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The Chicago Sound

The Chicago Sound

The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are known for their distinctive “Chicago Sound,” marked by the precision, clarity, and power that have defined the Orchestra as a world-class institution. As the longest-serving clarinetist in the Orchestra’s history, Soloist John Bruce Yeh has had intimate experience with this high standard of performance. Composer James Stephenson is also familiar with this unique sound, having grown up listening to the CSO during his childhood in suburban Chicago. After receiving a degree in trumpet performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, Stephenson performed as a member of the Naples Philharmonic for seventeen years. In his early twenties he began to write music on the side, and as his part-time efforts gained the attention of colleagues and friends, he was able to turn composing into his full-time passion.

The largely self-taught composer has gone on to write concertos and sonatas for nearly every instrument, and his work has been described as imaginative and approachable, characterized by a formal sense of melody and tonality. Inspired by a line from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Liquid Melancholy is Stephenson’s first major work for clarinet. The concerto capitalizes on the instrument’s smooth fluidity, serving as an engaging and skillful showcase of the clarinet’s many facets. A consortium of youth orchestras commissioned the work as a new concerto for clarinetist Daniel Gilbert. Included in that consortium was Midwest Young Artists in suburban Highwood, and John Bruce Yeh served as soloist for the ensemble’s regional premiere. Yeh has since become so enamored with Stephenson’s works that not only did he help commission the composer’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in 2015, but he went on to record a full album of the Stephenson’s works which spotlight the instrument. The clarinetist has said of Stephenson, “He’s really got it down. I’m very pleased to be playing his music. It’s challenging, to be sure, for the performers, but it’s very satisfying to perform. I’m a huge fan.”

James Stephenson

James Stephenson


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Musical Insights

Free Pre-Concert Preview Series!

Friday, November 8 at 1:30 pm

Enhance your concert experience with a sneak preview — Composers come alive and their passions take center stage when ESO General Manager David Ellis and ESO Maestro Lawrence Eckerling take you on an insider’s tour of the history and highlights behind the music.

Meet our soloist, Mindy Kaufman, at Musical Insights. She and our Maestro Lawrence Eckerling and David Ellis will explore the November concert program in depth.

The Merion
Friday, November 8 at 1:30 pm,
The Merion Crystal Ballroom at
1611 Chicago Avenue at Davis Street, Evanston.
FREE and open to the public.
Please RSVP to 847-562-5318

Light refreshments will be served and casual tours of newly renovated apartments will be available after the program.