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Classical Fall Preview 2022: WRTI's guide to the new season

Autumn, perhaps more palpably than any other season, represents change: falling leaves, the first nip of cold in the air, bewilderment at the persistence of pumpkin spice on café menus. In the world of classical music, fall signifies starting anew, as concert seasons commence and venues fill again with eager listeners.

This year the notion of renewal particularly resonates, as performing arts institutions begin their first seasons largely free of the policies and precautions that have defined the pandemic live music experience. But that hint of normalcy doesn’t mean things will be the same. The tremendous challenges of the last few years have given musicians and institutions the imperative to reflect, adapt, and innovate.

The result is a new concert season that promises extraordinary richness and depth, with programs and album releases that challenge the canon while honoring it in equal measure; introduce bold new voices that will carry the art form forward for decades to come; and deliver their weight in consoling, probing, captivating musical fulfillment.
Zev Kane, Classical Program Director (Also see: our Jazz Fall Preview)

Robert Levin, Mozart – The Piano Sonatas

Here is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the way he himself might have played it — on an instrument he did in fact play. With this 7-CD boxed set, American musicologist, Mozart specialist, and keyboard virtuoso Robert Levin gives us historically informed performances of all of Mozart’s piano sonatas on the great Austrian composer’s own c. 1782 fortepiano. Though not as full-bodied as a modern piano, Mozart’s instrument nonetheless produces pleasing, crisp-sounding tones that sing under Levin’s expressive and nimble touch. His use of improvisational and decorative elements characteristic of Mozart's time enhance this outstanding recording. Sept. 16. ECM. (Mark Pinto)

Delaware Valley Opera Company, Liebovar, or The Little Blind Girl

Philly’s Fringe Fest featured a new take on a classic opera last year, and this year there will be an entirely new work with story and music by a Philadelphia-area composer, Misha Dutka. Delaware Valley Opera Company will perform Liebovar, or The Little Blind Girl, the story of a world where all the children have disappeared except one girl (played by Nichole Dantoni) who must join forces with the animals of the forest to defeat an evil ogre. Sept. 16. (John T.K. Scherch)

The Crossing, Walking the Farm: A Progressive Concert

Wear your hiking shoes and bring your appetite to The Crossing’s season-opening concert, at Kings Oaks Farm near Newtown in Bucks County. You’ll traverse five stations, beginning at the farm and ending at the garden — sampling wine, beer, and locally sourced vittles at each stop, as you listen to the heavenly voices of The Crossing, led by Donald Nally. They’ll perform commissioned works inspired by land and nature — including a new piece by George Lewis; previous commissions by Kirsten Broberg and David Shapiro; and Pēteris Vasks’ setting of a poem by Czeslaw Milosz. Sept. 17 and 18. (Jessica Schultz)

Opera on Tap Philadelphia, Civil Words

In addition to their monthly appearances at local breweries, Philadelphia’s chapter of Opera on Tap will be at Germantown’s historic Johnson House to perform works by mostly Philadelphia-area composers, along with a newly commissioned work for the ensemble, exploring the definition and cost of patriotism from different perspectives — not least from those who would have used the Johnson House as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Sept. 18. (Scherch)

dominic mercier
Tenor Lawrence Brownlee, artistic advisor at Opera Philadelphia, will perform in a Festival O22 production of 'Otello.'

Opera Philadelphia, Festival O22

Always one of the most forward-looking series to be found at a major opera house, Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O22 only stages one work by a standard composer — a story told more famously by a different composer, with the best-known cast member not in the title role. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee makes his 18th debut in a Rossini role as Rodrigo in Otello (the better-known version is Verdi’s), with Khanyiso Gwenxane making his American debut in the title role. Also on stage is Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven at the Miller Theater, paired with a tour of the theater itself led by a performer. The festival is onscreen as well, with Black Lodge, a live-orchestrated film with the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and the glam opera band Timur & the Dime Museum, and the Opera on Film series, all taking place at the Philadelphia Film Center. Watch this space for a full festival preview towards the end of this month. Sept. 21 through Oct. 2. (Scherch)

Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Classics I and II

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra returns for its 117th season — the first full season in its beautiful 1871 home, the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. Among the highlights of the fall season, under music director David Amado: Classics I — Made in America, featuring the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain Suite (from her 2015 opera of the same name); and Classics II — Defying Stars, a must for Strauss enthusiasts, who won’t want to miss the DSO performances of his Burleske with pianist and Curtis Institute of Music faculty member Michelle Cann. Classics I on Sept. 23 and 25; Classics II on Nov. 11, Grand Opera House, Wilmington, DE. (Mike Bolton)

Caroline Shaw / Attacca Quartet

On Evergreen, their second album collaboration with Caroline Shaw (following the Grammy-winning Orange), the Attacca Quartet again finds the composer’s rhapsodic core. For anyone who hasn’t ventured further afield than her seductive Partita for 8 Voices, these tangy, spirited squibs — with Shaw occasionally adding her own vocal contributions — create a fuller portrait of one of today’s most inventive voices. And as essential stars in today’s string quartet universe, Attacca’s players are completely immersed in her idiom. Sept. 23. Nonesuch. (Bruce Hodges)

Tyshawn Sorey, Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)

Earlier this year, the Newark-born, Philadelphia-based composer Tyshawn Sorey premiered a landmark piece at Houston’s Rothko Chapel, in dialogue not only with the abstract canvases in the space but also the legacy of composer Morton Feldman. For this encore staging at the Park Avenue Armory, Sorey’s immersive, meditative work will reenlist musicians like violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist Sarah Rothenberg – with an additional layer of esteemed collaborators including director Peter Sellars, visual artist Julie Mehretu, and choreographer Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray. Sept. 27-Oct. 8. Park Avenue Armory. (Chinen)

The Philadelphia Orchestra: Opening Night Celebration with Yannick and Lang Lang

For the opening gala of its 123rd season, the Orchestra sticks to a tried-and-true formula: celebrity headliner plus easy-on-the-ears repertoire. Piano star Lang Lang plays the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto, with its expansive solo prelude allowing the expressive scope he revels in; and Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads Dvořák’s tuneful Eighth Symphony and the orchestral version of Valerie Coleman’s Umoja, Anthem for Unity, an audience favorite since its 2019 premiere. There’s a twist, too, as the ever-inventive Ballet X joins the musicians onstage in a new dance to Umoja, choreographed by Tiler Peck. Sept. 28, Verizon Hall. (Melinda Whiting)

Chinese! Orchestra conducted by Kevin John Edusei and with Jeneba Kanneh-Mason piano perform SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR African Suite, JAMES B WILSON/YOMI SODE NEW WORK (World Premiere), FLORENCE B. PRICE Piano Concerto in One Movement, BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C minor Hall in the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 19 Oct. 2020. Photo by Mark Allan
Mark Allan
Chineke! Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 2020.

Chineke! Orchestra, Coleridge-Taylor 

The Chineke! Orchestra’s debut on their own label is a welcome celebration of the works of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, marking the 110th anniversary of the esteemed composer’s death. Europe’s first professional majority Black and ethnically diverse orchestra showcases seven works by this English composer of African ancestry, alongside a world premiere of a work by his daughter, Avril. Performances of Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto and Romance by award-winning local violinist Elena Urioste provide some Philly flavor. Sept. 30. Chineke! / Decca. (Pinto)

Piffaro, Passing the Torch

After more than four decades at the helm of Piffaro, one of the world’s finest Renaissance wind bands, co-founders Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken hung up their shawms and sackbuts last April. The group’s first concert with new artistic director Priscilla Herreid honors their retirement and the significance of “passing the torch,” with a program that explores how intergenerational relationships — between students and teachers, colleagues and competitors, and publishers and composers — have pushed forward the sound and scope of the Renaissance wind style. Sept. 30 at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, Oct. 1 at Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and Oct. 2 at First & Central Presbyterian Church. (Zev Kane)

Steve Reich / Susanna Mälkki / Los Angeles Philharmonic

Now 85, Steve Reich continues to explore the percolating rhythms that have been his iconic signature for roughly the last half-century. In the inaugural recordings of Runner (2016) and Music for Ensemble and Orchestra (2018), conductor Susanna Mälkki and the Los Angeles Philharmonic show meditative focus on Reich’s gentle throbs and shimmering mirages. In the more recent work, two pianos and two vibraphones create an engaging percussive spine, with the rest of the ensemble happily swirling above. Sept. 30. Nonesuch. (Hodges)

Variant 6 in performance

Variant Six, Discord & Design

The German musicologist Helga Thoene unveiled a lament to J.S. Bach’s first wife by adding fragments of chorales to the Chaconne from his Partita No. 2 for solo violin. This interpretation will be the centerpiece of a program by the vocal chamber ensemble Variant 6, featuring violinist Min-Young Kim, as well as an expansion on Thoene’s theme by pairing other Bach chorales with new works. Two performances, the first of which will also include an experience of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting’s James Turrell Skyspace. Oct. 1 at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting; Oct. 2 at St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton Village. (Scherch)

WRTI / Astral Garden Party

Music! Plants! Beer! All will flow freely at the first-ever Garden Party, a collaboration between WRTI andAstral. Held in the bucolic Philadelphia Horticultural Society Pop-Up Garden on South Street, this unique event offers many forms of refreshment: a quintet of superb up-and-coming artists, top-notch selection food and drink, and even a spirited round of classical trivia. Oct. 2.PHS Pop-Up Garden on South St. (Kane)

The Philadelphia Orchestra: Strauss and Price

The thoughtful young violinist Randall Goosby made an impressive solo recording debut in 2021 with Roots, exploring under-performed music influenced by African-American culture. It features three pieces by Florence Price, now receiving a flood of attention thanks in part to ardent advocacy from the Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In a concert program titled Strauss and Price, Goosby takes on both of Price’s violin concertos in a program that is otherwise European and waltz-based, with Ravel’s La Valse and Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier Suite. Oct. 6-9, Verizon Hall. (Whiting)

The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players
Becky Armato
The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players

Tempesta di Mare

Immerse yourself in the world of Baroque music with Philadelphia-based Tempesta di Mare. In a program called “#thatgiglife of the 18th-century Cellist” (Oct. 8 and 9), cellist Eve Miller and guitarist Richard Stone perform cello music played in Philadelphia in the 1700s. “Expats and Immigrants” (Oct. 22 and 23) features Gwyn Roberts on recorder, Emlyn Ngai on violin, Lisa Terry on cello, and Richard Stone and Kevin Payne on theorbo, exploring the musical identities of composers who moved overseas. And “Dowland’s Heartbreak Playlist” (Nov. 19 and 20) has tenor Jacob Perry and lutenist Richard Stone bringing to life John Dowland’s lute music from the Elizabethan era. Various locations. (Schultz)

The Blue Hour

“An embodiment and celebration of a kind of musical sisterhood” — that’s how Sarah Kirkland Snider characterizes The Blue Hour, a song cycle made in collaboration with her fellow composers Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw. Commissioned by the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry, with Nova as a featured vocalist, this arresting and strikingly cohesive piece imagines one woman’s surrealistic meditation on mortality, drawing its text from On Earth, an epic poem by Carolyn Forché. Oct. 14. New Amsterdam / Nonesuch Records. (Nate Chinen)

Dover Quartet, Beethoven Complete String Quartets: Volume 3 The Late Quartets

Quirky, moody, and boundary-breaking, though supremely lyrical, Beethoven’s “late period” string quartets test the mettle and expressive capabilities of all but the very finest ensembles. Hailed as one of the world’s greatest string quartets, the Dover Quartet — founded and in-residence at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music — will soon release the third and final installment of their complete Beethoven cycle. The first two volumes have been critically acclaimed for their technical execution and musical insight, making this release a must-have followup. Oct. 14. Cedille. (Pinto)

Kings College Choir and Parker Ramsey, The Street

Two years ago, Parker Ramsey earned widespread acclaim for his recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, performed not on harpsichord or piano but rather his first instrument, the modern pedal harp. Ramsey’s second release on the King’s College, Cambridge label returns to Bach with the Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826 — but its main attraction is The Street, a quietly transfixing piece for solo harp, plainchant and narration, created by composer Nico Muhly and librettist Alice Goodman as a meditation on the Stations of the Cross. Oct. 14. King’s College, Cambridge. (Chinen)

Sphinx Virtuosi

It may take decades to determine the music that best encapsulates the zeitgeist of 2022, but that won’t be for lack of trying on the part of Sphinx Virtuosi. This 18-member ensemble — the flagship of the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing representation of Black and Latinx artists in classical music — brings immediacy and verve to the question with their Philadelphia Chamber Music Society program Songs For Our Times, highlighted by the Philadelphia premieres of new works by Jessie Montgomery and Valerie Coleman and a rousing arrangement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. Oct. 21. Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center. (Kane)

Wilmington Concert Opera

A new opera, Girondines, tells the story of six women who were part of the Girondist party in the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. The creators already have one collaboration under their belts; the music is by Sarah Van Sciver, featuring six singers, piano, and harp, with a libretto by WCO co-founder and artistic director Dr. Kirsten C. Kunkle. Oct. 21-23. (Scherch)

Astral Fall Showcase

Founded 30 years ago as a nonprofit dedicated to developing the early careers of classical musicians, Astral has become an indispensable innovator in discovering and nurturing new generations of extraordinary talent. Hosted by WRTI Senior Producer Susan Lewis in Rittenhouse’s opulent Stotesbury Mansion, this dazzling first glimpse of Astral’s 2022 cohort – sopranos Sage DeAgro-Ruopp and Kayla Harriott, bassoonist Andy Sledge, and accordionist Iwo Jedynecki – will surely leave you feeling optimistic about the future of the art form. Oct. 26. Stotesbury Mansion. (Kane)

The Songs of Solomon: The Music of Salamone Rossi

What does WRTI fill-in classical host Meg Bragle do when she’s not on the air? Find out during this concert at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, where she’ll sing the music of 17th-century Jewish composer Salamone Rossi. The Songs of Solomon doubles as a spotlight for Meg, a mezzo-soprano who is also Artist in Residence and Director of Vocal Studies at Penn’s Department of Music, and a chance to experience the motets of a composer whose work is still being rediscovered. Oct. 27. Penn Live Arts. (Gordon)

Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Ravel, Dukas, and More: A Night of French Music

The Curtis Institute of Music’s pedagogical approach is to learn by doing. A unique real-world educational opportunity is at the heart oftheir Nov. 6 program, when the dynamic Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and Curtis Opera Theater singers in classic selections from the French Romantic and Impressionist schools. Because Curtis has some of the most talented young musicians in the world, this could be a great opportunity to hear the next Hillary Hahn or Juan Diego Flórez under one of the world’s most important conductors. Nov. 6, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center. (Bolton)

Jennifer Taylor/Jennifer Taylor

Osvaldo Golijov, Falling Out of Time

There’s something for everyone — even more for those who like everything, and the most for those who enjoy it all at once — in Osvaldo Golijov’s song cycle Falling Out of Time, performed in Philly for the first time by members of the Silkroad Ensemble, who also recorded the work in 2020. Instruments with origins around the world and associated with (and drawing from) many different styles of music combine to tell the story of a mother and father who have lost their son. Nov. 6, Penn Live Arts. (Scherch)

AVA Opera's production of Verdi's 'La Traviata'
Academy of Vocal Arts
AVA Opera's production of Verdi's 'La Traviata'

Academy of Vocal Arts, La Traviata

The fallen woman Violetta and the love-stuck Alfredo return to the stage this November as the Academy of Vocal Arts presents Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Conductor Christofer Macatsoris leads the AVA Opera Orchestra for seven performances. You’ll have a choice of venues to see this classic romance, including the Zoellner Arts Center (Nov. 13), the AVA’s beautiful Helen Corning Warden Theater (Nov. 15, 17, 19), and Centennial Hall at the Haverford School (Nov. 29). The AVA’s 88th season also features favorites Don Giovanni and Don Pasquale. (Gordon)

Philadelphia Youth Orchestra

“What’s the matter with kids today?” The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra has been answering that question for the past 82 years: nothing! In fact, if you want youthful enthusiasm at its best, expressed through music, look to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s fall season opener, which will feature Dmitri Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," William Grant Still’s Fourth Symphony, Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” narrated by Dr. Allen Guelzo, and Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." Nov. 13. Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center. (Gordon)

The Philadelphia Orchestra: Holst’s The Planets

The enterprising violinist Jennifer Koh regularly and happily strays from the well-worn virtuoso path, commissioning and premiering new works from a broad range of composers. As she premieres Nina Young’s newTraces, commissioned for her by the Philadelphia Orchestra, she’s joined by another pathbreaker: eminent maestra Marin Alsop, who was a pioneer in an age when prominent women conductors were rare. Alsop leads with drama, in Brahms’s Tragic Overture, and closes with brilliant sonic color, in Gustav Holst’sThe Planets. Nov. 17-19, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center. (Whiting)

Christina & Michelle Naughton

The fundamental challenge of the piano duo repertoire is to coalesce two minds, four hands, 10 fingers, and 176 keys into a single coherent sound. Few duos today perform this act of musical alchemy more convincingly than the Princeton-born, Curtis-trained sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, whose debut recital for the vaunted Philadelphia Chamber Music Society bookends four-hand standards by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Poulenc, and Fauré around a scintillating arrangement of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. Nov. 22, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center. (Kane)