Diverse season planned for NSO

Music: Many premieres, both world and U.S., are scheduled.

Classical Music

March 05, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The National Symphony Orchestra's 2002-2003 season, unveiled yesterday by music director Leonard Slatkin, will include works by a dozen American composers, at least six world premieres, a couple of U.S. premieres, a cycle of Brahms concertos, a festival of film music, a new "Composer Portrait" program, and a new series of post-concert discussions. Oh yes, and a concert version of Carmen Jones, the Broadway and movie musical, conducted by Placido Domingo.

Here are some of the highlights:

The season will see the return of NSO laureate conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Prokofiev's death with a program containing the Classical Symphony, Symphony No. 5 and Sinfonia concertante for cello and orchestra. The latter, originally written for Rostropovich, will feature Xavier Phillips.

Two much-touted guest conductors will spend extra time with the NSO in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. Osmo Vanska, newly appointed music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, is due in for three weeks, leading such novelties as Kalevi Aho's Symphony No. 9 for Trombone and Orchestra and Franz Xaver Scharwenka's Piano Concerto No. 4 (with Steven Hough). Roberto Abbado, who makes his Baltimore Symphony Orchestra debut this week, has two NSO weeks scheduled, conducting works by Mozart, Strauss, Stravinsky and Schoenberg.

Others on the podium will include: Vladimir Fedoseyev (conducting Tchaikovsky's under-appreciated Manfred Symphony); Emil de Cou (for the NSO's Labor Day concert at the U.S. Capitol); and Itzhak Perlman.

Slatkin's distinctive programming stamp is all over the 2002-2003 lineup, especially with "Soundtracks: Music and Film."

"This is not a pops thing by any means," says Slatkin, who will co-direct the festival with pre-eminent film composer John Williams. "We will explore the history of how music has been put together with film from the beginning."

Programs will focus on American and European movie music, and on Williams' film scores and concert works. As part of the festival, Fritz Lang's 1926 classic Metropolis will be screened while the NSO plays the premiere of new score for it compiled by John Goberman.

Slatkin will conduct the four-week series that offers a survey of the Brahms concertos. "We have all the right people with the right pieces," he says. Those people are Garrick Ohlsson (Piano Concerto No. 1), Andre Watts (Concerto No. 2), Frank Peter Zimmermann (Violin Concerto) Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Lynn Harrell (Double Concerto).

Slaktin will introduce "Composer Portrait," a program concept planned for annual presentation. This initial one will be devoted to Tchaikovsky. "The first half of these programs will be scripted, with musical examples providing a comprehensive look at the composer's life through their music," Slatkin says. "The second half will contain a major work with a little analysis."

The conductor sees the NSO being involved in more such educational projects in the future as a way of making up for what is not being done in schools today. (Slatkin has just renewed his contract with the NSO a year early, taking him through 2006. That year will mark his 10th anniversary with the orchestra and the NSO's 75th.)

World premieres in 2002-2003 include Einojuhani Rautavaara's Clarinet Concerto (with Richard Stoltzman), Cindy McTee's Ballet for Orchestra, Jeffrey Mumford's amid the light of quickening memory, and five more encores commissioned by the John and June Hechinger Fund for New Orchestral Works.

Noted guest artists will perform with the NSO, including: violinists Pamela Frank, Midori and Hilary Hahn; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Yefim Bronfman and soprano Heidi Grant Murphy.

Carmen Jones, based on Bizet's opera with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, will be presented separately by the Kennedy Center. The cast is headed by Vanessa Williams and Harolyn Blackwell and will feature the Harlem Boys Choir along with the NSO.

For information, call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

Cowboy tragedy

Looking for something a little unusual? How about Oedipus Tex? No, not Oedpius Rex by Stravinsky. Oedpius Tex by - who else? - P.D.Q. Bach. This cowboy version of the ancient Greek tragedy is just one of the attractions on the Baltimore Choral Arts Society's upcoming "Peter Schickele Meets P.D.Q. Bach" program.

Schickele, of course, is the brilliant mastermind behind "the last and least" of J.S. Bach's children. For decades, Schickele has delighted classical music fans with his parodies and send-ups under the alias P.D.Q. Bach.

Other Schickele creations, including Songs from Shakespeare and Beatleset (arrangements of Beatles hits), will be on the concert at 8 p.m. March 16 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets. Tickets cost $15 to $50. Call 410-523-7070.

A cappella program

The choral contingent of the Concert Artists of Baltimore offered a wide sampling of a cappella repertoire Sunday in the super-reverberant Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Conductor Edward Polochick is well known for generating a sensitive response from a chorus; he did so here.

There were a few setbacks; in selections from Rachmaninoff's Vespers, for example, intonation became increasingly diffuse. But, for the most part, the choristers held firm, offering particularly beautiful performances of Elgar's There is Sweet Music, Stanford's The Bluebird, and four settings of Ave Maria that spanned five centuries.

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