Music Commentary: 2018-19 Boston Classical Music Fall Season Preview (Orchestras, Opera, and New Music, mainly)
There’s so much going on in the area that’s good that it’s a challenge to go wrong.
By Jonathan Blumhofer
And, like that, a new concert season is suddenly upon us. As always seems to be the case for the greater Boston area, there’s a sense of “so much music, so little time” and, in an effort to simplify my sometimes-daunting season previews of year’s past, I’ve reduced this fall’s to a sampling of ten orchestral and operatic concert/series highlights. It’s a small sampling, to be sure, and there could easily be ten completely different programs chosen – but the point is, there’s so much going on in the area that’s good that it’s a challenge to go wrong. Additionally, links to season calendars for several additional groups and/or events are included beneath the ten listings.
Odyssey begins its sixth season with a U.S. premiere, this Charles Gounod’s La Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba), an 1862 epic that’s nearly as obscure in Europe as it is here. Kara Shay Thomson, Dominick Chenes, and Kevin Thompson headline the cast; Odyssey artistic director Gil Rose conducts.
The Handel & Haydn Society kicks off its season with a pair of concertos – Brandenburg no. 3 and the D-minor “Double” violin concerto – plus two cantatas and the Mass in G. Aisslinn Nosky and Susana Ogata are the violin soloists, Aaron Sheehan the tenor; Harry Christophers conducts the H&H Orchestra and Chorus.
It’s a double-anniversary year for the BPO, the orchestra’s 40th and director Zander’s 80th. The season kicks off with a trio of 19th-century favorites: Mikhail Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmilla, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto (with Jonah Ellsworth), and Brahms’s Symphony no. 1.
The city’s third annual new music festival boasts an impressive line-up of local contemporary music champions, including the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (on October 19), Boston Music Viva (see below), Boston New Music Initiative and Juventas New Music Ensemble (on November 3), and Area 9 Quartet (November 9).
BMV’s 50th season opens with a new piece by John Harbison (If, From the Distance), then looks back on works played or commissioned by the group over the last half-century, and closes with three short, new trios by semi-finalists in the Rapido! Composition Contest. The one-and-only Richard Pittman conducts.
BSO music director Nelsons leads six of the orchestra’s eight subscription weeks this fall – the first time he’s had such a sustained presence at Symphony Hall in his five seasons with the ensemble. Just about each series features a premiere, including this first one: Maija Einfelde’s Lux aeterna is paired with Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 (the concluding portion of which Nelsons led this summer at Tanglewood).
Conductor Pittman and the NEP open their season with a typically-intrepid mix of new and old: the Lachlan Skipworth’s Spiritus (in its U.S. premiere), John Harbison’s exuberant Symphony no. 1, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony The Bells (with the Commonwealth Chorale).
Emmanuel Music presents a mini-festival around Benjamin Britten’s chamber music, anchored by performances of each of his three string quartets. Other vocal and instrumental works – The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Winter Words, and Lachrymae, among them – fill out the programs, which feature some notable soloists (William Hite, Brett Hodgdon) and ensembles (like the Lydian String Quartet).
“Dissenters & Rebels” is how BLO is marketing the upcoming season. On paper, its offerings – one canonical opera (The Barber of Seville), plus Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and a pair of operas written in the last twenty years – look promising. Schoenberg in Hollywood, with music by Tod Machover and a libretto by Simon Robson, is a world premiere, a reflection on the composer Arnold Schoenberg’s life in California after fleeing Nazi Germany. Omar Ebrahim sings the title role; David Angus conducts.
The BPYO is way more than just a youth orchestra: it’s a world-class ensemble that happens to be made up (mostly) of teenagers. They return to action for the new season the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Anna Federova playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 and music director Zander conducting further works by Carl Maria von Weber and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.