Critic’s Choice 2023-24

September 5, 2023 at 12:55 pm

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Jonathan Cohen opens his first season as music director of the Handel and Haydn Society with Handel’s Israel in Egypt October 6 & 8. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Puccini: Madama Butterfly. Boston Lyric Opera/David Angus. September 14-24.

Last year, Boston Lyric Opera opened its season with a ridiculous “rethinking” of Puccini’s La bohème that, among other things, demonstrated absolutely no regard for the opera’s musical integrity. This time around, they’re taking a “culturally sensitive” approach to another of that composer’s icons, Madama Butterfly. Will it prove as misguided? Or will sparks finally fly? There’s only one way to find out. Karen Chia-Ling Ho sings the title role.

Handel: Israel in Egypt. Handel & Haydn Society/Jonathan Cohen. October 6 & 8.

The Handel & Haydn Society and its charismatic new music director, Jonathan Cohen, open their first season together with performances of Handel’s celebrated oratorio Israel in Egypt at Symphony Hall.

Music by Rameau, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven. Celebrity Series. Daniil Trifonov. November 15.

The Russian-born keyboard wizard’s first Boston solo recital since 2015 (derailed a couple of times by the pandemic) features what’s sure to be an electrifying traversal of about a centuries’ worth of piano music, culminating in Beethoven’s mammoth “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

Music of Liszt, Ligeti, Stravinsky, and Adès. Boston Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Adès with Kirill Gerstein. November 16-18.

One of the best things to happen to the Boston Symphony Orchestra this century has been the development of its relationship with Thomas Adès. The British composer/conductor/pianist never fails to deliver inventive programs and, often enough, illuminating performances. Here, he and Kirill Gerstein team up in György Ligeti’s devilishly whimsical Piano Concerto; works by Liszt and Stravinsky, plus Adès’ own Tevot fill out the docket.

Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons. January 23-27.

The BSO and Andris Nelsons wrapped their recorded survey of the complete Shostakovich symphonies in April. What’s left for the series are concertos and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the controversial 1934 opera that earned the composer the enmity of Stalin himself. The cast includes Kristine Opolais, Brenden Gunnel, and Günther Groissböck.

Daniil Trifonov returns to Boston November 15 for his first local solo recital in seven years. Photo: DG

Music by Berg and Mahler. Boston Philharmonic Orchestra/Benjamin Zander with Liza Ferschtman. February 24

The Boston Philharmonic’s 45th season (which coincides with conductor Benjamin Zander’s 85th birthday in March) promises any number of riches. But this program, which pairs Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 – a Zander/BPO specialty – and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, is particularly enticing, in part because the memory of soloist Liza Ferschtman’s previous appearance with the group continues to burn brightly.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9. Handel & Haydn Society/Raphaël Pichon. March 15 & 16.

Raphaël Pichon was one of the stars of last season, leading H&H in a revelatory performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This year, he’s back to conduct the group in Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony on the occasion of that work’s bicentennial.

Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie. Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons with Yuja Wang and Cécile Lartigau. April 11-14.

Since Leonard Bernstein led the world premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie at Symphony Hall in 1949, the BSO has only presented the piece in Boston on two other occasions, in 1975 and 2000. Now, Andris Nelsons leads the orchestra in this paean to love, joy, life, and death. Yuja Wang (piano) and Cécile Lartigau (ondes martinot) are the soloists.

Music by Wagner, Brahms, and Schumann. Bamberg Symphony/Jakub Hrůša with Lukáš Vondráček. Celebrity Series. April 24.

Jakub Hrůša, whose scintillating performance with the BSO in 2022 lingers in the ear, returns to town with the Bamberg Symphony for a Germanic feast: curtain-raisers by Wagner, a symphony by Brahms, and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Lukáš Vondráček, who was the idiosyncratic soloist in Hrůša’s visit last year, is the keyboardist this time around, too.

Music by Gubaidulina, Mozart, and Bartók. A Far Cry. May 10.

How does one make an evergreen like Eine kleine Nachtmusik sound fresh? Maybe try sandwiching it between Sofia Gubaidulina’s adaptation of a Bach chorale and Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. Either way, this fresh program is entirely of a kind with the Criers’ larger season, which hardly puts a foot down predictably – or wrongly.

Jakub Hrůša conducts the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra April 24, 2024.

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