Orchestras in cities our size often coax lazy-eared concertgoers gently into the 20thcentury – let alone the 21st – like drivers nudging reluctant donkeys along a perilous mountain path. But the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will apply the spurs for the 2018-19 season: Sixteen of the pieces in its dozen classical concerts come from that era, including five by living composers.
Musical conservatives need not panic. They’ll get plenty of Brahms and Dvorak, concerts devoted entirely to Beethoven and Mahler, Mozart’s exquisite Requiem (paired with a happy surprise) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” – without which music director Christopher Warren-Green might not be in Charlotte at all.
Yet the most traditional offerings this time come in the six-concert Pops season – lots of film and Broadway music, the return of Pink Martini – and in two big galas, a season-opener with violinist Joshua Bell and a first-ever New Year’s Eve concert full of music by Gershwin and Strauss. (OK, that’s not yet a tradition here. But the Vienna Philharmonic has welcomed the new year with Strauss since 1939.)
You can buy season packages now: They range from a low of $210 for a six-concert package to a high of $735 for 12 concerts, and the orchestra offers all sorts of add-ons for Pops shows, galas and classical concerts not in the smallest package. (Find out about those at 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.) Single tickets go on sale after May 31. Here’s the lowdown, with all classical shows in Belk Theater and Warren-Green conducting (except as noted):
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Sept. 21: Joshua Bell plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. The rest of the program hasn’t been announced, so the CSO counts on Bell’s name to sell tickets – just as it counted on Itzhak Perlman’s name when he played the same concerto here four years ago. That was a revelatory performance of an old warhorse; perhaps this will be, too.
Dec. 31, Knight Theater: “New Year’s Eve with the Charlotte Symphony.” The gig starts at 9 p.m., which leaves time not only for music by George Gershwin and Johann Strauss Jr. but a post-concert party with desserts, champagne and dancing. (Fun fact: Warren-Green once recorded an entire album of Strauss’ music.)
Oct. 5-6: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto and overture to “The Ruins of Athens.” Self-recommending stuff, highlighted by an appearance by Chopin specialist Garrick Ohlsson at the keyboard. This is Beethoven’s most reflective and least tempestuous piano concerto, so it should fit him.
Oct. 19-20, Knight Theater: Handel’s “Water Music,” “Music for the Royal Fireworks” and choral anthem “Zadok the Priest,” plus Hubert Parry’s anthem “I was glad” and William Walton’s march “Crown Imperial.” It’s all music for royal occasions in Great Britain, from George I (“Water Music,” the most ebullient piece written for a king) through George VI (“Crown Imperial,” commemorating the coronation of Elizabeth II’s dad). Members of the Charlotte Symphony Chorus will get a workout in the two rousing anthems.
Nov. 2-3, Knight Theater: Berlioz’ “Roman Carnival” Overture, Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony (No. 4) and Luciano Berio’s “Return to Madrid.” Italy’s the inspiration for the 19th-century compositions and the homeland of Berio and guest conductor Roberto Abbado, music director of the Verdi Festival in Parma. The novelty is Berio’s 1975 adaptation of a movement from Luigi Boccherini’s quintet “Ritirata notturna di Madrid.”
Nov. 30-Dec. 1: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and Eric Whitacre’s “Deep Field.” Holst’s seven-movement suite from the 1910s, which is linked to legends about our solar system, meets Whitacre’s piece for chorus, orchestra and electronics composed in 2015. The title comes from “deep field” images of the universe recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Jan. 25-26, Knight Theater: John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances.” Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero became famous for improvisations and jazz-tinged interpretations of classic pieces, though she can play big works straight. The brief Adams piece, a “foxtrot for orchestra,” riffs on music in his opera “Nixon in China.”
Feb. 8-9: Rodion Schchedrin’s Concerto No. 1 (“Naughty Limericks”), Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” The 85-year-old Schchedrin is the grand old man of Russian music but was an upstart in 1963, when he wrote the piece (based on satirical songs) that put him on the map. Speaking of being put on the map, Warren-Green conducted “Scheherazade” at his audition concert here a decade ago, knocking it out of the park. The CSO hired him the following year.
Feb. 22-23, Knight Theater: Copland’s “Billy the Kid” Suite, Michael Daugherty’s “Trail of Tears” and Tchaikovsky’s suite from the ballet “Sleeping Beauty.” Guest conductor Joseph Young sandwiches two beloved ballet suites, one from America and one from Russia, around Daugherty’s poignant look at a disgraceful moment in U.S. history: the forced relocation of the Cherokees from North Carolina to Oklahoma. Principal flutist Victor Wang plays solos in that one.
March 15-16: Mahler’s First Symphony. Warren-Green likes to treat Mahler symphonies as universes unto themselves, requiring no pairings. The first (which takes less than an hour) has plenty of punch, but…maybe he could put back the “Blumine” movement Mahler cut after three performances to fill it out.
March 29-30: Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture, Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. Guest conductor Gemma New and violinist Paul Huang team up for Dvorak’s underrated but sumptuous concerto, along with two chestnuts. It’s exciting to see not only a woman on the podium again but a soloist and conductor who are both under 35.
April 12-13: Mozart’s Requiem and Antonio Salieri’s Symphony in D, “Il Giorno Onomastico.” If you take your history from “Amadeus,” you may still believe Salieri poisoned Wolfie out of jealousy before he could finish his amazing requiem. (It has been completed many times by others, notably Franz Sussmayr.) But the two were respectful rivals, and this pairing shows the difference between genius and craftsmanship. P.S. “Giorno Onomastico” means “Name Day.”
April 26-27: Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song,” Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Russian-born Andrey Boreyko conducts a program from his native land, with George Li as piano soloist. Stravinsky called this 11-minute orchestral work his best pre-“Firebird” composition; he wrote it as a 1909 memorial for his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, but it was lost after the first performance and rediscovered only in 2015.
May 17-18, Knight Theater: Ravel’s “Bolero” and “Tzigane,” Saint-Saens’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1 and Edgar Meyer’s “New Piece for Orchestra.” Proof that short works need not be slight ones. (Nothing lasts longer than 18 minutes.) Concertmaster Calin Lupanu tackles the Ravel “Tzigane” and Saint-Saens, and Meyer’s work – a new piece indeed, premiered last March by the Nashville Symphony – is his first significant composition with no soloist.
Sept. 28-29, Belk Theater: “The Music of Elton John,” with singer-pianist Michael Cavanaugh. He was a 2003 Tony nominee for “Movin’ Out,” the Billy Joel-themed musical, so he’s at home in a dual role.
Oct. 26-27, Knight Theater: “Broadway Tonight!” Tunes from “Chicago,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” the upcoming “Frozen,” etc.
Nov. 23-24, Belk Theater: “Home Alone: The Movie in Concert.” The CSO plays John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score to accompany the 1990 comedy, in which an 8-year-old tortures incompetent burglars who try to break into his house.
Dec. 14-16, 21-23, Knight Theater: “Magic of Christmas.” Santa, singalongs, synthetic snow and symphonic versions of pop songs and carols.
Feb. 1-2, Belk Theater: Pink Martini. This eight-piece, genre-free band (I guess one might say “jazz”) celebrates 20 years of orchestral gigs in 2018. Its 2015 Pops concert here was one of the highlights of that CSO season.
March 22-23, Knight Theater: “The Best of Rodgers and Hammerstein.” The set list will include “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music,” “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I,” “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific,” etc.