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Fanfare Meets Fall Preview: Meg Bragle's top picks for the season

Thomas Dunford and Lea Desandre, who will perform at the American Philosophical Society on Nov. 3.
Julien Benhamou
Thomas Dunford and Lea Desandre, who will perform at the American Philosophical Society on Nov. 3.

Welcome to Fanfare, our guide to live classical events in the Philadelphia area! We typically look at the week ahead, but in this edition we’re spotlighting a season’s worth of highlights, handpicked by Meg Bragle, host of Afternoon Classical. Subscribe now to Fanfare to receive our weekly mailing, and please let us know what you think!

Philadelphia is a great place to live for so many reasons. Wonderful people, a great food scene, and sports teams that take fandom to the next level. Culturally, we have an embarrassment of riches to choose from — and this autumn is no different. From an intimate recital featuring two rising stars, the return of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla to the podium, and a celebration of one of America’s finest song composers, here are my “must see” concerts.

Spotlight: Lea Desandre & Thomas Dunsford — Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Nov. 3

The first time I heard Lea Desandre sing was during the dark days of lockdown in 2020. I was struck not just by the beauty of her voice, which is exquisite, but by the immediacy of her communication of the text. As for Thomas Dunsford, he has been called the “Eric Clapton of the lute”(by the BBC Magazine), and I have admired his playing for several years. This program of 17th-century music about love will surely be a highlight of the season.

Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m., American Philosophical Society, 427 Chestnut Street, $30; purchase tickets.

Karim Sulayman
Jon Wes
Karim Sulayman

Unholy Wars — Festival O23, Sept. 23-Oct. 1

Conceived by the Grammy-winning Lebanese American tenor Karim Sulayman, this project juxtaposes music by Monteverdi and Handel with Mary Kouyoumjdian to explore issues of identity. Sulayman is a singer of great expressivity, and this should be a powerful evening.

Sept. 23 and 30 at 8 p.m., Sept. 27 and Oct. 1 at 7 p.m., The Suzanne Roberts Theater, 480 S. Broad Street, $50 to $120; purchase tickets.

Evidence of things not seen — LyricFest, Oct. 23

LyricFest has been a gem in the city’s cultural scene for 20 years, commissioning countless works and introducing new audiences to the world of song. Evidence of things not seen is a concert-length cycle of songs by Ned Rorem, written as a summation of his life’s work as a composer and originally premiered on his 75th birthday. Presented now on what would have been his centenary — he died last year, at 99 — it features four brilliant singers and the exemplary pianist Laura Ward, bringing the music of one of America’s finest song composers to life.

Oct. 23 at 7 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, 201 S. 21st Street, $30; purchase tickets.

Andrew Kahl/Andrew Kahl / Wonderful Machine

Handel / Vivaldi — Tempesta di Mare, Oct. 21 and 22

A chance to hear what Handel’s Water Music might have sounded like in his time. Philadelphia’s own baroque orchestra combines this familiar music with concertos by Vivaldi and Fasch, a composer they have championed for many years. Tempesta di Mare, fresh off their triumphant tour to Germany as winners of the Fasch Prize, should make this an exuberant evening of orchestral fireworks.

Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m., Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Avenue; Oct. 22 at 4 p.m., Trinity Center for Urban Life, 2212 Spruce Avenue; tickets available with a season pass.

1623, The year the music died — Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, Oct. 13 and 14

400 years ago, in 1623, three masters of the English Renaissance all died: Thomas Weelkes, William Byrd and Philip Rosseter. Piffaro — highly regarded band led by a gifted new artistic director, Priscilla Herreid — explores some of the glorious music of England’s golden age by these three composers.

Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m., Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 19 S. 38th Street; Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Avenue. $29 to $54; purchase tickets.

Mirga Conducts Bruckner — The Philadelphia Orchestra, Oct. 20-22

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 is one of his boldest compositions, though possibly one of the least performed symphonies. Hearing it live, with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla leading the fabulous Philadelphians, will be a real treat.

Oct. 20 and 22 at 2 p.m., Oct. 21 at 8 p.m., Verizon Hall, Kimmel Cultural Campus, 300 S. Broad Street, $25 to $181; purchase tickets.

As a young violinist, Meg Bragle regularly listened to her local classical music station and loved calling in on Saturday mornings to request pieces, usually by Beethoven. The hosts were always kind and played her requests (often the Fifth Symphony), fostering a genuine love for radio.