Of course, there are the usual blockbuster narratives this summer. Movie nights at the Mann find the Philadelphia Orchestra playing John Williams scores to Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. An orchestral commission exploring race from composer Darin Atwater looks especially promising.
And a subplot woven between the big pieces is compelling. Women tell their story this classical summer in Philadelphia. There’s a lot to say.
Florence Price, much touted in recent months as an unjustly neglected early-20th-century African American composer, fills in one part of her story when a foursome at the Curtis Institute of Music plays her String Quartet in G Major. Jamie Bernstein has a book out about life as the daughter of a famous musician named Leonard and will talk about it at an appearance at the Free Library. Gretna Music leaders didn’t set out to construct a season around voices of women, but it ended up that way, with them presenting women and groups founded by them.
That Gretna didn’t set out to program women is actually one of the more encouraging signs as notions of gender equality ripple through artistic realms. Tokenism is a danger. And women don’t need charitable accommodations, anyway.
The talent and hard work is everywhere and speaks for itself — in the wisdom of singers Benita Valente, Angela Meade, and Florence Quivar — all of whom give master classes this summer — and in the individualistic playing of pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
If you’re already tired of the gender-equality movement and wish it would all just go away, take heart. That’s what its proponents want, too, in a way. The score-keeping will end — when it’s no longer necessary.
The Crossing (June 9, 17, and 30, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill). The choir’s three-concert “Moderns” series opens June 9 featuring works of David Lang, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, Alex Berko, and Pēteris Vasks. It continues June 17 with two settings of Hart Crane’s poem “Voyages”: Benjamin C.S. Boyle’s Voyages in its premiere, and Robert Convery’s Voyages from 1996. The series concludes June 30 with the premiere of a concert-length work by Philadelphia composer Kile Smith, The Arc in the Sky, set to poems and journal entries by Robert Lax. (215-436-9276, crossingchoir.org).
Julie Zhu (June 10, Longwood Gardens). You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a former economics executive with degrees in mathematics and art from Yale University, soon on her way to studying composition at Stanford, playing tunes from Sesame Street on a 62-bell carillon. In addition to “Rubber Duckie” and “I Love Trash,” Zhu, the carillonneur at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, performs works of Sibelius and Beyoncé. Other carillonneurs appear throughout the summer. (610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.org).
Jamie Bernstein (June 20, Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Library). The daughter of Leonard Bernstein, who comes with an electricity all her own, appears at the Free Library’s author series to speak about her book Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein. She’ll respond to questions from yours truly, as well as from the audience. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org).
Curtis Institute of Music/Sphinx Performance Academy (June 22, Curtis Institute of Music). Faculty for this summer collaboration between the venerable music conservatory and the summer academy for black and Latino students perform a program that includes mezzo Kendra Broom in Brahms’ Zwei Gesänge. An unnamed quartet of players provides a rare encounter with the music of pioneering African American composer Florence Price (1887-1953) in her String Quartet in G Major. (215-893-7902, curtis.edu).
Organ Day with “Fred” (June 23, Kimmel Center). Picture the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall as an enormous programming octopus, and you have some idea of the reach of this free daylong mini-festival of concerts and demonstrations. For organ aficionados, solo recitals feature works of Nadia Boulanger, Keith Chapman, Buxtehude, and Reger. Peter Richard Conte is at the console for a version of Peter and the Wolf with an assist from puppets.
Organist Josh Stafford plays live to Who Stole the Mona Lisa?, the charming and sophisticated animated film by Micah Chambers-Goldberg originally commissioned by Astral Artists and the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts that features music from Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Opera Philadelphia chorus master Elizabeth Braden leads singers in “Things Both Strange and True” from the David Hertzberg opera The Wake World.
Organist Jackson Borges plays to screen for a showing of The Goat, the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy short. And Conte performs music from Romeo and Juliet with dancing by Lillian DiPiazza and Sterling Baca, as well as other works with Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org).
Russian Opera Workshop (June-August, Academy of Vocal Arts). This summer’s iteration of the festival of performances and master classes brings Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin June 27, 28, and 29, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin July 31, Aug. 1, and 2. Among the master classes on which the public can eavesdrop are ones by Benita Valente, Angela Meade, and Florence Quivar. (267-475-6500, russianoperaworkshop.com).
South Side, Symphonic Dances (July 18, Mann Center). Not Rachmaninoff, not Bernstein. For this concert, the Mann commissioned composer Darin Atwater to write a new piece called South Side, Symphonic Dances, inspired by West Side Story, that explores social issues and racial tensions. The program also features pianist Stewart Goodyear in Rhapsody in Blue, and baritone Joseph Lattanzi and soprano Alexandra Schoeny in excerpts from Bernstein’s Mass, On the Town, Peter Pan, and Candide. Kensho Watanabe conducts. (800-745-3000, manncenter.org).
Curtis Young Artist Summerfest Faculty Recitals (July 20 and 27, Aug. 2, Curtis Institute of Music). A Debussy work for solo flute, a Mendelssohn piano trio, the Brahms horn trio, Britten, Stravinsky, and other chamber works figure into these recitals by faculty members from the Curtis Summerfest program. The last concert features a trio for violin, cello, and piano called Spiral Galaxy by Curtis composition professor David Ludwig, whose music is always startlingly fresh. (215-893-7902, curtis.edu).
Philadelphia Orchestra Goes to the Movies (July 20 and 26, Mann Center). Sometimes it’s a frittering away of artistic resources to have an orchestra as virtuosic as the Philadelphia Orchestra playing movie scores while most of the audience attention is going to what’s on the screen. Not so with John Williams. The aural and visual tend to magnify each other. The orchestra plays live to film July 20 in Star Wars: A New Hope. And on July 26, the Mann hosts its third annual Harry Potter film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, whose score is tinged with jazz and Prokofiev and contains, if just for a few moments, some of Williams’ most dissonant and horrifying music anywhere. (800-745-3000, manncenter.org).
Philadelphia Orchestra All-Gershwin Concert (July 27, Mann Center). You might have hoped the Philadelphia Orchestra would slip in a Gershwin novelty or two, but even with standard works on this program, the prospects for individuality seem high. André Raphel, assistant conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra for six years during the Sawallisch era, returns to lead a program with Micah McLaurin, fresh from his May Curtis graduation, performing the Piano Concerto in F. The Cuban Overture, An American in Paris, and Robert Russell Bennett’s suite from Porgy and Bess round out the portrait of the composer. (800-745-3000, manncenter.org).
Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy (Aug. 5-12, Academy of Vocal Arts). The faculty come to teach, but they also perform, and so this stretch of first-class pianists in the dog days of summer is a welcome new regular on the local piano scene. This year, the academy’s sixth, brings recitals by Jerome Lowenthal, Simone Dinnerstein, and Charles Abramovic, as well as by program director Ching-Yun Hu. (917-541-7938, pypa.info).
Inbal Segev (Aug. 12, Gretna Music). The Israeli cellist performs works of 21st-century women, including Missy Mazzoli, Augusta Reed Thomas, and Anna Clyne. The centerpiece of the program is Legend of Sigh, a multimedia work for cello and electronics written for Segev by Gity Razaz with video by filmmaker Carmen Kordas. The piece looks at birth, transformation, and death through an Azerbaijani folktale. (717-361-1508, gretnamusic.org).