The Beat Goes on in Different Directions

From Bach and contemporary composer Missy Mazzoli to rarely performed operas and superstar vocal and instrumental soloists, Cincinnati's fall arts season underscores the creative shifts in musical programming. It’s not easy to choose highlights from an a

click to enlarge Maestro Mark Gibson with CCM Philharmonia
Maestro Mark Gibson with CCM Philharmonia


he fall arts season offers an array of Classical music performances and what’s truly exciting is the range of works on the docket. From Bach and contemporary composer Missy Mazzoli to rarely performed operas and superstar vocal and instrumental soloists, the lineup underscores the creative shifts in musical programming. It’s not easy to choose highlights from an abundance of great offerings, but here’s one per month.


The September crown goes to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music and its resident impresario Mark Gibson for a concert performance of Verdi’s epic opera, Don Carlos, in the original French version premiered in 1867. This year marks the bicentennial of the undisputed master of operatic composers, and Don Carlos is acknowledged to be among his greatest works. Based on a play by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlos is a highly romanticized (and factually inaccurate) court drama in 16th-century Spain.

“It’s Verdi’s most ambitious work, the one he wanted to be heard above all,” says Gibson, CCM’s director of orchestral studies. “There’s no other work of Verdi’s that passes through so much profound emotion or that gives us such a range, from pageantry to despair.”

In keeping with Gibson’s flair for assembling as many of CCM’s forces as possible, Don Carlos features the CCM Concert Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Brass Choir and CCM choral ensembles, as well as students, faculty and alumni in the leading roles.

Gibson’s goal extends beyond celebrating Verdi and provides an opportunity for students to perform this mammoth work. Commissioned by the Paris Opera in 1866, Verdi made several cuts before the opera’s premiere in 1867.  

“We’re doing every note Verdi composed for the Paris Opera in 1867, including the opening chorus and the ballet music,” Gibson says proudly.

Sharing the role of Carlos are tenors Marco Panuccio and CCM faculty member Thomas Baresel; alum Helen Lyons and former faculty member Barbara Honn sing Elizabeth of Valois; mezzos Stacey Rishoi and student Leah De Gruyl are Eboli. Alums Corey Crider and Gustav Andreassen have the roles of Rodrigue and Phillippe.

The marathon two-part undertaking starts at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22. Part I ends with Act III, scene iii. Following a two-hour dinner break, the opera resumes at 7 p.m. Gibson is working with CCM grad student Omer Ben Seadia to create a dynamic concert staging. He acknowledges the challenge of pulling this off with a month of rehearsal time but he adds, “I’ve never been more excited about a project.” (


On Oct. 9, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra (CCO) kicks off its 40th anniversary season at the School for Creative & Performing Arts’ Corbett Theater with the acclaimed trio Time for Three (Tf3), the self-described “world’s first classically trained garage band.”

Violinists Zach DePue and Nick Kendall and double bassist Ranaan Meyer met at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, where CCO conductor Mischa Santora was also a student. They’ve appeared on CNN, NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” and with major American orchestras. Currently Ensemble-in-Residence with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra where DePue serves as concertmaster, the trio is in-demand as performers and advocates for young musicians.

“They have a unique blend of classical chops and improvisational skills,” says CCO Executive Director Thom Mariner. “Lots of artists try crossover; it’s a natural for them. They’ll play serious stuff including Bach and Beethoven and a mash-up of Grieg’s Holberg Suite alternating with their own pieces.”

Their own pieces include arrangements of The Beatles, Coldplay, Kanye West and fiddle jams. “When we stop and they start, we’ll have to see,” Mariner says. Tf3 has a huge social media presence and their cover of Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man” is a cult hit.

CCO’s program includes Samuel Barber’s meltingly beautiful “Adagio for Strings” and Dan Visconti’s “Black Bend,” a stunning work that evolves into 12-bar Blues for strings. “Our emphasis for this season is “Life Begins at 40,” Mariner says. “We have a unique foothold in the region and we’re working on creative approaches to future challenges and programming.” (


It won’t be until Nov. 8 that Maestro Louis Langrée officially takes the podium as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s music director, but after his dazzling August debut with LumenoCity, the anticipation notches up.

Langrée put a lot of thought into his first program, according to Chris Pinelo, CSO vice president for communications. “He wanted the program to reflect the orchestra’s rich cultural heritage and the fact that the orchestra has introduced new music to the world and continues to do so,” Pinelo says.

The concert opens with famed ensemble eighth blackbird performing Jennifer Higdon’s “On a Wire,” co-commissioned by the CSO. Higdon wrote in the program notes that the performance “allows each member to solo and utilizes their unique staging: The players move about and perform beyond their respective primary instruments…So imagine six blackbirds sitting on a wire.” 

Dr. Maya Angelou joins the orchestra to narrate Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” a work that the CSO debuted in April 1942. “Its first performance was on the Music Hall stage and now it’s a mainstay of orchestral rep,” Pinelo says. Photochoreography will be introduced to CSO audiences in a series of images designed by Dr. James Westwater, who has created montages for orchestras throughout the world.

The concert concludes with a work that was on the CSO’s first program: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, perhaps the most famous of symphonies. Langrée’s inaugural weekend is in collaboration with Freedom Week observances at Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where Dr. Angelou is scheduled to appear.

Pinelo says this concert is emblematic of Langrée’s commitment to Cincinnati. “He’s intrigued by the fantastic cultural offerings here and looking forward to being part of the community.”

With challenging programs and with new leadership for the CSO, as well as Craig Hella Johnson leading the Vocal Arts Ensemble and Rhonda Juliano taking over artistic direction for MUSE, the prospects for Classical and Contemporary music are more than exciting: they’re downright thrilling. ( ©

About The Author

Anne Arenstein

Anne Arenstein is a frequent contributor to CityBeat, focusing on the performing arts. She has written for the Enquirer, the Cincinnati Symphony, Santa Fe Opera and Cincinnati Opera, and conducted interviews for WVXU's Around Cincinnati. In 2009, Anne was named an NEA Fellow in Classical Music and Opera Journalism...
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