of history with this moving classical work.
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My History with Carmina Burana
Many people don’t know about my musical background. I grew up playing piano since age 10 and violin since age 11. While I typically dabbled for fun in piano, I performed violin in orchestra all the way up through college. In 2016 and 2017, I was part of Mizzou’s University Philharmonic Orchestra.
Unfortunately, as life gets busy, playing music as a hobby often gets pushed to the wayside. While I no longer perform, I still enjoy practicing in my free time and even compose music that you can find and listen to on my Shop Page.
The EHS performance of Carmina Burana
High school was actually where I was first exposed to Carmina Burana. As a violinist in the Edwardsville High School Symphonic Orchestra, we performed this intricate, advanced-level piece in 2011. Over 200 performers made up the awesome spectacle. That included our second orchestra, our Symphonic Band, three of our choirs, and the children’s choirs from our local middle schools.
It was the most moving and challenging performance any of us had ever experienced. And not to mention, it was ambitious. Carmina Burana is typically not performed by orchestras lower than college level ever. While we didn’t quite perfect the complex rhythms and master its mind-boggling syncopation, it was an unforgettable and emotional time.
And to be completely real with you, for anyone who hasn’t ever played a musical instrument, it is HARD to sustain playing for more than half an hour. I swear, my entire body was SO sore for like a week after holding my violin up for so long. It’s truly a workout and requires professional endurance.
The first Time Seeing Another Performance
Fast forward to college… While I didn’t get to perform Carmina Burana again with my college orchestra, I did get to see it performed as a ballet instead my senior year. The Missouri Contemporary Ballet put on an absolute stunning spectacle at Missouri Theatre. Plus, my college’s choir director Nollie Moore actually performed as the tenor, which is my one of my FAVORITE solos.
I actually went to see it alone because none of my college friends wanted to LOL. But I sat in that audience and literally CRIED from memories of performing it eight years prior!
Perhaps a Carmina Burana Obsession?
Fun fact for anyone who hasn’t yet read my novel Genesis Mortalis, Book 1 of the Take It Trilogy: I even included a reference to one of my favorite, darkest movements of Carmina Burana “Omnia Sol Temperat” in Chapter 2. The words of the solo are actually quite romantic and beautiful when translated in English, but the tone is dark and ominous.
I used the movement to set the background. My sadistic main character — Madisyn — sits brooding in a dimly-lit room. It’s during this methodical moment that she brews up her somewhat evil plan to create her monster organization, UCOCA (United Capitalists Organized Crime Association). Read more about my main characters on my About Page.
CSO Plays to Absolute Perfection
Back to present day… The Chicago Symphony Orchestra put on a performance of Carmina Burana that was unparalleled. The musicians and singers performed with such fascinating invigoration that gave the audience and myself chills at some points. As expected, the orchestra and choirs nailed the most challenging parts of the piece with flawless syncopation that mimicked a perfect heart beat. I was thoroughly impressed.
This performance wasn’t as emotional for me, however. But mostly that’s because I’ve listened to Carmina Burana quite often over the years while working from home. So really, it was very enjoyable and felt like any other concert by a well-known artist who you can sing along to (I know ALL 25 movements of this five-section cantata).
Notable Names of The Performers
Joining the symphony orchestra was also the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Uniting Voices Chicago. The latter is formerly known as the Chicago Children’s Choir. Osmo Vänskä conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a fierce passion you could see even from the far back of the audience.
I have to say that while I enjoyed watching the orchestra, the soloists really made this performance come alive. Baritone Hugh Russell was incredibly animated and enjoyable to watch in all of his many solos. More than just singing, he really acted out his parts, incorporating humorous emotion and movements so much that the audience couldn’t help breaking out in fits of laughter!
Countertenor Reginald Mobley performed his iconic single solo — “Olim lacus colueram,” the song of the dying swan — to perfection. It’s perhaps one of the silliest movements because the singer is to embody the persona of a bird about to be eaten. Many audience members not familiar with Carmina Burana are often caught by surprise at the singer’s voice, perhaps not knowing it’s meant to be comedy.
Soprano Joélle Harvey had such a soothing and impressive voice that wowed audiences with how incredibly high she could sing. Plus, she looked so stunning in her grand dress.
The rest of the Program
While I only boasted about Carmina Burana, there were two other performances of the night. CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery’s piece Banner kicked off the night. Montgomery wrote this work as a rhapsody on the theme of the Star Spangled Banner. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the energetic triumphant, modern-day twist on the anthem.
Einojuhani Rautavaara’s piece Cantus articus followed in the lineup. This was one of the most interesting classical works I’ve heard in a long time. The music of this piece is paired with a complex layer of bird sounds that were both humorous and mysterious. These sounds were actually recordings of birds taped by the composer in the Arctic Circle and the marshlands of Liminka, located in northern Finland. By the end of the piece, the music evolves into something quite fantastical and stirring.
Read the full program book for further insight on the entire production as well as the upcoming 2023/2024 season.
A Night to Remember
Overall, I was thoroughly moved by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, particularly their performance of Carmina Burana. As a somewhat still-new resident of Chicago, I honestly feel so incredibly lucky to have such a world-renowned symphony right in my backyard! Be sure to follow them on Instagram to stay tuned to their upcoming performances.
Looking for an incredible Italian dining experience just a 20-minute walk away before your next CSO concert? Read my blog, “Eataly Chicago, A Must-Visit for Valentine’s Day & Beyond” to make a reservation at one of their restaurants.