The first time was the free celebratory concert in September 2010, when an estimated 25,000 listeners welcomed the orchestra's celebrated new music director as he led the musicians through an assortment of works. The second time came two years later with the free, rain-drenched season-opening performance of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" that drew about 7,000 hearty, wet souls.
The weather gods were smiling on Muti and the CSO Thursday night as their long-sold-out Orchestra Hall performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem Mass--in honor of the composer's 200th birthday-- was beamed to the Pritzker Pavilion's 40-foot-by-22-1/2-foot LED screen on a clear, unseasonably mild October evening. Although CSO concerts previously have been simulcast on television and radio, the satellite transmissions to Millennium Park and the Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen were a first for the orchestra, as was the concert's live Internet streaming on the CSO's website and Facebook page plus numerous other outlets worldwide, including the Chicago Tribune's website.
So CSO/Muti/Verdi fans who lacked Orchestra Hall tickets had options on how to experience the concert, and had it been a rainy night with temperatures in the 40s, it's unlikely that Judy Henry Castiglioni would have laid out such a nice, Verdi-inspired dinner spread for her and her husband atop blankets rimmed with battery-operated tea lights: roasted red peppers with artichokes, risotto Milanese, stuffed chicken breast with prosciutto and Asiago cheese, and cocoa brownies.
"We love coming here to have our little picnic. It seemed one last way to get one in before the season was over," said Castiglioni, a registered nurse who lives in River West and suggested that other arts organizations, such as the Lyric Opera, should follow the CSO's lead and simulcast performances here.Chicagoans happened to have some other high-profile options Thursday night as well, including the Bears-New York Giants game starting at the same time about two miles south at Soldier Field, as well as the Chicago International Film Festival's opening-night gala a few blocks west at the Chicago Theatre. Mind you, Maestro Muti would scoff at the notion of these entertainments existing on a similar plane with Verdi's profound work, but this is a Bears town, after all.
At any rate, the 3,200 to 3,500 people whom the CSO estimated were at Pritzker Pavilion--to these eyes the 4,200-capacity pavilion looked about one-third to one-half full while maybe 20-25 percent of the 7,000-capacity lawn was occupied--did not constitute a Bears crowd (and the beer/wine lines were really short).
Tavia Frazier, an Oak Park paralegal, scoffed at the notion that the Bears might compete for her attention. "Please," she said. "This is much more special."
Judy Jurgenson, her friend who lives in Edgewater, agreed. "You get to see the city in the evening, you're near the lake, the music is beautiful, and we love Muti and think he's done a beautiful job with the CSO," she said.
Howard Siegel, a retired businessman who lives in Hyde Park, wasn't about to stay home on a night like this. "This is a lot bigger of a screen than on my computer," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this."
"I wouldn't listen to it on the computer because the sound is so bad," said Philip Dripps, a retired United Methodist minister from Batavia who said he also enjoys the high-definition theatrical simulcasts of Metropolitan Opera performances.
Said Josh DeVries, a Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra cellist who lives in Chesterton, Indiana: "The opportunity to see the CSO at any point is great, especially for free and especially for a piece that you can argue they play the best of anyone in the world right now."
The simulcast ran without a hitch over the Requiem's almost 90-minute duration. The picture was sharp, and the sound was clear if a little quiet given the backdrop of passing cars, the occasional airplane, a crying baby outburst and sirens blending with the soloists' voices as they sang, "Save me, source of mercy."
After applauding Muti's entrance, the audience was quiet and respectful throughout, though some couldn't resist checking their cell phones (Bears score?). The finale triggered a hearty ovation, with some audience members standing to applaud the screen, others making a bee-line out of there.DeVries said he was overwhelmed. "You're surrounded by the city that loves and supports them so much," he said. "It's very different from the concert hall. I wonder what Verdi would think of us being here doing this now."