Some of you may simply want to know what distinguishes a symphony from a sonata, or what makes music “modern,” or what a conductor does to get an orchestra to play like that. Others may be simply looking for encouragement to venture outside their classical comfort zone.
The following sampler of recommended fall classical concerts is here to help. Some events promise to educate, others to stimulate. All promise a high level of artistic return. May you emerge from some or all of them realizing that it's not how much you know about Bach and Beethoven that counts, but how open your ears and mind are to the musical experience.
Beethoven Festival — Revolution 2012: Here's your chance to roll over a huge amount of Beethoven, plus a great deal of other genre-busting music (would you believe Beatles arrangements and a grand finale jam with the Ernest Dawkins and Jimmy Burns bands?). For its second annual salute to Ludwig van B., the International Beethoven Project is presenting more than 60 concerts in nine days, featuring some of the cream of local musicians, along with such celebrated guests as violinist James Ehnes, pianists Charles Rosen and HJ Lim and ensembles ranging from the Lincoln Trio to Ensemble Dal Niente. A $30 pass gets you into one days of events; a $350 VIP pass gives you admittance to everything. Saturday-Sept. 16 at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence Ave.; internationalbeethovenproject.com
Music in the Loft: The series, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is one of the best places in town to spot gifted young musicians on their way up. The season's lineup of chamber music will bring new faces and old and a new downtown location for concerts. Kicking things off Sept. 15-16 will be star alumni, the Pacifica Quartet and clarinetist Anthony McGill. The 20th-anniversary concert Nov. 9 will include resident composer Lita Grier's “Elegy,” written in memory of the series' late founder and director, Fredda Hyman. Suite 801, Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave.; $25, $10 for students; 312-919-5030, musicintheloft.org
Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts: This free weekly noontime showcase for gifted under-30 artists remains the best classical value around. No wonder Preston Bradley Hall is invariably packed each Wednesday afternoon. The series will celebrate its 35th anniversary Sept. 26 with a performance by violist Richard Young, oboist Alex Klein and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; 312-670-6888, imfchicago.org
International Contemporary Ensemble: As part of the season-long Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition “MCA DNA: John Cage,” the museum's resident ensemble will explore the music and relationship of Cage (whose 100th birthday is being widely celebrated this year) and another influential master of the 20th-century avant-garde, Pierre Boulez. Oct. 6 at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave.; $28; 312-397-4010, mcachicago.org
Baroque Band: Chicago's intrepid period-instrument orchestra launches its sixth season with a program featuring its newly created Baroque Band Choral Ensemble. Concerts include music from the English Chapel Royal by Purcell, Blow and Handel. Oct. 19-24; various locations; $35, $30 for seniors, $15 for students; 312-235-2368, baroqueband.org
Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra: The highly regarded young Austrian conductor David Danzmayr directs his first concerts as the orchestra's new music director. The program includes two classical favorites, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Rodrigo's “Concierto de Aranjuez.” Ana Vidovic is the guitar soloist. Nov. 10-11 at Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center, 19900 S. Harlem Ave., Frankfort; $35-$55; 708-481-7774, ipomusic.org