ZEALnyc FALL PREVIEW: Classical Music
ZEALnyc, September 12, 2017
The fall season typically signals a time of new beginnings, as well as the commencement of performances that we’ve been anticipating since they were first announced months ago, and this year is no exception. This season heralds the initial centennial celebrations for legendary American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist Leonard Bernstein, which will include numerous concerts and special events scheduled to honor his legacy over the next two years (Leonard Bernstein at 100), as well as exciting concerts by resident and visiting orchestras and ensembles at all the various venues around town. There is always an added excitement when a major performing organization announces the mounting of a new work, so all eyes are focused on the Metropolitan Opera as they prepare to present the New York premiere of Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel at the end of October.
So start marking your calendar now—there are a number of not-to-be-missed performances coming up and ZEALnyc wants to make sure you know about all of them.
Christopher Johnson, Contributing Writer
Daniil Trifonov’s Hommage à Chopin (October 28, Carnegie Hall), a fabulous program opening with musical tributes by Mompou, Schumann, Grieg, Barber, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff, and concluding with two landmarks by The Master himself, the Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, and the great B-flat minor sonata, Op. 35. Mompou’s variations on the familiar A-major prelude are sly and piquant, as you might expect from this source; they are also quite touching. Rachmaninoff’s expansion of the C-minor prelude rivals his Paganini Variations in brilliance, and exceeds them in depth.
Catherine Russell’s Harlem on My Mind (November 3, Zankel Hall). Oh, Lord, honey, what can I tell you? Buy those tickets right this minute and hold onto them tight. Russell is a fantastic singer and a great personality, and this program is a beaut. The Grammy-nominated album was one of the musical highlights of last season, and this live performance, again featuring Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, and Tal Ronen, ought to be just thrilling.
Thomas Adès’s new opera The Exterminating Angel, based on Buñuel’s creepy-hilarious film, has its New York premiere at the Met (October 20, running through November 21), in an eye-popping production previously seen at the Salzburg Festival and at Covent Garden, and with much the same cast, headlined by Audrey Luna, Iestyn Davies, and John Tomlinson. Notable among the newcomers are Alice Coote and Christian van Horn. Adès conducts. Cynthia Millar again plays the all-important ondes Martenot part: according to Alex Ross, her performance at Salzburg “was so acutely expressive that she might have taken a bow with the singers.” Now the only question is how they’ll handle the bear and the flock of sheep.
Two more vocal recitals ought to end the year with a bang. Andrei Bondarenko’s mouth-watering French-Russian program (December 8, Weill Recital Hall) includes not only Ravel’s great Don Quichotte cycle, but a lesser-known, but no less compelling, set on the same theme by Jacques Ibert, plus a whole lot of Tchaikovsky, and you can never have enough of that. Jamie Barton (December 18, Zankel Hall) pairs Haydn’s astonishing dramatic cantata Arianna a Naxos with Libby Larsen’s sly, sexy, sneakily profound, and highly disruptive Love After 1950. As the poet says, “Beauty hurts.” I can’t wait.
Technically outside our time-frame, but you’ll want to book this one early: Susanna Mälkki, perhaps the greatest of the many heroes of last season’s sublime L’amour de loin at the Met, returns to conduct the Philharmonic (January 11-13, David Geffen Hall) in the New York premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Helix, Debussy’s La Mer, and the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, with soloist Baiba Skride, the Latvian violinist who made such a noteworthy Philharmonic debut last season. Mälkki’s technical command is exceeded only by her deep musicality. It’ll be nice to see her working outside the pit, for a change.
Joshua Rosenblum, Contributing Writer
Carnegie Hall’s range of offerings is typically so vast in any given season that one has to narrow the choices arbitrarily when trying to single out individual events that look promising. Accordingly, I’ve chosen one concert each that I’m particularly looking forward to from the categories of orchestral, vocal, chamber music, and solo piano.
This one’s tough, but one really should not miss the chance to hear the Mariinsky Orchestra under volcanic and idiosyncratic Music Director Valery Gergiev. They’re playing two programs, and if I absolutely have to pick one, it’ll be the November 14 performance, featuring Shostakovich’s brilliant, playful, and subtly defiant Symphony No. 9. The suave and passionate Russian pianist Denis Matsuev will play Prokoviev’s Piano Concerto No. 2—less well known than Nos. 1 and 3, but bravura and thrilling (and forbiddingly difficult), to be sure. The second half will consist of Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3, “The Divine Poem,” fifty minutes of restless harmonic exploration and riotous orchestral color. No orchestra and maestro are more authentic in this repertoire. (In case you’re curious, the following evening Gergiev and the Mariinsky will play Strauss’s Don Juan and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6, and also accompany pianist Daniil Trifonov in the New York premiere of his own Piano Concerto—more on him later.)
The dazzlingly innovative British composer Thomas Adès is also a formidable, often breathtaking, pianist, both as soloist and accompanist. On October 15 in Zankel Hall, he will present an evening called simply “Thomas Adès and Friends—An Afternoon of Song.” Carnegie isn’t even announcing the program, except to say that it will feature vocal works by Adès and “other composers,” but I’m willing to chance it. (In Adès I trust.) The impressive roster of singers—soprano Sally Matthews, mezzo Alice Coote, countertenor Iestyn Davies, and tenor Joseph Kaiser—are all stars from the composer’s new opera The Exterminating Angel, which opens at the Met on October 26 and is another of this season’s must-see events.
Violinist Janine Jansen, whose deeply-felt playing is both galvanizing and profound, will be joined on December 7 by her colleagues pianist Lucas Debargue, clarinetist Martin Fröst, and cellist Torleif Thedéen, in a program featuring Messiaen’s legendary Quartet for the End of Time, a modern classic whose awe-inspiring celestial profundities and birdsong-inspired web of motifs are always worth revisiting. Also included are Bartok’s exuberant and dance-like Contrasts (written for Benny Goodman and Joseph Szigeti) and Szymanowski’s shimmering, achingly beautiful Mythes for violin and piano, a rarity by the brilliant and underrated Polish composer whose exquisite sense of penetrating chromatic harmony rivals Ravel’s.
This is cheating a bit, because it’s not until spring, but the recital I’m truly looking forward to is Daniil Trifonov’s solo program in Zankel on May 4, entitled “Decades.” This will, accordingly, feature one piano piece from each decade of the twentieth century, including works by Berg, Prokofiev, Bartok, Copland, Messiaen, Ligeti, Stockhausen, Adams, Corigliano, and Adès.
In the meantime, however, I will certainly enjoy the November 1 program by the protean and complex virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin, an always fascinating musician with truly formidable piano chops and an all-encompassing purview. Displaying his customary penchant for composer/pianists, he’ll be playing Liszt and Debussy, plus Godowsky’s blistering yet beautiful Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by Johan Strauss and Piano Sonata No. 4 in Eb minor by Russian virtuoso Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962), whose large and fascinating body of piano music certainly deserves a wider hearing.
Brian Taylor, Contributing Writer
As Jaap van Zweden ascends the podium as Music Director Designate of the New York Philharmonic, all eyes (and ears) will be on David Geffen Hall, to see how he shapes this venerable institution. His inaugural program, on September 22 and 23, consists appropriately of Mahler’s monumental fifth symphony, paired with Philip Glass’s concerto for two pianos, in its New York premiere.
Of particular interest soon thereafter (October 12-17), is the intellectual and spiritual Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performing Rachmaninov‘s rarely performed fourth piano concerto, alongside the glorious fifth symphony of Sibelius, under the baton of Pavo Järvi. This program also features a New York premiere of a piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen entitled Gambit.
This will also be the season of Leonard Bernstein, as part of the worldwide celebration of his centenary, Bernstein at 100. The Philharmonic’s season is chock full of Bernstein’s oeuvre, in its infinite variety. Fans of twentieth-century American music will not want to miss Joshua Bell playing Bernstein’s (de facto) violin concerto, Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium), on a program with his Jeremiah symphony (October 25-31).
Another delectable evening of American music awaits, under the familiar baton of recently exited Music Director Alan Gilbert, with Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, a jazzy piece with a substantial clarinet solo premiered by Benny Goodman, his piano concerto-like symphony The Age of Anxiety, and Gershwin’s greatest hit, the Rhapsody in Blue, the latter two with the intriguing choice of jazz pianist Makoto Ozone at the piano (November 2-4).
Additionally, Leonard Slatkin conducts a program juxtaposing Bernstein’s probing Kaddish symphony with Strauss’s late romantic masterpiece Don Quixote on November 9-14.
The year wraps up with Bramwell Tovey leading an exciting program featuring Yefim Bronfman playing Bartok’s fiendish and thrilling second piano concerto, and finally, the Phil playing Ravel’s classic orchestration of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a great showpiece for the orchestra and an audience favorite (December 27-30).
One of the large scale highlights of the upcoming season in NYC will be the American premiere of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel, with the composer conducting, and, notably, beating Stephen Sondheim to the boards, as they have both been writing eagerly awaited interpretations of the Buñel source material.
Bernstein’s chamber music output will be given performances too, including the late (and strange) Arias and Barcarolles, and Brahms’s lyrical Liebeslieder Walzer with vocal quartet and piano-four-hands on October 29th at Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
On a more intimate scale, some of the chamber music programs of interest include the Borodin String Quartet playing a substantial evening of Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and two of Shostakovich’s devastating string quartets, and the New York Philharmonic String Quartet playing Dvorak’s delightful and invigorating string quartet in F major, the “American,” along with some Beethoven and Mendelssohn at the 92nd Street Y.
The 92nd Street Y is hosting some of the city’s most interesting piano recitals this season, and it really is a splendid hall for solo piano. Angela Hewitt, an acclaimed Bach specialist, continues a four year Bach Odyssey on November 8 with four of the Baroque composer’s extraordinarily appealing Partitas.
One of today’s most compelling pianists, Jeremy Denk plays a deep program that should be telling and rewarding: Mozart’s darkly mournful Rondo in A Minor, Prokofiev’s darkly whimsical Visions Fugitives, the beloved late Beethoven sonata in E major, Op. 109, and Schumann’s notorious Symphonic Etudes, a true test of any pianist’s interpretive skills.
The young, emerging British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is playing an equally ambitious evening featuring the complicated Berg Sonata and Ravel’s classic tour de force Gaspard de la nuit, with some Bach, Brahms, and Debussy.
And rounding out all the fall’s Bernstein at 100 offerings, 92Y in its Lyrics and Lyricists series, has tapped the expert musical theatre conductor Rob Fisher and Amanda Green (daughter of great lyricist Adolph Green) to examine the lyrics that Bernstein set to music in his Broadway material, which should be a nostalgic and fascinating evening. Even though the performances technically happen in the New Year, I thought it would be worth making note of now.
Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer
I am looking forward to a host of performances at Carnegie Hall this fall, with Italian, Russian and American groups and programs. Early Italian specialists L’Arpeggiata (October 6-7) offer 17th Century vocal concerts and the Orchestra dell’Accadema Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (October 20) led by Sir Antonio Pappano present a rare orchestra suite by Verdi, and works of Respighi and Prokofiev with the irresistible Marta Argerich. Valery Gergiev leads the Mariinsky Orchestra with Daniil Trifonov, as composer and piano soloist, premiering his first piano concerto on November 15. A song recital by Renée Fleming (October 23) is also a must-see as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra (December 8) presenting works by Bernstein, Adès, and Sibelius.
The New York Philharmonic will also be in the mood for Bernstein, honoring his centennial with programmed festivities from October 25 through November 14, featuring Joshua Bell. Music Director Designate Jaap Van Zweden conducts Glass and Mahler (September 22-23) and previous music director Alan Gilbert returns for a Beethoven and Mozart concert commemorating the New York Philharmonic’s 175th Anniversary (December 6-9). And winding up the fall season will be the holiday favorite Handel’s Messiah (December 12-16) led by Andrew Manze.
Cover: Jaap van Zweden, New York Philharmonic’s Music Director Designate conducting the New York Philharmonic; photo: Chris Lee.