Classical music this spring: 'Doctor Atomic,' chamber music, 'Jungle Book,' and more

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The Brentano String Quartet will perform as part of the Departure and Discovery project at the Perelman with The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Courtesy of the artists.

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society leads the artistic discussion this spring in Philadelphia. The group has a particularly enticing concentration of artists and repertoire lined up between February and May. Beethoven and Schubert are heavily favored by a number of pianists and string quartets, as they often are.

But PCMS puts a special context around many of these works with its Departure and Discovery project. In a series of three concerts starting Feb. 16 (with the Brentano String Quartet at the Perelman Theater) - plus related blogs, podcasts, and talks - artists explore "late style," the change in approach that many composers took at a late stage in life.

Pianist Jonathan Biss curates the three concerts for the project, which asks how artistic creation is influenced by years of accumulated knowledge and experience - and, sometimes, the realization that death is imminent.

"For years, I've been struck by how much of the music I'm most drawn to comes from near the end of its composer's life," Biss writes in an essay. "These works are so different from one another, but they are all hugely gripping. Playing Beethoven's Op. 111, or Schubert's Schwanengesang, I feel that I'm living in a heightened reality - it's a dizzying, sometimes frightening, always enthralling experience." - Peter Dobrin

Curtis 20/21 Ensemble (Feb. 11, Curtis Institute of Music, Gould Rehearsal Hall). Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust, offers Cageian perspectives in a talk before the Curtis contemporary music group performs a cavalcade of Cage: 59 1/2" for a String Player (1953) (cello); 45' for a Speaker (1954); 31' 57.9864" for a Pianist (1954); 26' 1.1499" for a String Player (1955) (viola); and 27' 10.554" for a Percussionist (1956). You probably won't hear wall-to-wall Cage like this again any time soon. (215-893-7902, curtis.edu- P.D.

Philadelphia Orchestra Valentine's Day Concert (Feb. 14, Verizon Hall). Rarely has the orchestra's holiday programming centered on an artistic statement as focused as this one: orchestral Gershwin. Cristian Macelaru leads the ensemble in a dozen or so works, including tunes from Porgy and Bess, and the Overture to Girl Crazy. (215-893-1999, philorch.org- P.D.

Harlem Quartet (Feb. 24, World Cafe Live). It's an evening of making connections among variously sourced material. The quartet performs Mozart's String Quartet K. 458, "The Hunt," dedicated to the father of the string quartet, Haydn, after opening with a work by Guido Gavilán, father of Harlem Quartet first violinist Ilmar Gavilán. They are joined by Latin jazz percussionist Arturo Stable, on his own and in a new work commissioned by LiveConnections, Black Phoenix. (215-222-1400, liveconnections.org- P.D.

Piffaro (Feb. 24, Trinity Center for Urban Life; Feb. 25, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill; and Feb. 26, Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Wilmington). "¡Ay Amor! Love & Death in 17th Century Spanish Theater" is the program this Renaissance wind band has assembled as an unofficial sequel to last year's Don Quixote extravaganza. Outside Spain, this is a little-known corner of theatrical history, the exploration of which will be aided by two of the most intelligent singers in the early-music world, Julianne Baird and Drew Minter. (215-235-8469, piffaro.org) - David Patrick Stearns

The Jungle Book (Feb. 25-26, Prince Theater). Students of the Curtis Institute of Music and Pennsylvania Ballet II perform The Jungle Book, with an Indian-inspired score by John B Hedges and choreography by Colby Damon. The 45-minute ballet is intended for children ages 5 to 12. (215-422-4580, paballet.org- P.D.

Curtis Opera Theatre, Doctor Atomic (March 2 and 4, Perelman Theater). Will the world's first atomic bomb test ignite the atmosphere and blow up the world? That's only one of the concerns dramatized in the 2005 John Adams opera Doctor Atomic, whose central character in the Los Alamos setting is physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who closes Act 1 by singing an anguished John Donne sonnet. With staging by the cutting-edge director R.B. Schlather, be prepared for anything. (214-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org- D.P.S.

Paul Appleby and Ken Noda (March 3, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society at American Philosophical Society). Appleby may not be the next Wagnerian powerhouse, but he's one of the most distinctive and intelligent young tenors out there. Having pianist Noda on hand is sort of a seal of approval - he doesn't come here accompanying just anybody. The program is Poulenc and Britten - not the most frequent names to turn up in song recitals. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- D.P.S.

Tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss (March 13, Perelman Theater, part of the Departure and Discovery series). Two works composed by Schubert in 1828, just months before his death, performed with what promises to be great emotional insight. Biss plays Schubert's astonishing D. 959 Piano Sonata - a second movement that is one of the great musical depictions of total emotional collapse, and a fourth movement of pure elation. Then, Biss and Padmore explore Schwanengesang, the composer's much-loved songs on texts by three poets that pull you in with unexpected aspects of death, love, nature, and longing. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- P.D.

Daniil Trifonov (March 24, Perelman Theater). The Russian pianist's career is certainly making a big noise, but Philadelphia Chamber Music Society listeners, accustomed to a high level of pianists, will decide for themselves when he makes his PCMS debut in a recital of Schumann, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- P.D.

Violinists Pamela Frank and Christian Tetzlaff (April 18, Perelman Theater). The program may change, but planned now are at least some two-violin works, which are relatively rare. In any case, it will be fascinating to hear how two very different musical personalities - he controlled, she in constant pursuit of emotional meaning - find common ground. Or don't. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- P.D.

Rudolf Buchbinder (April 26, Perelman Theater). It's a program of four well-known Beethoven piano sonatas, including the "Waldstein" and "Tempest." But if anyone can make you hear them anew, it's Buchbinder - elegant and exceedingly original. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- P.D.

Juilliard String Quartet (April 30, Perelman Theater). The name is venerable, but the membership is changing. This is the quartet's first appearance here with its new cellist, Astrid Schween. Joseph Lin became first violinist in 2011, and so the group brings an evolving personality in this program of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and the local premiere of Mario Davidovsky's String Quartet No. 6, "Fragments." (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org- P.D.

Curtis Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä (May 7, Verizon Hall). Before the Finnish conductor and Curtis students take off on a 10-day European tour, they come to the Kimmel Center in a program that includes Peter Serkin as soloist in the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, and Strauss' Ein Heldenleben. Vänskä has a big personality that gets right to the emotional core of a piece. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org- P.D.

Philadelphia Orchestra (May 11-13, Verizon Hall). Guest conductor (and Bolshoi Opera music director) Tugan Sokhiev and violinist Renaud Capucon promise to take crowd-pleasers such as the Korngold Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 to a new level; if either of them have autopilot mode, I haven't heard it. Korngold's concerto was once dismissed as recycled movie music, and, well, that's why people love it. (215-893-1999, philorch.org- D.P.S.

Marilyn Nonken (May 18, Barnes Foundation). This modern-music pianist doesn't come along often, but when she does, take note. Her program, titled "The Spectral Piano," mixes music of Olivier Messiaen with various artistic descendants, such as Tristan Murail. Rest assured, you'll not have heard anything like it. (215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org/programs- D.P.S.

The Crossing Month of Moderns Festival (June 11, Crane Arts; June 24 and July 1, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill). First suggestion on this modern-music choral festival: Just go. But here are some details. The first concert at Crane Arts, the Northern Liberties arts center, has Joshua Stamper's " 'mid the steep sky's commotion," a piece that is said to contemplate "the enigmatic and impenetrable quality of wind." The second features works by Dai Fujikura and Gregory Brown dealing with social and environmental issues. I'm looking forward most to the third concert's world premiere of Anonymous Man by Bang-on-a-Can composer Michael Gordon, with words drawn from the composer's conversations with the homeless. (crossingchoir.com- D.P.S.