Fall forecast: Classical

Posted: September 10, 2010

Decades of business leaders infiltrating arts boards are having an effect. In response to stubborn economic inertia, music organizations now speak of new "product lines." Those who resist business jargon get bonus points, but in one way or another, many of the city's music producers are adjusting offerings, borrowing the old axiom "the customer's always right."

Astral Artists extends its Brahms brand by presenting its second one-day Brahms festival. New works are scheduled - but sensitively paired with audience favorites. The Kimmel Center, for its own Kimmel Center Presents series, books only surefire sellers, outsourcing risk to outside presenters and its specially funded Philadelphia International Arts Festival in the spring.

Perhaps only the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society is unfazed, again smartly assembling a season of pianists, string quartets, and, yes, old-world song recitalists.

In the arts, everyone knows, no one is too big to fail, even if the big groups are slow to change. The Philadelphia Orchestra's season looks much like the last, but change is coming. No one can say exactly what form it will take once its strategic planning process is completed. Lighter repertoire? Smaller venues?

But this season is set, and my colleague David Patrick Stearns and I note some fall highlights. For those inclined to cling to tradition, enjoy. These are the good old days.

Opera Company of Philadelphia. Any time Verdi's Otello is produced, attention must be paid. OCP offers it for the first time, and though challenges are substantial for chorus and orchestra, the big question is casting. Desdemona is popular French soprano Norah Amsellem. The demanding title role is filled by Clifton Forbis, who is singing hefty Wagnerian tenor roles at many of the world's great houses. He has impressive YouTube clips, but reviews have been mixed. (Oct. 1, 3, 6, 10 and 15 at the Academy of Music. 215-732-8400, www.operaphila.org) - David Patrick Stearns

Philadelphia Singers. In 1935, Randall Thompson walked into the Worcester Art Museum and bumped noses with a newly acquired painting: one of the 100-plus iterations on The Peaceable Kingdom by Bucks County Quaker preacher and artist Edward Hicks. The encounter inspired his a cappella masterwork of the same name, to be performed by the Philadelphia Singers and conductor David Hayes on Oct. 17. (Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square. 215-751-9494, www.philadelphiasingers.org) - P.D.

Yo-Yo Ma. Any Yo-Yo Ma appearance hogs a lion's share of attention, though a significant attraction in his Kimmel Center recital is strong-minded British pianist Kathryn Stott, seldom heard in the United States, with repertoire that gives her lots to do: Brahms' Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor and Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G minor, plus a wild card, L, by the adventurous composer Graham Fitkin. As for Ma, his summer radio broadcast from Tanglewood showed him at a musical peak. (Oct. 17, www.kimmelcenter.org, 215-893-1999) - D.P.S.

Philadelphia Orchestra I. Henri Dutilleux, 94, increasingly emerges as France's greatest post-World War II composer - profoundly distilled in ways that allow his music to reveal deeper levels as time passes. His superb 1985 violin concerto L'Arbre des songes is performed in a high-potential collaboration between conductor Semyon Bychkov and violinist Renaud Capucon, who has played the piece enough to have its idiom in his bones. (Oct. 21-23 at the Kimmel Center. 215-893-1999, www.philorch.org)   - D.P.S.

Staatskapelle Dresden. Not many orchestras measure their lineage in centuries. Staatskapelle Dresden claims to have taken shape in 1548, which, if yours is the long view, makes the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) they'll perform here in November relatively contemporary. With much-praised British conductor Daniel Harding, 35, on the podium, German bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann and Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg as soloists and the Westminster Symphonic Choir, this beckons as fall's most promising orchestral event. (Nov. 2 at the Kimmel Center. 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org)   - P.D.

Philadelphia Orchestra II. Jaap van Zweden's distinctively lean performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 last season augurs well for Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, whose substantial, anxiety-ridden inner workings are often buried under a suave orchestral exterior. Van Zweden may well emerge as the anti-Ormandy - with a healthy alternative perspective. (Nov. 4-6 at the Kimmel Center. 215-893-1999, www.philorch.org) - D.P.S.

Arnaldo Cohen and Mihaela Ursuleasa. Cohen, well known in these parts for his previous dates with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, teams with Ursuleasa in a two-piano recital of Mozart, Ravel, Dvorák, and - of course - the haunting Schubert Fantasy in F minor (D. 940). (Nov. 9 at the Kimmel Center. 215-569-8080, www.pcmsconcerts.org)   - P.D.

Brahms Festival. Astral Artists reprises its festival with three concerts in a single day - well-spaced for chances to maintain blood sugar levels and make connections among the Horn Trio (with superlative Metropolitan Opera principal hornist Julie Landsman), violin sonatas, vocal works, and other chamber pieces. With more than a dozen players, including violist (and Curtis Institute director) Roberto Díaz and pianist Natalie Zhu. (Nov. 13, Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square. 215-735-6999, www.astralartists.org   - P.D.

Network for New Music. Composer Andrea Clearfield is back from another musical exploration of Nepal, and Network not only features her latest works inspired by communing with local monks, but reprises the chamber orchestra work that came out of her last trip, Lung-ta, the Windhorse. That piece is so intricately woven - and was last presented in 2008 with such a substantial visual component - that revisiting is warranted. (Nov. 21 at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. 215-848-7647 or www.networkfornewmusic.org)    - D.P.S.

Alice Coote. On opera stages, she is Penelope, Dorabella, Cherubino, Lucretia and Hansel. With pianist Bradley Moore, Coote, the major English mezzo, takes on the more intimate recital literature with Elgar's Sea Pictures as centerpiece. (Nov. 19 at the Kimmel Center. 215-569-8080, www.pcmsconcerts.org)   - P.D.

Simone Dinnerstein. As strong a pianistic personality as there is, she returns to Bach's Goldberg Variations in an Astral concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square. (Dec. 6. 215-735-6999, www.astralartists.org   - P.D.

Philadelphia Orchestra III. Music director-designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin phases in slowly - he conducts Haydn and Mahler in October - but the program for his second appearance of the season, in the new year, should tell you what you need to know. Paired in one evening, the Mozart Requiem and Debussy's Nocturnes all but guarantee to lay bare the artistic soul. (Jan. 6, 7, and 8 at the Kimmel Center. 215-893-1999, www.philorch.org)    - P.D.

Also Notable

The Philadelphia Orchestra gets back to, if not a neighborhood, the center of this neighborhoody burg - City Hall - with a free outdoor concert on Sept. 21. (215-893-1999, www.philorch.org.) . . . Mendelssohn Club and leader Alan Harler lean in the direction of textural clarity when they shed orchestra in Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem Oct. 24 in favor of the two-piano version. The audience is invited to sing along in specially chosen (read: not so difficult) spots. (215-735-9922, www.mcchorus.org) . . . From the Dept. of Choices We'd Rather Not Have to Make: Two Britten Ceremony of Carols, both Dec. 11. Mendelssohn Club pairs its with newer work of Donald St. Pierre; the Philadelphia Singers echo Britten's ancient-contemporary juxtaposition with motets by Ingram Marshall and the premiere of Et Incarnatus Est by Philadelphian David Shapiro. Actually, since the Singers repeat their concert twice more, Britten-ites can feast. Deo Gracias. (215-751-9494, www.philadelphiasingers.org; 215-735-9922, www.mcchorus.org.)  - P.D.

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