Coming Events: U.S. Festivals ’16 In Early Bloom

NY Phil Biennial 2016 festival banner
The motto of the NY Phil Biennial 2016 is “Let’s Play,” curated by Alan Gilbert and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
(New York Philharmonic)

DATE BOOK — As the summer festival season begins to warm up around the world, some prominent symphony orchestras and academic institutions in the U.S. are kicking in with novel celebrations of their own. Here are five events of special interest in the month of May, all worthy of consideration as travel beckons:

Los Angeles: Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival
If the only instruments in the orchestra are cellos, chances are it’s Piatigorsky CelloFest.
May 13-22: Full details

Often dubbed CelloFest, the biggest names in the cello world — from Zuill Bailey and Truls Mørk to Sol Gabetta and Yo-Yo Ma — will gather with students and fans on the West Coast to share their insatiable appetite for all things cello. The immersion festival involves the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Emerson and Calder Quartets, and the LA Chamber Orchestra under the auspices of USC.

A typical program, on May 17 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, features “dozens and dozens” of virtuoso cellists from around the world along with a new work called Threads & Traces for mass cello ensemble. It was commissioned by the LA Phil from British-born composer Anna Clyne, who is drawn to unique collaborative challenges. She is composer-in-residence for the Orchestre National d’Ile de France and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra after similar appointments with the Cabrillo Festival and the Chicago Symphony. The festival involves significant student opportunities; its name honors the great mid-20th century Russian-born cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who often performed with pianist Arthur Rubinstein and violinist Jascha Heifetz, and who taught for many years at USC. (Some events are free.)

Dallas: Soluna 2016 multi-arts fest focuses on myth and legend

Composer and pianist Conrad Tao
Conrad Tao has written ‘Alice’ to premiere at Dallas’ second annual Soluna festival.
May 16-June 5: Full details 

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and two of classical music’s youngest breakout stars will play a central role in the city’s second annual Soluna International Music & Arts Festival, which sprawls throughout the performing and installation spaces of Dallas’ downtown arts district. The 23-year-old composer and pianist Conrad Tao — who was first commissioned by the DSO to write a work observing the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy — will be back to perform a solo recital. And then, in festival-capping final concerts June 3-5, Tao’s latest orchestral work, Alice, will receive its world premiere led by DSO music director Jaap van Zweden.

Meanwhile, DSO assistant conductor Karina Canellakis, who has been making the rounds with major orchestra debuts, will conduct a novel program called “Remix: Orchestral Myth and Legend” (May 20-21). It involves the world premiere of a multimedia component — Turo, a film by New York-based artist Anton Ginzburg. The film is designed to coordinate with live performances of Sibelius’s Pohjola’s Daughter and Wagner’s Forest Murmurs. The festival crosses freely into art and science; the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is offering a seminar, “Music and the Brain.”

Cincinnati: May Festival reaches historical punctuation point

It's Conlon's last year, and Music Hall itself heads into restoration, in Cincinnati.
It’s Conlon’s last year, and Music Hall itself heads into restoration, in Cincinnati.
May 20-28: Full details

Music director James Conlon brings his extraordinary 37-year tenure as music director of the Queen City’s choral festival to an end this season, after which the gloriously eccentric red-brick Victorian Gothic revival hall that was built to house it (along with historic civic functions and wrestling matches) will be closed for extensive renovation. For his final fling, Conlon has chosen to revisit favorite achievements from past seasons, including a concert performance of Verdi’s Otello on May 21 (with Gregory Kunde in the title role, Tamara Wilson as Desdemona, and Egils Silins as Iago).

On May 27, Conlon will lead Dvořák’s cantata Stabat Mater, which he led the first time he conducted it at the festival, in 1978, as an up-and-coming maestro of 28. New works by American composers Julia Adolphe and Alvin Singleton, both of whom Conlon has long championed, have been commissioned for the festival, which extends as usual over two long weekends. The 145-member chorus is led by Robert Porco.

New York: NY Phil Biennial motto is “Let’s Play”

Derek Bermel has written a new piece for the JACK Quartet.
Derek Bermel’s new composition for the JACK Quartet will debut at the Biennial.
May 23-June 11: Full details

Going even bigger — and more social — after last year’s city-wide celebration of new music, the 2016 NY Phil Biennial will last three weeks and spread to eight locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn with 12 presenting partners including Yale, Aspen, and Interlochen. Expect post-concert meet-ups with many of the composers and artists and a #biennialist social media contest.

Music director Alan Gilbert and composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen have planned the event to feature many world and U.S. premieres of symphonic, solo, and mixed-media works, as well as electroacoustic and opera. Among the first-ever offerings: Gin, Jazz and Dreams by composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel (JACK Quartet at the 92nd St. Y); Shared Madness, consisting of very short works by more than 30 contemporary composers (violinist Jennifer Koh at National Sawdust); and the new Trombone Concerto by William Bolcom (principal trombone Joseph Alessi, conducted by Gilbert with the NY Phil at Geffen Hall.)

Spoleto USA:  “A time for reflection and remembrance”

'Porgy and Bess' (director, David Herskovits, design by Jonathan Green. Spoleto USA)
‘Porgy and Bess’ will evoke the roots and character of the S.C. Gullah community.
(Designs by Jonathan Green/Spoleto USA)
May 27-June 12: Full details

Looking for healing as well as celebration, Spoleto USA is opening its 40th anniversary season with a new production of Porgy and Bess, the beloved opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward based on Charleston-born Heyward’s novel. The opera will be presented at Charleston’s new 1800-seat neo-classic horseshoe-shaped theater in Gaillard Center, which is not far from the historical Cabbage Row that inspired the story. Director David Herskovits returns to Spoleto USA with his concept for Porgy and Bess. Sets by Jonathan Green are said to evoke the roots and character of South Carolina’s Gullah community, in which Green himself grew up. Baritone Lester Lynch is to sing Porgy, with soprano Alyson Cambridge as Bess. The season will also mark the world premiere of a multimedia project in remembrance of the nine victims who died in the mass shooting at Emanuel African Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street on June 17, 2015. Visual artist Carrie Mae Weems designed the remembrance project, called Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.

Other Spoleto USA events of note include the U.S. premieres of a contemporary German opera, The Little Match Girl, by Helmut Lachenmann; a comic baroque opera, La double coquette, by Antoine Dauvergne; and a new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, by the visiting Dublin’s Gate Theatre.

Nancy Malitz is the publisher of Chicago On the Aisle, the founding music critic at USA Today, and a former cultural columnist for The Detroit News. She has written about the arts for a variety of national publications.