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Joshua Bell returns; Natacha Diels takes us 'Somewhere Beautiful'

It’s a big week on Philadelphia’s classical music scene, with a bonafide superstar coming to Verizon Hall and some musical bonbons to enhance your Valentine’s Day celebrations. With a wide variety of styles in play — from Renaissance to Romantic to Ragtime — you’ll have plenty to choose from. Here are some handpicked recommendations. — Mike Bolton, Classical Host

Spotlight: Joshua Bell Returns — Thursday through Saturday, Verizon Hall

Violinist Joshua Bell’s appearance with The Philadelphia Orchestra is such a big deal that the name of this concert on the Orchestra’s webpage simply reads “Joshua Bell Returns.” It hasn’t been too long; his last appearance here was in 2021. Still, it’s amazing to think that the 14-year-old who made his debut with the Philadelphians under Maestro Muti’s baton is now 56. His music-making remains as inventive, stylish, energetic, and lyrical as ever.

That lyricism lends itself to the repertoire for a concert that includes Ernest Chausson’s uber-Romantic Poème, a staple of the concert repertoire, once beautifully recorded by Bell for Decca. He’ll also dazzle on his 1713 Huberman Stradivarius in Henri Vieuxtemps’s dramatic Fifth Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 37. The concerto’s virtuoso elements stem from its origins as a competition piece designed to highlight the performer’s abilities. It’s also sometimes called the “Grétry” concerto, as the melody in the Adagio section was adapted from an aria in André Grétry’s opera Lucille. Rounding out the program is Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op 68 — a work that took Brahms 21 years to complete. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s former music director Christoph Eschenbach conducts these concerts.

Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at 2 p.m., and Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad Street, $25 to $166; tickets and information.

L-O-V-E, Songs for Valentine’s Day — Tuesday at The Moorestown Community House, Wednesday at Philadelphia Ethical Society

The folks at Lyric Fest consistently offer provocative, well-curated programs of both familiar and lesser-known art songs and vocal works — with some of the most talented and exciting singers in the business. For this Valentine’s Day program, the wonderful Philadelphia-born and Grammy-winning baritone Kenneth Overton is joined by the Metropolitan National Council Audition winner and Academy of Vocal Arts alumna soprano Michelle Johnson. The enticing repertoire for this program includes seldom-heard art songs concentrating on themes of love, all from composers of African descent: H.T. Burleigh, H. Leslie Adams, Undine Smith Moore, Adolphus Hailstork, Florence Price, and William Grant Still. Also revving up the curiosity meter, the program includes transcriptions of Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole. The incomparable Laura Ward is the genius behind the program and is the collaborative accompanist.

Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., The Moorestown Community House, 16 E Main Street, Moorestown, NJ; Feb. 14 at 7 p.m., Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square, $30; tickets and information.

Maria Jarzyna

Aaron Diehl — Wednesday, Perelman Theater

The American pianist and composer Aaron Diehl presents a wonderfully eclectic Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert titled An Evening of Ragtime and Harlem Stride, in what should be a particularly enjoyable way to spend Valentine’s Day evening. As you might imagine, the works on this recital won’t be lingering in the angst of Beethoven or the classicism of Haydn. Some of the composers represented on the program include the familiar (Eubie Blake, Jelly Roll Morton, and Scott Joplin) and perhaps less-familiar (Jesse Pickett and Roland Hanna). Yet with their athletic compositional style, they are no less virtuosic than works by the Romantic composers. The stride piano styles came out of ragtime, and employ a technique where the left hand “strides,” or leaps octaves across the keyboard. Several works on the program are by composer James P. Johnson, considered the “Father of the Stride.” Of our pianist, the Philadelphia Inquirer said, “A leader in contemporary jazz, there’s an entire world of jazz in Diehl’s playing…he makes the case that jazz is not one style or genre but many, gliding gorgeously among decades of artistic influences.”

Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m., Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad Street, $30; tickets and information.

Natacha Diels: Somewhere Beautiful — Saturday, Icebox Project Space

This week, the Network for New Music makes a stop at the Icebox Project Space within the always funky and inspiring Crane Arts building. Their next event is Somewhere Beautiful, a concert-length performance art piece by Natacha Diels, Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work, according to her website, “combines choreographed movement, improvisation, video, instrumental practice, and cynical play to create worlds of curiosity and unease.” She brings together all of those elements in Somewhere Beautiful, making it a must-see event.

Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Icebox Project Space, 1400 N. American Street, $25, seniors $20, students $5; tickets and information.

Coming up in the next week, some other programs to check out include:

Britten, The Rape of Lucretia — Feb. 17, 20, 22, and 24, Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street, $68 to $103.

Antoni Kleczek - Chopin Recital — Feb. 25, Germantown Settlement Music School, 6128 Germantown Avenue, $30, students $20.

Musicians from Marlboro III — Feb. 21 - Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad Street, sold out, but join the waiting list by calling 215-569-8080 or emailing boxoffice@pcmsconcerts.org.

In my teens, the movie Amadeus changed my life forever. It introduced me to classical music and opera—I couldn’t get enough of it.