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It's cold out, and the arts are cool

Despite the fanfare at the beginnings of arts seasons, the cooler stuff comes after the weather gets cold. Obligatory winter repeats ("Nutcracker," "Messiah") are over; surefire, put-money-in-coffers events ("Annie," "Mary Poppins") have passed. From January through May, our brains and souls can get more exercise.

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will play one of Anton Bruckner's towering symphonies for the first time since 2004, as former maestro Christof Perick returns to lead No. 3.

Opera Carolina will perform Gilbert and Sullivan's infectiously silly "H.M.S. Pinafore" for the first time in 20 years.

Dwight Rhoden, N.C. Dance Theatre's resident choreographer, will unveil a premiere inspired by the collages of Charlotte native Romare Bearden. It'll play on a program with favorites by George Balanchine ("Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux") and Salvatore Aiello ("Satto").

The more provocative entries in the Performing Arts Center's Broadway Lights series also begin now. The most intriguing is the Pulitzer-winning "Next to Normal," a musical about a woman who's en route to a nervous breakdown.

Arts heavyweights have no monopoly on cool, though. The 20th-century clarinet gets a workout in two free concerts by Charlotte Chamber Music that feature four seldom-heard pieces, including Gerard Finzi's beautiful Five Bagatelles.

You'd better keep an eye on colleges, too, where innovation often flies under the radar. The Abbey Players will do the local premiere of Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" - in fact, the only production of any Stoppard play hereabouts in recent years - at Belmont Abbey College.

Want to school yourself? Look through our guide on pages 2 and 3, and have a calendar ready for marking. ...

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