Bach Marathon: One Sound, One City

As I pass Wrigley Field on my morning commute to Symphony Center, I cannot help but ruminate on the 7th largest gathering in human history that I witnessed the other day. The Chicago Cubs’ World Series Victory Parade drew upwards of five million spectators. This gathering resulted in images of crying fans and many renditions of the faithful song, “Go Cubs, Go.” Even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” on two different occasions: once led by Riccardo Muti and another time led by James Levine! This city, my city, was starving for the championship. It is difficult to quantify what it means to our community.

Orchestral musicians are more likely to think of a full count as three silent beats before a pick-up note than as three balls and two strikes against a baseball batter. Few orchestral musicians watch an entire season of baseball. On the other hand, few Cubs fans have listened to an entire Bruckner symphony or attended a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. That does not mean that these two public spheres are without overlap. But what is the common bond? In and around this great city we are not just starved of sports championships but of spaces to come together and champion the community.

I am the only Civic Fellow originally from the Chicagoland area. I grew up in the small, western suburb of Wood Dale. The thought of enjoying a Cubs game and a CSO concert on the same level of interest is no foreign concept to me. (Full disclosure: I am a diehard White Sox and Blackhawks fan). I mention this because although the crowds and performers have little overlap, we are united by an immense pride for the city of Chicago. There is much injustice in society, not just directly (acts of violence) but indirectly (media coverage). These injustices can suffocate the positive thoughts which lead to productive solutions. Now, more than ever, we are reminded of the need to unify. In the words of Maestro Riccardo Muti, “send a message of freedom, liberty, and brotherhood” out into the world. With this is mind, let me tell you how we, the Civic Orchestra members and Fellows, are doing our part

The Civic Orchestra is preparing its third annual Bach Marathon as one of Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant Yo-Yo Ma’s “artistic challenges” to the orchestra. Throughout the day on November 30th, small ensembles will be performing all six Brandenburg concerti. These pop-up concerts will take place at eight separate locations throughout the city before culminating in a formal performance at Fourth Presbyterian Church at 7pm.

What is so incredibly special about this year’s Bach Marathon is we will be joined by young musicians from The People’s Music School, many of whom the Civic Fellows have had the opportunity to work with throughout the season. These young students have such a fire and excitement in everything they do and we are so very lucky to share our music, as well as our friendship, with them.

For Chicago residents, thank you for welcoming the Civic Orchestra into your neighborhoods. As we join your communities on November 30th, I invite you and all my colleagues reading this to open your hearts and minds. Start a conversation, meet a new friend and celebrate who we are and where we come from in an open, welcoming space. This is an amazing and rare opportunity to share beautiful sounds, thoughts, and actions.

All events are FREE. No tickets required. To learn more, visit

By Alex Schwarz

Photo by Todd Rosenberg