Classical concerts in Philadelphia: Lawrence Brownlee, Sonya Yoncheva, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, more

Peter Dobrin, David Patrick Stearns, Classical Music Critics

Updated: Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 5:23 AM

The Curtis Institute of Music orchestra performing May 23 at the Berlin Konzerthaus.

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.

Chrystal E. Williams, an up-and-coming mezzo, performs at Thursday's Morning Musicales. Vanessa Briceno
Branford Marsalis Palma Kolansky
From a Curtis Institute of Music family concert, a bassoonist greets a fan. Curtis Institute of Music
Tenor Lawrence Brownlee has been named artistic director of Opera PhiladelphiaCredit: Larrynx Photography Larrynx Photography
Elias String Quartet Benjamin Ealovega
Pianist Mitsuko Uchida Decca/Justin Pumfrey
Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron Liza Voll Photography
Pianist Henry Kramer Vanessa Briceno
Pianist András Schiff Nadia F. Romanini
Left to right, from the Network for New Music: Linda Reichert, artistic director; Jan Krzywicki, conductor; and Marshall Taylor, saxophone. #submittedImage JJ Tiziou
Conductor Karina Canellakis Mathias Bothor
Photo Gallery: Classical concerts in Philadelphia: Lawrence Brownlee, Sonya Yoncheva, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, more

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, an up-and-coming mezzo, performs at Thursday's Morning Musicales.

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and Menahem Pressler (Feb. 9 and 10, Philadelphia Orchestra). The young Lithuanian conductor and 90-something pianist collaborate on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, after which Grazinyte-Tyla conducts the Mahler Symphony No. 4. Mirga (as she is known) has yet to reveal a defined interpretive personality, though probably not for long: Mahler symphonies tell you much about whoever is performing them. (215-893-1999, philorch.org) — David Patrick Stearns

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

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.

From a Curtis Institute of Music family concert, a bassoonist greets a fan.

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.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee has been named artistic director of Opera PhiladelphiaCredit: Larrynx Photography

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

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.

Pianist Mitsuko Uchida

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.

JACK Quartet and Anthony McGill (Feb. 25, American Philosophical Society). At last year’s Barnes Foundation concert, the JACK Quartet unveiled the visionary Ruth Crawford Seeger String Quartet 1931. They repeat it at this concert, also featuring McGill in Bermel’s Clarinet Quintet — A Short History of the Universe. They’ll also play Elliott Carter’s great String Quartet No. 2. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) — D.P.S.

Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place (March 7, 9 and 11, Curtis Opera Theatre at Kimmel Center). It’s complicated. Bernstein’s 1983 late-period opera revisits the characters in his 1951 Trouble in Tahiti. In between, all manner of domestic calamities have beset these troubled postwar suburbanites. Maybe Bernstein’s uncompromising journey into America’s dark heart will find a wider operatic audience? It’s worth a try. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org) — D.P.S.

Michel van der Aa’s Violin Concerto (March 8-10, Philadelphia Orchestra). Dutch violinist Janine Jansen instigated the programming of this 2014 concerto by this up-and-coming composer who works in high-tech theater of various sorts. Remarkably traditional but by no means retro, the Violin Concerto starts with accessible mysteriousness and ends with breathtaking virtuosity. (215-893-1999, philorch.org) — D.P.S.

Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron

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.

Pianist Henry Kramer

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.

Caroline Shaw’s Seven Joys (Mendelssohn Club and Symphony in C, March 17 and 18). This young Pulitzer Prize-winning composer is writing a companion piece to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, in response to “Ode to Joy.” The second performance, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, is convenient. Or take PATCO to Rutgers-Camden for the first one, at the acoustically congenial Gordon Theater. (215 735-9922, mcchorus.org or symphonyinc.org) — D.P.S.

Thomas Meglioranza sings Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin (March 18, American Philosophical Society). Baritone Meglioranza visits Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concerts sometimes as part of the Bach Gamut Ensemble and this time he’s singing a solo recital with pianist Reiko Uchida. His voice is sort of a rest-cure from the truck-driver singing of grand opera, with superb diction and natural vocal elegance that should be an excellent fit with Schubert’s great song cycle. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) — D.P.S.

Pianist András Schiff

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.

Left to right, from the Network for New Music: Linda Reichert, artistic director; Jan Krzywicki, conductor; and Marshall Taylor, saxophone. #submittedImage

Stockhausen’s Klang (April 7 and 8 at FringeArts). Though Stockhausen didn’t live to complete his series of 24 pieces for each hour of the day, Klang is still 14 hours long. That’s why performances begin at 10 a.m. The pieces have a dense philosophical underpinning but are some of the most cogent music the composer ever wrote. Cologne’s Ensemble Musikfabrik will be imported for the occasion. (215-413-9006, www.fringearts.com) — D.P.S.

Gerald Finley (April 20, Kimmel Center). The Canadian baritone has made a career on based on repertoire without boundaries, singing new work such as Dr. Atomic, offbeat operas from The Pilgrim’s Progress to Thais, and song repertoire in many languages. This recital with pianist Julius Drake includes Schubert and Beethoven plus Russian language romances by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, followed by folk songs. (215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) — D.P.S.

Frank Zappa’s The Yellow Shark (April 22 and 28, Orchestra 2001). Zappa wrote a fair amount of orchestral music, such as this 1993 collection that includes pieces with curiously irrelevant Dada-ist subtitles such as “Dog Breath Variations.” It’s outsider music with symphonic grandeur. The April 22 show is at World Cafe Live; April 28 is at the Fillmore. (267-687-6243, orchestra2001.org) — D.P.S.

Carmen, Opera Philadelphia (April 27-May 6, Academy of Music). After all of its ceaseless innovation, Opera Philadelphia returns to Bizet’s Carmen, the original Fatal Attraction opera that has earned its place in the repertoire with unforgettable characters and a score that hasn’t a wasted note. Velvet-voiced Daniela Mack is reason alone for revisiting the opera, though the rest of the cast and creative team is indeed reputable. (215-732-8400, operaphila.org) — D.P.S.

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.

Conductor Karina Canellakis

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.

Tosca, Philadelphia Orchestra (May 12, 16, and 19 at the Kimmel Center). Soprano Sonya Yoncheva went from promising to near-perfect during the run of the Metropolitan Opera’s new Tosca, which means she’ll be more than ready for Yannck Nezet-Seguin’ s semi-staged Tosca here. Costars include Yusif Eyvasov and Ambrogio Maestri. In the interest of giving the Tosca cast days off between performances, Nezet-Seguin and pianist Helene Grimaud headline a hopscotch schedule of purely symphonic concerts on May 10, 11, 17 and 20. (215-893-1999, philorch.org) D.P.S.

The Crossing (June 17 and 30 at Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill). The Crossing’s usual June visit to Chestnut Hill has two rather than three concerts this year and no festival designation (yet). The June 17 show is titled “Voyages” after the Hart Crane poem, with musical treatments by Robert Convery and Benjamin C.S. Boyle. June 30 has the premiere of Kile Smith’s evening-length choral work, The Arc in the Sky. (crossingchoir.com) D.P.S.

Peter Dobrin, David Patrick Stearns, Classical Music Critics

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