Safer, smaller programs in a shaky season

The Mendelssohn Quartet will play here Dec. 2 in a Philadelphia ChamberMusic Society concert. J. HENRY FAIR
The Mendelssohn Quartet will play here Dec. 2 in a Philadelphia ChamberMusic Society concert. J. HENRY FAIR
Posted: September 13, 2009

Perched on the economy's shifting shoals, arts groups are bracing for a rough fall season. How does money play out in the concert hall?

By playing it safe.

Some groups, such as the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, have cut the number of concerts. There's a little less risk-taking in programs stocked safely with Brahms (Astral Artists) or Schubert and Beethoven (Philadelphia Chamber Music Society).

To be sure, Oct. 17 presents a remarkable new-music convergence: Cellist Matt Haimovitz interacts with various electronic elements in a program of Steven Stucky and Christopher Rouse at the Kimmel Center, while at two nearby churches the Mendelssohn Club reprises David Lang's still-fresh Battle Hymns and composer Michael Hersch unveils a new, evening-length work, Last Autumn.

Still, it's convenient that we find ourselves now in Samuel Barber's centenary. Born March 10, 1910, in West Chester, he attended the Curtis Institute of Music, which this season weaves his works into its orchestra (Symphony No. 1), opera (Antony and Cleopatra), and chamber music (String Quartet, Opus 11) programs. The Philadelphia Orchestra performs the luminous Night Flight for the first time, but hardly expands our understanding of Barber by repeating Adagio for Strings, the Violin Concerto, and Overture to the School for Scandal.

It's not a case of any port in a storm. Barber's music seems conservative today (as it did during his lifetime). But if it is a port, it's hardly a bad place to call home for a while.

Check back in January, when we'll assess the outlook for spring.

- Peter Dobrin and David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer music critics


 

Go behind the scenes for the making of the Opera Company of Philadelphia's "Madama Butterfly" with online video at .

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