Our Critics’ Picks: New Music, Opera Sport Fall Colors


DATE BOOK — Brimming with new works and milestone celebrations from coast to coast, the classical calendar shows impressive projects at the onset of the 2017-18 season. Here are some highlights.

New York:  Aa’s Blank Out at the Armory, Sept. 21-27

Michel van der Aa’s perspective-bender ‘Blank Out’ comes to the Park Avenue Armory (Marco Borggreve)

Dutch composer Michel van der Aa likes to experiment with genre-crossing music theater works. His chamber opera Blank Out, composed for the Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, where it premiered, is playing at New York’s Park Avenue Armory through Sept. 27. In the opera, a woman (soprano Miah Persson) has recorded memories of her 7-year-old son, who has drowned, and builds a model of the home where they lived. 3D images from her recording appear on a screen. But eventually a man (baritone Roderick Williams) shows up, claiming that he is the son. A soundtrack augments the live performances.

For further information, go to Park Avenue Armory.  — James Paulk

Pittsburgh: Pigovat’s …therefore choose life…in first hearing, Sept. 22-24

Israeli composer Boris Pigovat

Israeli composer Boris Pigovat’stherefore choose life… is the first of three commissions by the Pittsburgh Symphony to celebrate music director Manfred Honeck’s tenth anniversary with the orchestra. The composition will receive its world premiere in a Sept. 22-24 program conducted by Honeck and also featuring John Adams’ Lollapalooza, Brahms’ Violin Concerto (featuring Christian Tetzlaff), and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, “Organ.” The other premieres are a Larghetto by Scottish composer James MacMillan Oct. 27-29 and Isfahan by Pittsburgh-based Iranian composer Reza Vali June 8-10, 2018.

For further information, go to the Pittsburgh Symphony.  — Anne E. Johnson

San Francisco: Seasonlong Bernstein tribute begins, Sept. 22-24

Leonard Bernstein (Jack Mitchell via wiki)

Few of today’s musicians have done more to pick up where Bernstein left off than Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and artistic director of the New World Symphony. Much like his forebear, Thomas has devoted a great deal of his time to education and put an emphasis on American composers like Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and Steve Reich. As part of an extended festival, Thomas leads a program titled Celebrating Bernstein with MTT, which includes Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, Chichester Psalms, and Arias and Barcarolles. Among the guest artists are mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, and actors Matt Herrero and Jack O’Reilly.

For further information, go to the San Francisco Symphony. — Kyle MacMillan

Minneapolis: Minnesota Orchestra toasts Finland @100, Sept. 22-23

Violinist Elina Vähälä

2017 is the hundredth anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia, and the Minnesota Orchestra will participate in an international celebration called Finland 100 for the weekend. The orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vänskä, perhaps Minnesota’s most famous Finn, performs Sept. 22-23 concerts of music by Finnish composers Kalevi Aho, Jean Sibelius, and Jaakko Kuusisto. Minea, by Aho, is a short showpiece named after Minneapolis and designed to showcase each musician — Vänskä’s idea. Kuusisto, a virtuoso violinist in addition to being a composer, wrote his concerto for violinist Elina Vähälä. She premiered it with the Lahti Symphony in 2012, recorded it for BIS, and champions it regularly.

For further information, go to the Minnesota Orchestra. — CVNA Editors

St. Paul: Biss continues Beethoven-inspired premieres, Sept. 22-23

Jonathan Biss (Benjamin Ealovega)

Jonathan Biss has his work cut out for him in the Sept. 22-23 program with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, when he will play two piano concertos – one a world premiere and the other a beloved classic. In a concert that starts with Schoenberg’s Second Chamber Symphony, Biss will premiere a co-commissioned concerto, Il Sogno di Stradella by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino, as well as Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Matthias Pintscher will conduct. The program marks the latest installment of Biss’ project called Beethoven/5, for which the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is co-commissioning five composers to write new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven’s. Biss has already premiered Timo Andres’ The Blind Banister, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, and Sally Beamish’s City Stanzas. In the final two years of the project he will premiere concertos by Caroline Shaw and Brett Dean.

For further information, go to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. — CVNA Editors

St. Louis: Ax, Robertson begin Mozart collaboration, Sept. 23-Oct. 1

Emanuel Ax (Lisa Marie Mazzucco)

The St. Louis Symphony opens its season Sept. 23-24 with the first of three programs featuring pianist Emanuel Ax in partnership with frequent collaborator David Robertson, music director of the SLSO. The veteran musician will be in residence for two weeks to play six Mozart concertos in three programs.

This first program includes Concertos No. 19 and No. 27, plus Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro and his Jupiter Symphony, No. 41. The second (on Sept. 29) pairs Concertos No. 14 and No. 20 with the 39th Symphony. And the final concerts (Sept. 30, Oct. 1) put Concertos No. 16 and 17 with the 40th Symphony.

Then, starting Feb. 1, 2018, Ax and Robertson will take the entire project to the Sydney Symphony.

For further information, go to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. — CVNA Editors

Berlin: New children’s opera by Attila Kadri Şendil, Sept. 24-Dec. 26

‘Town Musicians of Bremen’ Komische Opera (robert_recker.de)

A donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. What do they have in common? In Attila Kadri Şendil’s world premiere work at the Komische Oper, Bremen Mızıkacıları (The Town Musicians of Bremen), based on the beloved German folk tale, they are all misfits who band together and find strength, friendship, and purpose. The two-act children’s opera has a libretto combining German and Turkish, and a wide-ranging musical style that includes the use of traditional Turkish instruments in the orchestra. Ivo Hentschel conducts performances Sept. 24-Dec. 26.

For further information, go to the Komische Opera Berlin. — Anne E. Johnson

Cincinnati: Revitalized Music Hall grand opening, Oct. 6-7

The Cincinnati Symphony opens its 2017-18 season by celebrating the 70th birthday of composer John Adams and the inauguration of its newly revitalized Music Hall. The Oct. 6-7 program begins with Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine and includes the first of five world premieres scheduled for this season, this one by Jonathan Bailey Holland, who has written several other commissions for the CSO in the past. Music director Louis Langrée will also lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring Kit Armstrong, and Scriabin’s Le Poème de l’extase (Poem of Ecstasy).

For further information, go to the Cincinnati Symphony. — Anne E. Johnson