Review: Chicago Symphony world premiere of Montgomery’s “Hymn for Everyone”

Posted on: May 2, 2022

“When the theme to Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Hymn for Everyone’ popped into her head on a mountain hike in New Jersey, she said it ended the Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence’s monthslong writer’s block,” writes Hannah Edgar in Saturday’s (4/30) Chicago Tribune. “ ‘Hymn for Everyone’ fixates on … a tidy little melodic cell whose initial ascending line nods to the 19th-century hymn ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ It’s doubled and transformed around the orchestra until a second theme finally answers it two-thirds of the way through. The effect is not quite as relentless as a ‘Bólero’-esque exercise in orchestration, but it comes close…. Its controlled release of emotion, meted out tactfully by [CSO Music Director Riccardo] Muti on Thursday night, gestures to something far deeper than what glimmers on its surface. Beneath are deep currents of pain…. The ‘Hymn’s’ orchestration—especially its enunciated, chorale-like string lines—carries whiffs of John Williams’ most famous scores, minus their technical thorniness…. Thursday’s audience … seemed to receive the piece with special warmth when Montgomery took the stage for her bows.” Also on the program were Giovanni Bottesini’s Double Bass Concerto No. 2, with CSO Principal Bass Alex Hanna, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6.