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Carnegie Hall Prepares for a Powerful Season of Exciting Programming

The Philadelphia Orchestra

By Christopher Johnson, September 14, 2017

The Carnegie Hall season of 2017-2018 opens on October 4, with the annual gala in the main hall, this time featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra and a whole slew of bold-face names, including Yanick Nézet-Séguin, Chick Corea, and Lang Lang. Like much of this season’s programming everywhere in town, the gala commemorates Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, with music composed by, or closely identified with, our hometown maestro. If you’re like me, you won’t have the scratch to get in, but then, also like me, you’ve probably heard Rhapsody in Blue and the dances from West Side Story a time or two before. On the Waterfront, maybe not so much, but the point remains.

What’s really interesting about Carnegie’s season is a whole lot of stuff that you probably haven’t heard, or haven’t heard in ages, or haven’t paid as much attention to as perhaps you should. And a lot of that will be done, not by the big orchestras that normally drive headline-repertoire and important commissions, but by chamber groups and singers, who are giving the Hall’s smaller rooms—Zankel Hall and Weill Recital Hall—a welcome, and exceptionally vigorous, workout.

Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet; courtesy of Carnegie Hall.

At Zankel on October 12, for example, you can hear the venerable Takács Quartet play Haydn, Mendelssohn, and “Child’s Play,” a new piece by the Australian composer Carl Vine, co-commissioned by the Hall. Vine isn’t much played here, but he’s brilliantly accomplished, with a big catalogue that repays exploration. On the 14th, the quartet takes on Shostakovich’s F-minor quartet, Op. 122. You cannot hear this strange, necessary piece often enough.

Borromeo String Quartet

Borromeo String Quartet; courtesy of Carnegie Hall.

The following week, on October 20, the Borromeo String Quartet comes to Weill Hall with a characteristically fascinating program featuring the world premieres of two new pieces by Grawemeyer Award-winner Sebastian Currier, the New York premiere of Nicholas Kitchen’s arrangements of pieces from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Mendelssohn’s Op. 13, and Schumann’s A-major quartet. Currier, of course, is one of our finest writers of chamber music, and the new pieces—an etude, “Velocities” and a lullaby, “Dreaming,” both co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall—should be right in his wheelhouse. Schumann’s chamber music is scarcely unfamiliar, but it’s not played remotely as much as comparable, or even lesser, works by Schubert and Brahms; it should be revelatory to hear it played in an intimate setting, by a group of this calibre.

Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov; photo: Dario Acosta/Deutsche Grammophon.

The big-name instrumental soloists—the likes of Trifonov, Hamelin, Bronfman, Shaham, Matsuev, Tetzlaff, and Jansen—are amply represented, but often in novel settings or in unusual repertoire. Trifonov, for example, offers an Hommage à Chopin (October 28) consisting of tributes by Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Mompou, and Barber, along with Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu and B-flat minor sonata; he then joins Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra for the New York premiere of his own piano concerto (November 15). The big news about Hamelin’s recital (November 1) is a riveting sonata by Samuil Feinberg, an older contemporary of Shostakovich and in many ways the heir to Scriabin. Tetzlaff appears with his quartet, and Jansen with her “Friends,” the former featuring the Berg quartet (November 16), and the latter the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time (December 7) and Rachmaninoff’s devastating Trio élégiaque (December 9), all at Zankel.

Valery Gergiev and Denis Matsuev

(l. to r.) Valery Gergiev and Denis Matsuev; courtesy of Carnegie Hall.

The big orchestral excitement doesn’t really kick in until after New Year’s, but Gergiev’s concerts with the Mariinsky on November 14 and 15 should be knockouts. The first features Shostakovich’s Ninth, Scriabin’s “Divine Poem,” and Matsuev in Prokofiev’s second concerto. The second includes Trifonov’s concerto, previously mentioned, Strauss’s Don Juan, and Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, which, again, is scarcely unknown but tends to get lost in the glare of the Fifth.

Soprano Renée Fleming

Soprano Renée Fleming; photo: Andrew Eccles.

What I’m really looking forward to, however, are the singers—and here, too, the same pattern emerges. Renée Fleming, for one, is back on the big stage with a generous program of standards (October 23), but what will be fascinating to see is what she makes of a set of lieder by Egon Kornauth, a rarely-heard twentieth-century Viennese composer who worked in a Romantic-throwback salon-style, and the world premiere of a new piece by Caroline Shaw, commissioned by the Hall. The magnificent Andrei Bondarenko, by contrast, brings a delicious program of French and Russian song (December 8) to Weill Hall, where the Don Quichotte cycles of Ibert and Ravel should register perfectly, and nearly a dozen songs by Tchaikovsky should work their usual magic. You can never hear enough Tchaikovsky songs.

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell; courtesy of Carnegie Hall.

But in all of this, three recitals stand out in prospect: the brilliant young British soprano Ruby Hughes (October 13 at Weill) in Schumann’s Liederkreis, a new piece by Huw Watkins, and generous offerings by Purcell and Britten; Catherine Russell’s Harlem on My Mind (November 3, in the big hall), because she is, after all, herself, and this is a thrilling program; and Jamie Barton’s appearance at Zankel (December 18), which pairs Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos with Libby Larsen’s Love After 1950, a combo that would test anybody’s acting-chops, but ought to be especially noteworthy after Barton’s fabulous turn as the witch in Rusalka, last year at the Met. Larsen is a wonderful, protean composer, criminally neglected in New York, and Love After 1950 is one her most insidiously charming pieces. Full disclosure: I was Larsen’s principal publisher some years ago, when I ran the music department at Oxford University Press here in the States, and I was particularly pleased to bring this piece out. It is sexy, beautiful, deeper than it lets on, and fun. The original cover-art, which you can still sometimes find in the aftermarket, says it all. Should be quite an evening.

All this, and we haven’t even gotten to January!




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Cover: Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; photo: Steve J. Sherman.


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