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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

There's a school of thought that compares maestros to vintage wine: the older they get, the riper and wiser they become. By this criterion, Tokyo-born Takashi Asahina, who at age 87 is the world's oldest active conductor, must be a fountain of musical wisdom. If only it were the case. To be sure, Asahina is an engaging and thoughtful interpreter of the Germanic canon--which has always been held in the highest regard by the Japanese cultural elite--but he's no Herbert von Karajan or even Georg Solti, leaders of the postwar pack. At best he's a FurtwŠngler disciple who likes to fiddle with tempi and dynamics, sometimes coming up with imaginative new takes on venerable classics. Asahina's crowning achievement, however, lies in orchestra building and mentoring. In 1947, seven years after his professional debut, he formed the Kansai Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, which he still heads. Busy with engagements overseas, he's served as a role model for later generations of Japanese conductors and other artists eager for an international career. This week Asahina is taking on his first gig with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Not surprisingly, though disappointingly, there's only one work on the program: Bruckner's Fifth Symphony, familiar terrain for both Asahina and the CSO. At the very least, its performance is guaranteed to be spectacular sounding. Thursday through next Saturday, May 18, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 294-3000. TED SHEN

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