Spring Classical Music Guide
Spring forward into a season of classical music delights
The music that’s suddenly filling my head is the sublime section near the end of Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato” (especially as choreographed by Mark Morris):
“As steals the morn upon the night,
And melts the shades away…”
This dim winter of our discontent is finally dissolving into the promise of a lively spring bounty. In other words, lots of good stuff to look forward to. Here (in more or less chronological order) are some of our best groups and their spring awakenings. The spring offerings are so rich, I had to be particularly selective, so these are the events that really stick out for me. But please don’t let that discourage you from seeking out all the other notable events between now and — yes, dare I say it — summer!
Opera | Visiting Artists | Symphony Orchestras | Chamber & Solo Music | Chamber Orchestras | Choral & Vocal Music | New Music | Early Music
Boston Lyric Opera: 'Bluebeard's Castle'
The Terminal @ Flynn Cruiseport Boston | March 22-26
Our leading opera company is presenting one of the most powerful 20th-century operas: Béla Bártók’s unnerving one-act “Bluebeard’s Castle,” which dramatizes the most sinister of marriage myths with music of seductive mystery and implacable force. Bartok’s short work is usually part of a double bill. This time, to balance the story of the much-married Bluebeard, BLO has come up with a plausible solution: a song cycle by one of the 20th century’s most famously and frequently married women: Alma Mahler’s “Four Songs.” The star stage director is Anne Bogart who blew audiences away in her memorable BLO production of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” (Trigger warning: the BLO website lists an “intimacy director.”)
Boston Baroque: 'Iphigénie en Tauride'
GBH's Calderwood Studio | April 20-23
Back in 1999, Martin Pearlman and his period-instrument orchestra, Boston Baroque, gave Boston a rare taste of a neglected masterpiece — Christoph Willibald Gluck’s late 18th-century French “tragédie lyrique” based on Euripedes, “Iphégenie en Tauride (Iphigenia in Tauris).” Pearlman once pointed out that this opera may include “the first time a composer has used the orchestra to convey the subconscious feelings of a character.” Iphigenia was then sung by the now universally admired Wagnerian soprano Christine Goerke, who repeated the role on Boston Baroque’s recording. Now, celebrating Boston Baroque’s 50th season, Pearlman is repeating “Iphigénie” in three staged performances. Met star soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer will be singing the title role for the first time, with Met tenor William Burden and the excellent baritone Jesse Blumberg, with wonderful opportunities for the chorus and orchestra. An important revival.
Boston Early Music Festival: Henry Desmarest's 'Circé'
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre| June 4-11
Every other year, the international world of Early Music and Historical Performance meets up in Boston, and the high point is the Boston Early Music Festival’s elaborate full-scale opera production. Sometimes the sets and costumes are the real star, but sometimes the music itself is the cynosure. And because some of the operas are so rare, we really don’t know what to expect until we see them. This year, an outstanding cast of local favorites—soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Aaron Sheehan and soprano Theresa Wakim join French contralto Lucile Richardot (in the title role of the sorceress Circé) in French Baroque composer Henry Desmarest’s 1694 tale from the “Odyssey,” “Circé.” This BEMF season is called “A Celebration of Women.” “Circé” librettist Louise-Geneviève Gillot de Saintonge, who in her lifetime was more famous than the composer, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Celebrity Series of Boston
Symphony Hall & Jordan Hall | April 4-23
The classical music offerings of the Celebrity Series of Boston this season will surely attract a large crowd because some of these celebrities are major stars (which doesn’t necessarily make them my personal favorites). Fans of Itzhak Perlman (April 16) and Evgeny Kissin (April 23) will be thrilled to hear their favorites at Symphony Hall — although it’s a venue too large for the intimacy the music requires. Beethoven lovers will be happy to hear Italian pianist Beatrice Rana playing Beethoven’s monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata (April 14) and the Doric Quartet playing less familiar quartets by Haydn and Beethoven, joined by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor in another rarity, the Frank Bridge Piano Quartet, in the more appropriately intimate Jordan Hall (April 22). For me, the most challenging spring concert is the joint recital (April 4) by the technically impressive but less-than-riveting violinist Joshua Bell and the more-than-riveting pianist Daniil Trifonov, one of the most probing and exciting artists on the boards, who had to cancel his last Celebrity Series recital. Their program includes music I ache to hear live (Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata) and music I’ve heard maybe once too often (the Franck Sonata) — plus Beethoven’s seldom performed Sonata No. 1. Will my curiosity overcome my reservations?
Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts: 'Strings of Soul'
Jordan Hall | May 6
One of the world’s greatest instrumentalists, pipa player Wu Man, is joined by the distinguished violist Hsin-Yun Huang for an evening of arrangements of traditional Chinese music and music by such modern masters as Gyorgy Ligeti, Bright Sheng and Lei Liang, who “curated” this compelling event.
Boston Symphony Orchestra: Thomas Adès
Symphony Hall | March 23-25
The concert I’ve been most eagerly anticipating since the Boston Symphony announced its season is the one conducted by its artistic partner, composer/conductor/pianist (and master of all three) Thomas Adès. The music will be the Boston premiere of Adès’ “Inferno” Suiteand the “Paradiso” section from “The Dante Project,” his large-scale 2021 ballet music inspired by the 700th anniversary of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The program will begin with international soprano star Danielle de Niese as the narrator and impressive Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas in another masterwork that deals with the underworld and the afterlife, Stravinsky’s haunting and magical (and not often enough performed) “Perséphone.”
Bach, Beethoven, & Brahms Society
Faneuil Hall | March 26
Steven Lipsitt’s BB&B Society concerts at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall are always worth attending. The next event is called “The British Are Coming!,” and the program of English music includes both familiar and unfamiliar works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Holst. The Britten pieces are “Temporal Variations” for oboe with the outstanding BSO principal oboist John Ferrillo, and the first of two performances this season (see the entry for Emmanuel Music below) of Britten’s greatest vocal work (in my opinion), his Serenade for tenor and horn, inspired settings of famous and lesser-known British poems, with tenor Matthew DiBattista and Rachel Childers, horn.
BSO Youth and Family Concerts
Symphony Hall | March 29-April 1
This isn’t for everybody, but it’s important. “Young at Heart: A Musical Look at Curiosity, Creativity and Courage” is a series of Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts for school kids — “family” concerts on the weekend, “youth” concerts designed for grades 4-6 school groups during the week (free for Boston Public School students and teachers). Two 10 a.m. Saturday concerts will be “sensory-friendly” performances of the same works intended to “welcome audiences with family members of all ages with autism spectrum disorder or sensory sensitivities.” The program, led by Francisco Noya, resident conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, includes excellent but lighter classical music by Beethoven, Mendelssohn (Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and Elgar, and more jazz, pop and Latin American inflected music by Carlos Simon, Mason Bates, flutist/composer Valerie Coleman and Arturo Márquez.
Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony Hall | April 14
Benjamin Zander, music director of the Boston Philharmonic, doesn’t provide many surprises in his choice of repertoire, but there isn’t any conductor I’d rather hear lead the music in this upcoming concert: Schubert’s sublime “Unfinished” Symphony (which Zander makes as fresh and radiant as if you’d never heard it before) and Mahler’s epic but intimate “Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth),” with Dame Sarah Connolly in the heart and gut-wrenching contralto role. (On May 3, Zander will return to Symphony Hall with his Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in Mahler’s overwhelming Symphony No. 2, with Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano.)
New England Philharmonic: 'People in Between'
Tsai Performance Center | May 7
Taking over for esteemed (and legendary) music director emeritus Richard Pittman, Tianhui Ng is leading an ambitious program featuring two New England premieres — Adeliia Faizullina’s “Bolghar” for quray (a kind of flute, which will be played by the composer herself) and orchestra and Thomas de Hartmann’s Violin Concerto (with violinist Danelle Maddon), and ending with Shostakovich’s monumental, sometimes intolerable 1941 Siege-of-Leningrad Symphony No. 7 (an ironic and painfully timely choice).
CHAMBER AND SOLO MUSIC
Concord Chamber Music Society with pianist Yefim Bronfman
Groton Hill Music Center Concert Hall, Groton | March 31
BSO violinist Wendy Putnam’s Concord Chamber Music Society presents a gala concert by one of our contemporary keyboard giants, Yefim Bronfman. The large-scale program includes sonatas by Schubert, Schumann and Chopin.
Lydian String Quartet
Slosberg Music Center, Brandeis University | March 25
None of the original members of the Lydian String Quartet are among its current players, but the Lyds nevertheless remain an outstanding ensemble. The spring concert at Brandeis includes the world premiere of Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon’s newly commissioned “Alebrijes” on a program with quartets by Benjamin Britten and Fanny Mendelssohn.
Borromeo String Quartet
Burnes Hall (NEC), March 26 | Jordan Hall, April 3
The great Borromeo String Quartet continues its Haydn/Bartók series at the New England Conservatory, March 26 at Burnes Hall, and then plays Schubert’s soul-satisfying G-major Quartet at a free NEC faculty First Mondays concert, April 3 at Jordan Hall.
Winsor Music: 'Innovation'
St. Paul's Church, Brookline | March 26
Winsor Music is a chamber ensemble founded by the beloved oboist Peggy Pearson and now directed by the extraordinary violinist Gabriela Diaz and clarinetist Rane Moore. Winsor’s spring concert features new work by Natacha Diels, whose music often includes choreographic movement and improvisation, and David Sanford’s “Dearest One, Thou Art My Star” (co-commissioned by Winsor and Castle of Our Skins as part of Project STEP’s “Dream-Visions” program). These young innovators share the bill with such familiar pioneers as Satie, Stravinsky, Boulanger and Ravel.
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
Jordan Hall | April 16
The best chamber music players have to give themselves up to the subtleties of the standard classical chamber repertoire. The impressive principal players in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, however, don’t always seem comfortable or at home with those nuances of selflessness. I’m often disappointed with their Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. But their upcoming program requires a balance of subtlety and bravura: Ravel’s gorgeous Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and strings; Sofia Gubaidulina’s Sonata for double-bass and piano and Beethoven’s septet in E-flat. Randall Hodgkinson is the guest pianist. It’s hard to imagine a more ideal program for these musicians.
First Church in Boston | April 21
Sergey Schepkin, one of my favorite pianists, has been running a concert series called Glissando for the past few years. Glissando’s last concert this season features Schepkin himself doing a series of Bach Preludes and Fugues (there’s no one I’d rather hear in this repertoire) and participating in Mozart’s great Quartet for Piano and Strings, K. 478.
Boston Chamber Music Society
First Church in Cambridge, April 23 | Jordan Hall, May 14
Some of my favorite players are performing in Marcus Thompson’s Boston Chamber Music Society this spring, with a special emphasis on not-often-enough performed works by Mozart. The April 23 program features Eric Nathan’s recent work for two oboes (Peggy Pearson and Jennifer Slowik) along with Mozart’s late, great Divertimento for String Trio (with Thompson on viola) and the rarely heard Serenade in C minor for wind octet. The May 14 concert includes stellar pianist (and BCMS regular) Max Levinson in another Mozart masterwork, the G-minor Piano Quartet (some of us can’t get enough minor-key Mozart), on a varied program including two works for oboe (Peggy Pearson) by Guillaume Connesson and Tison Street (not heard around here often enough), and Ernst von Dohnányi’s popular Sextet.
Sarasa Ensemble: 'Take Four!'
Vermont's Brattleboro Music Center, May 12 | Harvard-Epworth Church in Cambridge, May 13 | Follen Community Church in Lexington, May 14
Surely the most inventive program this season is Sarasa’s cheeky selection of music arranged for four cellists: Jake Charkey, Myron Lutzke, Timothy Merton and Jennifer Morsches. The composers include Josquin des Prez, Fauré (the famous “Pavane” and “Après un Rêve"), a new work by Berklee College student Alexander Wu, a movement from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Wagner (the “Wedding March” from “Lohengrin”), Bach and Dave Brubeck.
Aston Magna: 'Music of Franz Schubert'
The Allen Center in Newton, May 20 | St. James Place in Great Barrington, May 21
The chamber ensemble Aston Magna is celebrating its 30th season under the direction of violinist/conductor Daniel Stepner with two afternoons of Schubert: a string trio, a couple of Moments Musicaux, the “Arpeggione” Sonata and the beloved “Trout” Quintet. Some of our best freelancers join Stepner for this irresistible, gloriously tuneful program.
A Far Cry: 'Limitless'
Jordan Hall | May 12
The concert this season by Boston’s popular, brilliant, conductorless chamber orchestra A Far Cry that intrigues me most includes a broad spectrum of contemporary and older—much older—music that focuses on “the space between restriction and innovation, where the repetition of ideas transforms the mundane into the profound, each piece explores the power of a simple musical motif.” Shaw Pong Liu’s “Arise” (described as “birdsong”) and Yaz Lancaster’s “our streets” (a commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre) share the program with a chamber orchestra arrangement of Britten’s String Quartet in C major and Henry Purcell’s “Fantasia Upon One Note.”
Chamber Orchestra of Boston: 'Looking Toward Heaven'
First Church in Boston | May 12
Ending his 25th season as music director of the consistently excellent Chamber Orchestra of Boston, David Feltner offers a spiritually stimulating program with music by mostly American composers Howard Hanson, Florence Price, Adolphus Hailstork and Alan Hovhaness as well as Spanish composer Joaquín Turina. Guest artist trumpeter Richard Kelley joins for the concert.
South Church in Andover, April 15 | St. Paul’s Church in Brookline, April 16
Julie Scolnik’s chamber orchestra Mistral closes its 26th season with a program of popular large-scale and luscious orchestral chestnuts in new arrangements pared down for chamber orchestra: Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” an excerpt from Fauré’s “Pelleas & Mélisande” and Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite.” You are guaranteed to leave the concert humming the tunes (if not already humming the tunes as you enter), whether you catch the group in Andover (April 15) or Brookline (April 16).
CHORAL AND VOCAL MUSIC
Longy's Pickman Hall | April 26
At the Strand Theatre last year, bass-baritone Davóne Tines knocked Boston flat as Malcolm X in Anthony Davis’s opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” with Gil Rose’s Boston Modern Orchestra Project (it’s now on a BMOP recording) and in partnership with Odyssey Opera. Tines is on his way to superstardom. He gives his Celebrity Series debut in a recital with pianist John Bitoy in a program of his invention combining Bach arias, spirituals, Caroline Shaw’s “Mass” and Julius Eastman’s a cappella “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc.”
Emmanuel Music: 'This Love Unbound'
Arts at the Armory, Somerville | April 29-30
Three of the most beautiful and expressive vocal works of the 20th century—Benjamin Britten’s “Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings,” “Phaedra” and “Les Illuminations”—aren’t performed as often as they should be because so few performers are up to their heavy technical demands. Britten’s “Serenade” is one of the great settings of English poetry (including Keats, Tennyson, Blake, Jonson and a hair-raising Scottish ballad), and intending no disrespect for other excellent living tenors, if I had to choose only one, it would be William Hite, whose ravishing voice, impeccable diction and deep understanding seem to me unsurpassed. Clark Matthews will be the heroic horn player. Britten’s last vocal work, “Phaedra,” uses Robert Lowell’s translation of Racine’s tragedy, which is in turn based on Euripides. Krista River is the undaunted mezzo-soprano. “Les Illuminations,” with soprano Carley DeFranco, is Britten’s cycle based on Rimbaud. Also on the program, violinist Heidi Braun-Hill plays John Harbison’s “For Violin Alone” and violist Mark Berger and cellist David Russell are featured in Caroline Shaw’s “Limestone and Felt.” The whole event is a collaboration with Urbanity Dance and choreographer Shura Baryshnikov.
Cantata Singers: 'Path of Miracles'
Saint Cecilia Parish, Boston | April 29
I haven’t heard the Cantata Singers yet under its new director, Noah Horn. The most intriguing of this season’s programs is “Path of Miracles” — British film, dance and concert composer Joby Talbot’s hour-long choral piece from 2005 based on the Spanish Camino de Santiago.
Handel & Haydn Society: 'Crossing the Deep'
JFK Library | June 1 & 4
Co-created by music director Anthony Tracek-King and countertenor Reginald Mobley, and narrated by beloved Boston poet and performance artist Regie Gibson, a concert presented by America’s oldest choral group includes performances of similar biblically-inspired texts set to music by both George Frideric Handel, in his Chandos Anthems, and in the spirituals of enslaved Africans. Revelations are in store.
Collage New Music
Killian Hall (MIT) | April 16
Collage, under music director David Hoose, ends its 50th season of new music with four Boston or world premieres, including (among its new commissions) the postponed and eagerly awaited world premiere of Boston legend Rodney Lister’s “The Four Seasons (after David Hockney),” new works by Shawn Okpebholo, Lingbo Ma and Eric Moe, and a return of one of Collage’s more impressive commissions from the past, Peter Child’s 1991 “Tableaux I.”
First Church, Cambridge | March 25 & April 29
Boston’s premiere Renaissance and medieval vocal ensemble is now completing its multi-year traversal of all the music we’re aware of by the 15th-century Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem. This final episode (March 25) will also include a performance of Josquin Desprez’s famous lament for Ockeghem. Blue Heron will end the season (April 29) with music from the court of Mantua and Ferrara, and will be joined by medieval instrumentalists Anna Danilevskaia and Debra Nagy.
Seven Times Salt: 'Easy as Lying-The Music of Shakespeare's Globe'
Old West Church | June 8
A “fringe” of this year’s Boston Early Music Festival, Watertown’s Seven Times Salt is an endearing little chamber ensemble with a great spirit and a delicious choice of material. This program devoted to songs and dances found in Shakespeare, as well as some scenes from the plays, read with their “original pronunciation,” seems irresistible.