Philadelphia's classical music community has become one of the leaders in the thoroughly 21st-century zeitgeist, but with no threat to the city's long-embedded sense of tradition. Take the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, for example. It presents a Brahms-dominated Elias Quartet program on Feb. 21, and on Feb. 25 the JACK Quartet playing ultramodernist Elliott Carter.
Works that had an uncertain reception when new — such as Leonard Bernstein's 1983 A Quiet Place — are getting another chance. Yet so is that greatest of operatic hits, Carmen.
Such events are red-letter days for the numerous audience niches in Philadelphia. And maybe those niches will start merging. Sax man Branford Marsalis connects disparate realms in his upcoming Kimmel Center recital with classical organ.
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and Karina Canellakis will allow us to consider whether the podium is finally opening up to female conductors in a permanent way. And with a format of unusual artistic depth, tenor Lawrence Brownlee promises to tell listeners, in song, what it means to be a black male today.
Classical leaders have craved greater relevance for decades. Here it is.
Chrystal E. Williams, mezzo-soprano, and pianist Laurent Philippe (Feb. 11, American Philosophical Society). The sparkling, sensitive singer has assembled a program of range for her Astral Artists recital debut: Maurice Ravel's Chansons madécasses; the world premiere of a piece written for her, Meu Brasil de Cristal by Felipe Hostins, with its Brazilian composer playing accordion; plus spirituals and other works. (215-735-6999, astralartists.org) — Peter Dobrin
Branford Marsalis and Jean-Willy Kunz (Feb. 16, Verizon Hall). Classical, jazz, sax, and organ cross paths in this unusual recital that pairs the veteran saxophonist with the organist-in-residence of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. On the program are works for both instruments (Milhaud and Piazzolla), organ alone (Maxime Goulet), and, in Blues for One, Marsalis as both a sax man and composer widely admired for his sensitivity and range. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org) — P.D.
Curtis Institute of Music's "Carnival of the Animals" (Feb. 18, Curtis Institute of Music). Two Curtis pianists, Ying Li and Bolai Cao, take on the Saint-Saëns favorite with actors from Enchantment Theatre Company. The Curtis family concerts are always fun and informal, and there's something particularly disarming in the way the musicians relate to the children — perhaps because many of the musicians are themselves children, or nearly so. (215-893-7902, curtis.edu) –– P.D.
Lawrence Brownlee (Feb. 20, Perelman Theater). The first half of this recital features the tenor in Brahms, Barber, and spirituals. For the second half, Brownlee, Opera Philadelphia's artistic adviser, has crafted a work called Cycles of My Being with composer Tyshawn Sorey and lyricist Terrance Hayes. Premiering here, it aims to expand "notions and expressions of black male subjectivity," Hayes says. It continues on to Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History and then Carnegie Hall. With violinist Randall Goosby, cellist Khari Joyner, clarinetist Alexander Laing, and pianist Kevin Miller. (215-732-8400, operaphila.org) — P.D.
Elias String Quartet and pianist Jonathan Biss (Feb. 21, Perelman Theater). Biss, who has emerged as one of the city's favorites (he teaches at Curtis) joins with the Elias, with its ever-fine ear for sound production, in the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34. The foursome also plays the Mozart Quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458, the "Hunt," and Kurtág's Six moments musicaux. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) — P.D.
Mitsuko Uchida (Feb. 23, Perelman Theater). If you are even vaguely aware of the power that can be released when certain artist-repertoire stars align, you'll immediately recognize this recital as compulsory. The pianist plays three sonatas of Schubert's: the C Minor, D. 958; A Major, D. 664; and G Major, D. 894. You may not agree with Uchida's every interpretive decision, but there's never any doubt that she is a force. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) — P.D.
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (March 8-18, Academy of Music). "This was Tchaikovsky's first whack at composing for dance, and it became the music that defined classical ballet," says Beatrice Jona Affron, who conducts the Pennsylvania Ballet orchestra in all 10 of the dance troupe's performances. Pennsylvania Ballet has spent the season doing all three of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores, and it's good to be reminded that without the music, the dance is, well, not nothing, but like a bird without feathers. (215-893-1999, paballet.org) — P.D.
Henry Kramer (March 11, American Philosophical Society). The pianist plays his Astral Artists recital debut with a program that counterbalances Schumann (the Davidsbündlertänze and Arabeske) with Ravel (Pavane pour une infante défunte and Miroirs). We've heard bits and pieces of Kramer since he joined the Astral roster, but an entire recital should reveal what appears to be a big personality. (215-735-6999, www.astralartists.org) — P.D.
András Schiff (March 31, Perelman Theater). Traditionalists will love the program: a lot of Brahms interspersed with Schumann, Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven (the Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, "Les Adieux"). Schiff is a pianist who manages a delicate balance. He is emotionally direct, yet refined; expressive within certain boundaries. (215-569-8080, www.pcmsconcerts.org) — P.D.
Network for New Music honors Linda Reichert (April 29, Settlement Music School). Network for New Music tips the hat to Reichert and her 33 years as artistic director as only a leading catalyst for new repertoire can (and should): with new work. The celebration includes specially commissioned world premieres by composers Andrea Clearfield, John Harbison, Michael Hersch, Jennifer Higdon, James Primosch, Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, Melinda Wagner, Richard Wernick, and Maurice Wright. (215-848-7647, www.networkfornewmusic.org) — P.D.
Karina Canellakis conducts the Curtis Institute of Music orchestra (April 29, Verizon Hall). Is time up for males monopolizing the podium? Canellakis, working in Europe quite a bit this season, is among a promising new women's movement. Her appearance at Curtis orchestra's last concert of the season includes Strauss' Four Last Songs with soprano Amanda Majeski and Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy. (215-893-1999, curtis.edu) — P.D.