A bustling Boston music season is on tap with several anniversary celebrations

September 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm

By Keith Powers

Yuja Wang will make her Boston recital debut October 18 for the Celebrity Series. She returns in March to perform Prokofiev with Charles Dutoit and the BSO. Photo: Felix Broede

There is expectation everywhere. A new music director at Symphony Hall ( even though he won’t really get going for a year). A new opera troupe in town, restoring one of Boston’s best conductors to the pit podium. Outsized anniversary celebrations, and theatrical productions, vying for the spotlight. And new music everywhere, enlivening the season with listening challenges.

The major news comes from Symphony Hall, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra (bso.org) welcomes its fifteenth music director, Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. Nelsons guests at the BSO with two programs this season: Oct. 17, when he leads pianist Paul Lewis in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25, and the orchestra in Brahms’ Third Symphony, and in the spring for a semi-staged Salome. The BSO’s music director-elect assumes his full-time status in 2014.

But also sharing the spotlight, the Celebrity Series turns 75, Boston Baroque turns 40, the Cantata Singers turns 50, and Gil Rose returns with Odyssey Opera.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

The BSO season officially begins with an all Brahms evening Sept. 21, the Double Concerto (Augustin Hadelich, violin; Alban Gerhardt, cello) and the Second Symphony. Christoph von Dohnanyi conducts, returning the next week for Mahler’s Resurrection symphony.

BSO artistic administrator Anthony Fogg guided the repertory selection process for this season, as he has every season since James Levine’s departure. Fogg built the season around “three sort of theatrical focus points,” he says: Britten’s War Requiem (Nov. 7-9, with Charles Dutoit on the podium); a mid-season set including Osvaldo Golijov’s Pasión según San Marcos (Jan. 9-11 under Robert Spano) and a screening/live music version of West Side Story (David Newman, Feb. 14-16); and lastly, Nelsons conducting Strauss’s Salome (Mar. 6).

Yefim Bronfman will perform all five Beethoven piano concertos with the BSO this season. Photo: Dario Acosta

Four premieres also dot the schedule: Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Speranza (featuring conductor Daniel Harding’s BSO debut, Oct. 24-26); Marc Neikrug’s Bassoon Concerto for BSO principal Richard Svoboda (Frühbeck conducts, Nov. 21-23); Justin dello Joio’s Piano Concerto for Garrick Olssohn (Jan. 23-25); and Bernard Rands’ Piano Concerto (celebrating his 80th birthday) with soloist Jonathan Biss (Apr. 3-8; Spano conducts).

Fall highlights include concerts by Yo-Yo Ma (Shostakovich’ Cello Concerto No. 1, Oct. 3-8); guest conducting appearances by Thomas Adès (Oct. 10-12); two separate engagements with Dutoit (Oct. 31-Nov-9, including the War Requiem program as well as a concert with Penderecki’s Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos); and Frühbeck leading Peter Serkin in Brahms First Piano Concerto over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The theatrical performances of Golijov and Bernstein are joined by a keyboard marathon: Yefim Bronfman playing not only all five Beethoven concertos, but also the triple concerto with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and violinist Guy Braunstein (Mar. 13-22). Anthony Davis returns, leading Yuja Wang in Prokofiev’s second piano concerto Mar. 27-29, as does Daniele Gatti (Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Apr. 10-12). Anne-Sophie Mutter comes back, playing the Dvorak concerto Feb. 20-22, and 90-year-old Menahem Pressler plays Mozart’s Piano Quartet in the annual conductor-less concert Mar. 8. Lorin Maazel closes the season with three separate programs, featuring lots of Russian music.

As usual the Boston Symphony Chamber players offer four concerts, highlighted this year by numerous commissions, at Jordan Hall. That season begins Oct. 13 with Thomas Adès guesting on piano and harpsichord; brings the great Gilbert Kalish in Jan. 12; offers commissions by Kati Agòcs, Gunther Schuller, Hannah Lash and Yehudi Wyner on Feb. 9; and closes April 6 with another commission by Sebastian Currie

Celebrity Series

The Celebrity Series of Boston (celebrityseries.org) glories in its 75th anniversary season this year, and certainly seems to have the right idea of partying. Even though its opening night star, Sonny Rollins, had to cancel due to illness, the series opens in the most democratic fashion, with the plein-air installation Play Me, I’m Yours!, by Luke Jerram. With dozens of pianos scattered outdoors throughout metro Boston, the installation runs Sept. 27-Oct. 14 and, if nothing else, promises to be a lot of fun.

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic March 23 for the Celebrity Series.

Banjoist Bela Fleck starts the stage season Oct. 10 at Sanders Theatre, and the classical music portion of the schedule starts Oct. 18 at Jordan Hall with pianist Yuja Wang.

It’s a glittering lineup for the anniversary. Pianists include Andras Schiff and his Bach Project (Nov. 1, Jordan Hall), Benjamin Grosvenor (Nov. 5, Pickman Hall), Kirill Gerstein (Jan. 31, Jordan Hall), Cédric Tiberghien (Feb. 19, Pickman Hall), and Evgeny Kissin (March 16, Symphony Hall).

Marc-André Hamelin makes no less than three appearances: a solo recital Dec. 8 at Jordan Hall, a duo performance with Emanuel Ax April 13 at Symphony Hall, and a trio performance with violinist Anthony Marwood and clarinetist Martin Fröst May 2 at Jordan Hall.

There’s more. Splashy orchestra appearances include the Israel Philharmonic (under Zubin Mehta, Mar. 19), and Los Angeles Philharmonic (Gustavo Dudamel, Mar. 23), both at Symphony Hall. Quartets include Takács (the complete Bartok cycle in two concerts, Mar. 20 and April 11 at Jordan Hall), Danish String Quartet (Nov. 13, Pickman Hall), Quatour Ebène (Feb. 28, Jordan Hall), and Jerusalem String Quartet (Mar. 29, Jordan Hall). Violinists Joshua Bell (Nov. 17, Symphony Hall), Leonidas Kavakos (Feb. 23, Jordan Hall), and Christian Tetzlaff (Mar. 30, Jordan Hall) all come to town, as does the inimitable Yo-Yo Ma (Mar. 21, Symphony Hall).

Voice gets its own Celebrity Series celebration, with recitals by mezzo Sasha Cooke (with clarinetist David Shifrin, Jan. 28 in Pickman Hall), bass Gerald Finley (Feb. 8, Jordan Hall), soprano Natalie Dessay (Mar. 8, Jordan Hall), tenor Nicholas Phan (April 17, Pickman Hall), soprano Deborah Voigt (April 27, Symphony Hall), baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (May 29, Jordan Hall). Voigt also performs in the captivating Voigt Lessons, her professional autobiography that was developed by playwright Terrence McNally and director Francesca Zambello, Nov. 21 and 22 at Calderwood Pavilion. And choreographer Mark Morris teams his dancers with the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra and Chorus for a staged Acis and Galatea (May 15-18 at the Shubert).


Gil Rose launches Odyssey Opera with a concert performance of Wagner’s “Rienzi” on September 15.

The season starts early for opera, and runs long and strong. Opera Boston, the heady troupe led by conductor Gil Rose, closed in 2011, and with it ended any chance Bostonians had of seeing works like Hindemith’s Cardillac or Shostakovich’s The Nose (though the latter returs to the Met September 28). Opera Boston had even shared in the Pulitzer Prize limelight when Zhou Long’s score for Madame White Snake, premiered in 2009, won the award in 2011.

Now Rose returns, with Odyssey Opera (odysseyopera.org). With an apparently similar artistic agenda, Odyssey Opera makes its debut with a concert performance of Wagner’s epic Rienzi (Sept. 15). Only one performance is promised so far, but organizers are sending out tantalizing hints about the rest of the season. Odyssey Opera’s incarnation, if only for the return of the estimable Rose to the opera pit, is a plus.

Boston Lyric Opera (blo.org), under Esther Nelson’s clever leadership, continues to mix well-staged standard repertory with one work that colors outside the lines. BLO opens with Mozart’s Magic Flute (Oct. 4-13) in a world premiere English version, along with new productions of Rigoletto (Mar. 14-23) and I Puritani (May 2-11), all at the Shubert. The BLO’s Opera Annex production this year is a commissioned work, a new chamber version of Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden (Nov. 20-24, in the Castle at Park Plaza).

Guerilla Opera (guerillaopera.com) jumps to two productions, opening a revival of Andy Vores’ No Exit (Sept. 19-22) at Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater. A second work, scheduled for May, is a world premiere, Gallo, from avant thinker and composer Ken Ueno. A new troupe, Opera Brittenica (operabrittenica.com), fills its inaugural season entirely with works by its namesake (Benjamin Britten), starting with his Rape of Lucretia (Oct. 18-28 at the Cambridge YMCA Theatre), followed by stagings of Britten Christmas works (A Ceremony of Carols, A Boy was Born and Hymn to the Virgin) in December and The Burning Fiery Furnace in April (exact dates and venues forthcoming). Intermezzo Opera (intermezzo-opera.org) brings its new Dan Shore opera Anne Hutchinson to the Modern Theatre at Suffolk Jan. 25-26 with a top flight group of singers including Marion Dry in the lead and baritone David Kravitz.

Early Music

Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque will mark the ensemble’s 40th anniversary season. Photo: Cydney Scott/Boston University

Boston Baroque (bostonbaroque.org) enters its 40th anniversary season with revived organizational energy and a continued focus on musical investigation. Its New Direction chamber series has two concerts this year: Oct. 19, with music of da Falla, Clérambault and Rameau; and Mar. 29, with a continuation of director Martin Pearlman’s settings from Finnegans Wake. Both concerts are at Pickman Hall. Its subscription concerts begin with Beethoven’s Ninth (Nov. 8 and 9 at Jordan Hall), and include the traditional Messiah (Dec. 13, 14 at Jordan Hall), all-Bach concerts for New Year’s (selections of Brandenburgs and the Coffee Cantata, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 at Sanders Theatre), Rameau’s Guirlande paired with Charpentier’s Te Deum (Feb. 14, 16 at Jordan Hall), and a semi-staged version of Monteverdi’s opera Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (Apr. 25, 26 at Jordan Hall), in a new performing edition by Pearlman.

Boston’s other longstanding period orchestra, Handel & Haydn Society, begins its 199th season with artistic director Harry Christophers leading Bach’s B Minor Mass (Sept. 27, 29) at Symphony Hall. Christophers makes a strong presence this season, leading performances of Messiah (Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at Symphony Hall); the music of Vivaldi (Feb. 21, 23 at Symphony Hall); a Bach/Byrd concert (Mar. 14, 16 at Jordan Hall); and Handel’s oratorio Samson (May 2, 4 at Symphony Hall). Guest conductors include Grant Llewellyn with a Mozart (Haffner symphony) and Beethoven program Nov. 1 and 3, Scott Metcalfe leading the Bach Christmas program (Dec. 19, 22 at Jordan Hall), and Richard Egarr conducting Beethoven’s Fourth (Jan. 24, 26 at Symphony Hall). Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky leads a program of Mendelssohn’s music (Apr. 4 at Jordan Hall, Apr. 6 at Sanders Theatre) as well.

The Boston Early Music Festival’s seasonal events feature the usual stellar infusion of international period music ensembles (bemf.org). Soprano Dominique Labelle teams with Sarasa Oct. 18 at First Church in Cambridge, and other programs include Tallis Scholars (Dec. 14 at St. Paul Church in Cambridge), London Haydn Quartet Jan. 18 at First Church in Cambridge, Benjamin Bagby’s Sequentia (Feb. 1), and Stile Antico (Mar. 7; both at at St. Paul Church).

The Cambridge Society for Early Music (csem.org) performs widely in the area, but in town has three concerts during the season at Christ Church in Cambridge (Oct. 7, Feb. 3, May 12). The opening concert features musicians from Daniel Stepner’s fine ensemble Aston Magna.

Chamber Music

The Chameleon Arts Ensemble opens its season October 5 with music of Chopin, Bennett and Copland.

The Gardner Museum’s venerable Sunday afternoon series (gardnermuseum.org), under the astute leadership of Scott Nickrenz, begins Sept. 22 with the string ensemble A Far Cry; its Avant Gardner Thursday evening performances start Oct. 17 with violinist Tim Fain; and a new series, In and Out Concerts, takes stage Monday afternoons at 2 p.m. It’s all a heady mix of established groups (Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), edgy professionals (Callithumpian Consort) and the young (pianist Charlie Albright). All performances are at the new Calderwood Hall in the museum’s new wing.

A Far Cry (afarcry.org) has made inroads onstage with interesting programming, and on the road as well with extensive touring. The conductor-less string ensemble, now in its 7th season, offers concerts locally at Jordan Hall, the Gardner Museum and at St. John’s Church in Jamaica Plain. The season begins Sept. 7 at Jordan Hall, with music of Gideon Klein and Josef Suk. Subsequent concerts highlight the music of Françaix (Sept. 21, 22); a shared evening with Urbanity Dance exploring music and choreography for Bach and Stravinsky (Jan. 11); and a world premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw featuring the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth on May 10.

The esoteric Chameleon Arts Ensemble (chameleonarts.org) brings another promising season to the Back Bay Oct. 5 and 6 with immortal notes, a Parisian infusion featuring music of Chopin, Richard Rodney Bennett and Copland. Five concerts dot the subscription series in Nov., Feb., March and May; as usual, joining unusual works from standard repertory composers like Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel with nearly unknown but almost always interesting works from Schwendinger, Shatin, Birtwistle and even Alan Hovhaness. Concerts alternate between the Goethe-Institut and First Church, Boston.

The Dublin Guitar Quartet opens Rockport Music’s enhanced classical music season Oct. 18 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center (rockportmusic.org). Violinist Jennifer Koh performs sonatas with pianist Benjamin Hochman Oct. 27, and subsequent recitals feature Richard Goode (Nov. 24), Borromeo String Quartet (Jan. 11), Garrick Ohlsson (Feb. 2), Stephen Hough (Feb. 28), and Andrés Cárdenes with David Deveau (April 13).

Radius Ensemble (radiusensemble.org) opens at Longy Oct. 5 with music of Rota, Piazzolla and Luna Pearl Woolf, the first of four concerts at the Cambridge conservatory that all begin with Radius’ unique brand of casual introductions. A Nov. 23 program mixes a premiere by John Holland with works by Martinu and Dvorak; on Mar. 8, Chen Yi shares the bill with Mozart and Bartok; on May 3, Evan Ziporyn joins musical forces with Lalo Schifrin and Debussy.

Boston Chamber Music Society (bostonchambermusic.org) has half a dozen concerts in its regular season, which opens Oct. 27 at Sanders Theatre. All programs offer solid works in the chamber repertory, some which should only be ventured by the most seasoned professionals. Opening night features Walton’s Piano Quartet; Nov. 24, the Brahms piano quartet, Op. 25; Feb. 9, the terrific Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, coupled with Smetana’s Piano Trio; a Mar. 9 concert essays Turina’s piano quartet and the Fauré C minor quintet; a commission by George Tsontakis for quintet highlights the Apr. 13 concert; and the finale tackles two larger pieces, the Mendelssohn Piano Sextet and the Françaix Octet for Winds and Strings.

Firebird Ensemble (firebirdensemble.org) plays from its new release of Eric Moe’s music Sept. 6 at First Church in Boston. The entire season has not yet been finalized, but the group will offer Jon Deak’s A Christmas Carol on Dec. 6 at Fanueil Hall as well, in additional to its regional educational programs. The Boston Classical Guitar Society artist series (bostonguitar.org) hosts five recitals at First Lutheran Church in Boston this season, beginning with Vladimir Gorbach on Oct. 4. The renowned Manuel Barrueco returns to Boston as part of the series on Apr. 4.

In the Conservatories

Each of the area’s conservatories offers hundreds of concerts, usually faculty and student performances that are free. New England Conservatory (necmusic.edu) also brings guest artists like A Far Cry (multiple appearances, beginning Sept. 7); Borromeo String Quartet (all six Bartok quartets, in one evening, Jan. 26); former president Lawrence Lesser’s prestigious First Mondays at Jordan Hall (beginning Oct. 7), which bring back outstanding NEC alumni; and Kim Kashkashian’s important Music for Food concerts (Mar. 17).

Longy (longy.edu) has the traditional season kickoff, the SeptemberFest, beginning Sept. 20, with several interesting programs including a conductor and performer/composer concert, with music by Salonen, Furtwangler, Schnabel and Gould. High energy cellist Sergey Antonov gives a solo recital Oct. 13 as well. Complete details on the concert calendar are still being formulated.

Boston Conservatory’s Piano Masters series (bostonconservatory.edu), that first Tuesday of the month mainstay for any music fan, opens Oct. 1 with Irish pianist John O’Conor performing an all-Beethoven program (Pathetique, Moonlight, Appassionata). BoCo’s String Masters series opens Oct. 13 with cellist Amit Peled, and includes guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan Oct. 27. Pianist Janice Weber gives a faculty recital at BoCo Sept. 17, as does Dalit Warshaw (Oct. 5). Ludovico Ensemble, the aggressive resident percussion group, renews its investigations Oct. 17.

New Music

Boston Modern Orchestra Project (bmop.org) opens its season with a major concert performance of Virgil Thompson’s Four Saints in Three Acts (Nov. 16, Jordan Hall), and follows with a premiere-studded season. New works include compositions by Elena Ruehr, Ken Ueno and David Rakowski (all on Jan. 17 at Jordan Hall), and Donald Martino on May 16. A March 28 performance features works by Donald Crockett and Steven Stucky.

Boston Musica Viva (bmv.org) opens its 45th year of new music on Oct. 5 at Tsai Performance Center, and the season definitely features some of the best titles of new works (Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland, Field Guide to North American Car Alarms). Composers in the BMV spotlight this year include Gunther Schuller and Martin Brody (opening concert), Andy Vores and Thea Musgrave (Nov. 16 at Pickman Hall), and William Kraft and Theo Loevendie (May 10, Pickman Hall).

SoundIcon (soundicon.org), led by Jeffrey Means, dots it concert calendar (Sept. 28 and Mar. 17 at BU’s CFA Concert Hall; May 3 at the Fenway Center) with Euro-avants like Fracesconi, Castagnoli, Pesson, and Boulez; the May program is dedicated entirely to the music of Jonathan Harvey. Soprano Tony Arnold lends her considerable talents to a world premiere by Eric Chasalow to open Dinosaur Annex’s season Oct. 5 in Slosberg Hall at Brandeis (dinosaurannex.org). Subsequent Dino Annex concerts are Jan. 31 at Pickman Hall and Mar. 6 at the Davis Square Theater. Collage New Music (collagenewmusic.org) opens its season Sept. 30 with works by Elliott Carter and others. Although a January recital with Christopher Oldfather has been cancelled due to injury, works by Feldman and Webern (Mar. 10) and Yehudi Wyner and Kaijia Saariaho, along with a world premiere by Rodney Lister (Apr. 21), fill out the Collage season.

Other orchestras

The Boston Philharmonic (bostonphil.org), joined by Chorus pro Musica, has rescheduled its performances of Beethoven’s Ninth, which were cancelled after the Marathon attacks last spring, for Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 at Symphony Hall; subscription series highlights include Jue Wang performing the second Prokofiev piano concerto (Oct. 24, 27 at Sanders Theatre; Oct. 25 at Jordan Hall); a pairing of Brahms’ Second Symphony with Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, soloist) at Sanders Nov. 21 and 24, Jordan Hall Nov. 23; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with the estimable Robert Levin at Symphony Hall Feb. 28; and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony Apr. 25 at Symphony Hall.

The Boston Classical Orchestra (bostonclassicalorchestra.org) brings an old Boston standby, pianist Benjamin Pasternack, back to town for Beethoven’s third concerto to start its season (Sept. 28, 29). Subsequent concerts feature violinist Sharon Roffman soloing in Mozart  and Thomas Oboe Lee’s Serenade-rondo (Oct. 26, 27); Jane Eaglen singing Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (Nov. 16-17); a Richard Strauss celebration Mar. 29 and 30; and flutist Claudi Arimany playing Mozart’s second concerto April 12 and 13. All concerts are at Fanueil Hall.

Boston Civic Symphony (csob.org), under the distinguished Max Hobart, opens its Boston season Nov. 10 at Jordan Hall with 13-year-old violinist Ilana Zaks soloing the Mendelssohn concerto, and suites from Meistersinger and Götterdämmerung. An additional Boston concert (the Civic also has a series at Regis College as well) features Beethoven’s Triple concerto on Mar. 9 with BSO members Lucia Lin, violin, and Owen Young, cello, along with pianist Sergey Shepkin.

Miriam Fried performs the Brahms violin concerto to open the Longwood Symphony season on Oct. 5 at Jordan Hall. Director Ronald Feldman leads subsequent performances of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto (Judith LeClair) on Dec. 7; Beethoven’s Emperor (David Deveau) on Mar. 15; and the Schumann Cello Concerto (Cicely Parnas) May 3. All performances are at Jordan Hall. The training orchestra Symphony Nova (symphonynova.org) makes two Boston appearances (Nov. 8, Mar. 21) this year at Old South Church as part of its more extensive regional performances. Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis, with bassoonist Sebastian Chavez leaving the building, highlights the second concert.

Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra (proarte.org) brings back its former music director-Gisèle Ben-Dor Oct. 5 at Sanders Theatre (music of Revueltas and Haydn; Beethoven’s Emperor with Judith Lynn Stillman). The rest of Pro Arte’s season is a mix of more intimate Salon series concerts (Oct. 17, Nov. 7, Jan. 30, Feb. 13, Mar. 13, at various venues) and orchestral events, including performances of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (Nov. 23, First Church Cambridge), Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending (Jan. 18, All Saints in Brookline), and music of Honegger, Dvorak and Beethoven Apr. 5 at First Church Cambridge.

Discovery Ensemble (discoveryensemble.org) has been making inroads in its short lifetime under director Courtney Lewis. Opening night (Oct. 20) features Sibelius Symphony No. 6 and Mozart’s piano concerto No. 20 (Shai Wosner). A Nov. 24 concert (Jordan Hall) blends Adès’ Chamber Symphony with Beethoven’s Fifth; Berg’s Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite and Schubert’s Unfinished highlight a March 2 concert; and the season concludes April 13 with Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto with Xiang Yu. All programs this season are at Jordan Hall.

On the choral side, Cantata Singers (cantatasingers.org) under David Hoose’s direction, opens its 50th season Sept. 20 at Jordan Hall with three Bach Cantatas. Subsequent concerts feature Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 (Dec. 7), Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Feb. 22), and music by Zelenka and a Harbison world premiere May 9.

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