New-music programs abound

Posted: September 16, 2001

Many of the city's ensembles and presenters are holding back their flashiest programs until after the opening of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in December.

But no halfway intrepid listener need go begging in the meantime. Especially the new-music fan.

The Network for New Music, those smart and stalwart reporters from the composition front, premiere Richard Wernick's The Name of the Game with new-music guitarist David Starobin on Oct. 21 and 28.

Another contemporary guitar work, this one by Christopher Rouse, gets a workout with Sharon Isbin and Orchestra 2001, Sept. 22 and 23. Rouse says his Concert de Gaudi, inspired by the work of the Catalan architect, is part "Spanish tourist cliche," but that it also evokes surrealism and mysticism.

Astral Artistic Services, which provides a much-needed assist to young talent, presents the Philadelphia premiere of Tina Davidson's It Is My Heart Singing for string sextet Nov. 11. Writing for the centenary of Brahms' death, Davidson made a nod to the master. "Brahms was a real melody man," the West Philadelphia composer says. "He was a man who just opened up his heart and melodies came pouring out." Hence the name.

Sundown on South Street doesn't seem as evocative a subject as, say, Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral, but conductor David Zinman will no doubt make a convincing argument when he and the Philadelphia Orchestra premiere Michael Daugherty's Philadelphia Stories Nov. 15, 16, 17 and 20.

Daugherty is the Robert Venturi of the music world - that is, he takes ordinary pop-culture objects and gives them a beauty makeover as art. Elvis, Ricky Ricardo, J. Edgar Hoover, Barbie, Liberace - they've all found places in Daugherty's music, and his newest also draws inspiration from Poe and Stokowski.

"For Mahler it was Goethe, and for Ives it was Emerson," Daugherty told me in 1997. "And both of those philosophers felt that icons should be used as a stimulus, as an interesting way of using inspiration for art. For me it's pop culture, it's comic books, it's bowling balls, it's a Jane Mansfield pinup, it's an old movie - whatever. I love going to thrift stores and antique stores and rummaging through the museum of American pop culture."

We know of no better way to evoke Christmas than with an Anonymous 4 concert. The a cappella songstresses bring back their "Legends of St. Nicholas" program Dec. 14 under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

Although the Kimmel Center will not begin its visiting orchestra series until after the new year, it's not too early to think about tickets. Verizon Hall gets a test-drive with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and music director (for life) Zubin Mehta conducting Bartok's Suite From the Miraculous Mandarin and Strauss' Ein Heldenleben, Jan. 16.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, led by Riccardo Chailly, performs Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with soprano Janice Watson, alto Petra Lang, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir, Feb. 7.

Two music directors say their farewells. Seiji Ozawa visits with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his last season with Bartok's Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, April 12.

And, in his final season leading the New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur conducts the Bernstein Serenade and the Mahler Symphony No. 1, May 17.

Peter Dobrin's e-mail address is pdobrin@phillynews.com.

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