If last year was a musical party -- four major Baltimore musical institutions celebrated major anniversaries -- this season is the morning after.
No one is suffering from a hangover -- there are no severe financial problems -- but the economy is down, expenses are up and things seem a little gray. The Baltimore Opera Company has cut back from four productions to three; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra doesn't have soloists quite as glittering as in previous years; and the Shriver Hall series also seems a bit less ambitious.
But if it's going to be a beer rather than a champagne year, the musical brew still promises to be a fairly lively one.
The BSO and music director David Zinman's recording plans for the Argo label mean that audiences will be hearing a good deal of Samuel Barber -- a little more than 70 minutes' worth, or exactly the amount that fits on a single compact disc. The season's opening concerts (Sept. 12-14) will serve up the composer's Second Essay for Orchestra and the Music for a Scene from Shelley; Sept. 26 and 27 will bring his First Essay for Orchestra and Symphony No. 1; and the concerts of Sept. 20-22 will program the Overture to "The School for Scandal" and the Adagio for Strings.
Zinman has always championed new music and this season will be no exception. Among the new pieces on Zinman's programs is Baltimore-born composer Christopher Rouse's "Karolju," which will receive its world premiere Nov. 7-8. New to Baltimore and almost unheard in the United States will be the Viola Concerto of Alfred Schnittke (Feb. 13-14), who is the most important Russian composer since Shostakovich and whose music combines adventurousness with down-to-the-bone feeling.
Other interesting living composers on BSO programs are Robert Beaser (whose "Song of the Bells" for Flute and Orchestra will be performed with soloist James Galway April 15-16), Jacob Druckman (whose "Brangle" will be performed June 4-5) and Roberto Sierra (whose "Sasima" will be played Jan. 9-11).
No longer living but certainly one of the most important American composers of the century was Leonard Bernstein, to whose music Zinman will devote an entire program (April 23-26) in his debut in the BSO's pop series.
Aside from Galway, the most famous soloist on BSO classical programs will be pianist Andre Watts, who plays the Brahms B-flat Concerto Oct. 17-18. But piano aficionados will particularly anticipate the Mozart performances (Feb. 27-28) of Mitsuko Uchida, whose interpretations of that composer are so pure and so passionate, and the performances of the Rachmaninov Third Concerto (Jan. 9-11) by Russian emigre Alexander Toradze, whose playing is all fire and ice.
One of the guest conductors to listen for is Mariss Jansons (March 26-27), a Russian in his early 40s; some of his recordings -- particularly his Tchaikovsky cycle on the Chandos label -- have been mightily impressive. Others are Peter Maag (Jan. 17-19), an important Swiss conductor now in his 60s who has long been undervalued; and Gunther Herbig, the German-born music director of the Toronto Symphony who is a particular favorite of the BSO musicians (May 29-31).
Last year the Baltimore Opera Company was saved from the brink of extinction -- partly by generous donors but mostly by loyal audiences who responded in record numbers to the company's traditional fare in its hour of need. This season will be little different: Verdi's "Don Carlo," (Oct. 19, 23, 25, 27); Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment" (March 21, 25, 27, 29); and Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (April 25, 29, May 1, 3).
Expect the "Don Carlo" to be noteworthy: It will be designed and directed by the same Argentine team (Roberto Oswald and Anibal Lapis) responsible two seasons back for the BOC's sensational "Salome," and it will star the great Baltimore-born baritone James Morris in the role of King Philip of Spain.
Passing from opera -- music's grandest genre -- to recitals and chamber music -- its most intimate form -- the Shriver Hall Series opens this year with the popular Beaux Arts Trio (Oct. 5); other interesting concerts include recitals by the great American soprano Dawn Upshaw (Nov. 9); the young violinist Maria Bachman (Feb. 8); and the Emerson String Quartet (April 12).
Even more great chamber music can be heard at Howard County's Candlelight Concerts, which is easily among the finest chamber music series in the entire country. Several terrific quartets (the Arditti on Nov. 8, the Emerson on Jan. 25 and the Ridge on May 2), the wonderful pianist Richard Goode (Nov. 23) and the distinguished early-music group the Consort of Musicke, with the great British early-music soprano Emma Kirkby (Feb. 29), are just a few of the offerings.