Music Hall Redux

New Classical works, new artists and revamped performance spaces

click to enlarge Kit Armstrong - Photo: Neda Navaee
Photo: Neda Navaee
Kit Armstrong

The Classical music season promises to be exciting and innovative, and not only because Music Hall reopens Oct. 6. There is much else.

But there’s no question that the grand reopening is the centerpiece, with programming that gives the resident ensembles plenty of opportunities to show off the building’s upgrades. (Look for a detailed report on the Music Hall renovation in CityBeat’s Oct. 4 issue.) It’s safe to say that, aside from more women’s bathrooms, the most anticipated improvement is sonic quality. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Grand Opening concerts, with Music Director Louis Langrée conducting, cover the dynamic spectrum with contemporary classics and a world premiere. These concerts promise to give the new acoustics a workout. 

Sonic Splendor: From Beethoven to Scriabin has John Adams’ raucous Short Ride in a Fast Machine, followed by Beethoven’s lively Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring pianist and composer Kit Armstrong. A native of Los Angeles, Armstrong just turned 25 years old and already boasts an impressive list of recordings and compositions. Composer Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Stories of Home, a 12-minute orchestral piece, marks his fourth composition for the orchestra. “This new work celebrates the history of the hall, as well as the lyricism, timbre and sound of the orchestra,” Holland said in a recent interview. The program closes with Scriabin’s Le Poème de l’Extase (“Poem of Ecstasy”), an orchestral phantasmagoria described by writer Henry Miller as “like a bath of ice, cocaine and rainbows.”

Cincinnati Pops and its energetic conductor John Morris Russell begin their Music Hall season Oct. 13-15, with a Star Wars and Beyond program featuring the music of film composer John Williams. There will be a premiere of a new arrangement of his theme from Steven Spielberg’s filmSchindler’s List, scored for cello and orchestra.

On Oct. 20-21, the Cincinnati Opera joins forces with the CSO for a performance of Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, the final installment in the three-year Pelléas project. Langrée is a renowned interpreter of the ethereal score to the opera, which tells of a forbidden love. James Darrah will direct the semi-staged production.

Music Hall owes its existence to a torrential rainstorm in 1875 that pounded on a tin roof, drowning out the May Festival Chorus. Philanthropist Reuben Springer was in the audience and led the campaign for a new hall that combined artistic and commercial ventures. The current incarnation of that long-lived May Festival Chorus takes the stage Nov. 4-5 for a program of Bach, Brahms and a world premiere of a new choral work by Julia Adolphe.

Looking ahead at the CSO season after that, CSO Music Director Laureate Paavo Järvi returns Nov. 17-18 to lead the orchestra in a program that features Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto, featuring Alice Sara Ott on the keyboard. A German-Japanese pianist who has been recording for Deutsche Grammophon since 2008, she has recently performed with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Washington’s National Symphony and Royal Scottish National orchestras.

And on Nov. 24-25, the CSO’s annual One City, One Symphony concerts occur, with Langrée conducting and a program featuring Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and a world premiere of a new composition by Emily Cooley. Cellist Truls Mørk will be the guest soloist. The event honors “the visionaries who use music to speak truth,” according to the CSO.

The Pops, with Russell conducting, uses a key weekend in November — Nov. 10-12 — for its American Originals concert mixing orchestral arrangements with Americana music. Guests include roots and blues singer Rhiannon Giddens, ragtime singer-songwriter Pokey LaFarge and bluegrass players Steep Canyon Rangers.

Besides Music Hall, the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music is scheduled to have some exciting, high-profile programming — the school is celebrating its 150th anniversary. 

This year also is the centennial of legendary American composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and CCM commemorates the occasion with a production of Candide, the musical adaptation of Voltaire’s biting satire. Meshing opera, operetta and musical theater, Bernstein’s score brims with youthful energy and genuine pathos. It occurs Nov. 16-19 at CCM’s Patricia Corbett Theater.

Beyond Music Hall and CCM, activity is heavy at smaller venues. I’m looking forward to checking out Cincinnati Song Initiative’s second season. Its concerts feature art songs ranging from traditional Classical to commissioned pieces performed by acclaimed young artists. On Sept. 23 at Willis Music Company’s Steinway Gallery in Kenwood, it continues last season’s survey of French song from the early 20th century by the composers known as Les Six. Appropriately, six performers are featured in a program of songs lamenting loss and boredom and celebrating love.

On Nov. 13 and 14, concert:nova goes to the Cincinnati Art Museum for a program devoted to the fugue, a compositional technique that will be explored via Bach, Beethoven and Cincinnati native Michael Ippolito, with an original dance work by Jimmy Cunningham of the Cincinnati Ballet. 

Chamber Music Cincinnati begins its season at Memorial Hall on Sept. 18, with virtuoso pianist Marc-André Hamelin featured in a program of classics and rarities from the 19th, 20th and 21th centuries. 

And Queen City Opera serves up Gioachino Rossini’s delightfully frothy version of Cinderella, La Cenerentolaon Oct. 20 and 22 at the Dunham Arts Center in Price Hill. You can always expect energetic and committed performances from these young artists, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to see how the less-than-ideal performance space is effectively utilized. 

All this and much more is happening in Classical music this fall: new works, new artists and, especially, renewed performance spaces. Let it begin. ©

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