Live Music in Chicago: Inside the Classical Music Scene

Chicago's Live Music ScenceClassical music carries with it a long and celebrated past, tracing centuries of musical development. Along its historical journey, famous names like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven have created masterful works of art that continue to be celebrated by music lovers today. It is a rich art form that is beneficial to listeners in a number of ways, from intellectual to aesthetic, cultural to emotional, and beyond.

One stumbling block for those who are interested in starting to learn about or even perform classical music is that it may seem intimidating. Where and how do you get started in a huge city like Chicago? Luckily, the answer is easier than you think.

Chicago is home to an enormous host of offerings for classical music lovers of all levels and ages. Akin to – or even rivaling – other major American cities like New York and Los Angeles, Chicago boasts world-renowned concert halls, numerous professional orchestras, prestigious university music programs, and more. Residents of the Windy City can enjoy a nearly limitless array of opportunities for the well-versed or the burgeoning classical music lover.

Professional Ensembles

For those looking for the most elite listening experience with classical live music in Chicago should first check out the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Along with New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, Chicago boasts one of the “Big Five” orchestras in the United States, indicating the top five hailed professional orchestral ensembles in the country. The CSO is particularly regarded for its incredible brass section. Because of this, audiences seeking out live music in Chicago should start with CSO performances for full, dramatic, and rich symphonies from the eighteenth century to today.

The CSO performs more than 150 concerts every year, usually held at the Symphony Center in downtown Chicago. Summer concerts can be heard at the summer home of the CSO, the Ravinia Festival at the beautiful North Shore.The CSO is also affiliated with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a training ensemble for talented pre-professional musicians.

The CSO has won 62 Grammy Awards and has played the soundtrack film scores for numerous Hollywood motion pictures, including John Williams’ score for the 2012 film “Lincoln”. Chicagoans are fortunate to have such an internationally-hailed orchestra in their city and should take advantage.

Another professional orchestra in the windy city is the Chicago Philharmonic. It was founded in 1988 by key players in the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago and, since then, has grown to an ensemble of more than 200 high-caliber musicians. The Chicago Philharmonic Society provides performing opportunities for its musicians, while sharing classical music with the audience at an affordable cost.

If you’re more in the mood for a smaller ensemble in a more intimate setting, Chicago is home to several regional, semi-professional, and youth orchestras. These include ensembles such as the New Millenium Orchestra, the Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Take a glance at their web pages for details about their performances.


For a peek into the future of classical music, listeners should check out the performance calendar for the music programs at the top universities in Chicago. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University are two of the most respected universities in the nation, and they also happen to have leading music-training programs. The students studying music at these schools are richly talented and are well on their way to becoming future professional musicians. These schools offer a constant schedule of solo recitals, chamber music ensemble performances, and band and orchestra concerts throughout the year. Perhaps the biggest advantage of all: these performances are often free to the public! There are also often guest artist concerts sponsored by these universities, allowing listeners in Chicago to witness performances by internationally known performers and groups, often at less – or zero – cost.

Radio Stations

Perhaps the most accessible method of listening to classical music in Chicago would be to tune into a classical music radio station in the area. For the Chicago area, the go-to classical radio station is WFMT 98.7. Tuning in to this station – whether at home, in the car, at work, or during your daily commute – is an easy way to familiarize yourself with a wide array of classical pieces, styles, and composers.

Online Resources

There is a virtually limitless array of offerings for those interested in classical music concerts in The Windy City! In addition, the Internet is a wonderful resource for finding other performances of classical live music in Chicago. Some great websites include:

Now, go forth and enjoy some classical live music in Chicago!


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Photo by Bryan Thompson

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