Stillwater’s McKnight Center for the Performing Arts presents a world-class evening of music by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 28. The evening’s program including selections from Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky.

Considered one of the best orchestras in the world, the Chicago Symphony will present an evening that “is all symphonic, with no soloists, which is brilliant programming on their part,” says Mark Blakeman, the Marilynn and Carl Thoma Executive Director of the McKnight Center. “This will introduce the entire orchestra.” 

The symphony, founded in 1891, has been touring for 130 years.

“We feel it is important to undertake these tours as ambassadors for the city of Chicago and state of Illinois,” says Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. “People all over the world are excited to hear the Chicago Symphony. There’s a rich history of touring and recording, along with 62 Grammys. It’s an exciting time for everyone, as the musicians get to perform for new audiences in new venues. We’re excited to be at the McKnight Center and have heard wonderful things from other orchestras who performed there.”

This will be the last season for Riccardo Muti, director of the Chicago Symphony, before his retirement, “making the event a unique opportunity,” says Blakeman. “It’s subjective – but it’s safe to say he’s one of the most highly accomplished living conductors today, known especially for two decades of world class operatic conducting in Milan, and also with Chicago Symphony for more than decade. So coming to the conclusion of his career is really special.”

One of the flagships for the McKnight Center is the mission to bring the best orchestras in the country to OSU. 

“Those conversations have long time horizons, with the complexity of orchestra calendars combined with conducting staff and guest artists,” says Blakeman. “Talks with Chicago started in 2017, and we continue to have these conversations with orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, as it can easily take three to five years. We feel like we’re doing important work here to serve the region and Oklahoma, by bringing world class performances to an intimate setting – ones you might not otherwise see in a 1,100-seat venue.”

Alexander says the timing became right for another domestic tour, as there were concerns for possible COVID-19 restrictions overseas.

The McKnight Center opened in October of 2019, says Blakeman, and is reflective of OSU’s commitment in bringing great art and culture opportunities to campus.  

“It’s been part of a multi-prong strategy of the university to elevate the arts, which continued with the opening of other museums over the years,” says Blakeman. “Combined with donors who have particular passion for programming, Billie and Ross McKnight started an endowment to provide resources to bring artists to this community that wouldn’t come to a place of Stillwater’s size typically. This gives us resources to program as if in a larger market than we are. The McKnights want the best of the best brought to campus to give students opportunities they didn’t have when they were here.”