Western Pa.’s classical offerings run the gamut
Classical music concerts in Pittsburgh this season will encompass an immense range of repertoire, from all the way back in the ninth century up to world and local premieres. Most of the performers will be local musicians, including the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, but many organizations including the symphony bring in touring artists and ensembles.
The Pittsburgh Symphony’s 20 weeks of BNY Mellon Grand Classics is the core of the season and offers the most concert variety in Western Pennsylvania. It also presents seven weeks of Pops concerts and will make a five-country, 11-concert European tour in October and November.
The symphony, like other major orchestras around the world, begins a two-season celebration of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth in 1770. Highlights this season include two big but rarely performed masterpieces with the Mendelssohn Choir — Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” (Jan. 24 and 26, 2020) and the Missa solemnis (April 17 and 19). Music director Manfred Honeck will conduct both, as well as the composer’s Violin Concerto with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter at a special single concert (June 13).
Honeck’s repertoire this season includes the local premiere of Julia Wolfe’s “The Fountain of Youth,” a PSO co-commission first performed earlier this year by the New World Symphony in Miami. Other fall Honeck highlights include two weeks of tour repertoire including Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony (Oct. 11 and 13), Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 (Oct. 18 and 19), Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 (Oct. 20). Pianist Igor Levit will play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini at these concerts.
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The highlights of the music director’s 2020 concerts include extended excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet” (Jan. 17-19). which will be recorded, Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto with soloist Helene Grimaud and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 (April 24-26), and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Yefim Bronfman and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (June 19-21), which will be recorded.
The other most notable symphony concerts this season include Osmo Vanska conducting Carl Nielsen and Jan Sibelius with violin soloist Augustin Hadelich playing Mozart and Thomas Ades (Dec. 6 and 8), Vanska conducting “Messiah” (Dec. 7), Vasily Petrenko conducting Edward Elgar and Maurice Ravel with Ray Chen playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto (Feb. 14-16), Sir Mark Elder leading Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 with soloist Yulianna Avdeeva playing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto (March 6 and 8), and conductor Jakub Hrusa making his local debut with Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 (March 13 and 15).
The symphony’s Pops season includes tributes to Aretha Franklin (Oct. 4-6) and The Beatles (Nov. 15-17), Blockbuster Broadway (Feb. 7-9), Bugs Bunny at the Symphony (March 20-22), and The Doo Wop Project (June 5-7).
The Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra’s season begins with a Russian program featuring Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with soloist Alexi Kenney (Oct. 12), “Parisian Valentine” (Feb. 15), “Irish Rhapsody” with Pittsburgh Symphony principal flute Lorna McGhee as soloist (March 14), and Italian Opera Fest (April 25) — all conducted by music director Daniel Meyer.
Chamber music is sometimes overlooked by people who enjoy orchestral concerts, but generally composers who write great orchestral music also write chamber music of comparable scope, beauty and intensity. The Orion String Quartet opens Chamber Music Pittsburgh’s season with a program including Fritz Kreisler’s beautiful String Quartet and Beethoven’s only String Quintet (Oct. 7). The Brooklyn Rider String Quartet (Jan. 6) will offer a series of intriguing modern pieces before concluding with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15, an amazing masterpiece written after recovering from a serious illness. Similarly, the Gryphon Trio will perform modern pieces with Nordic Voices before concluding with Beethoven’s biggest Piano Trio, known as the “Archduke” (Feb. 3).
Early music, including the popular Baroque era, is mainly carried by Chatham Baroque, a period-instruments ensemble which merged in 2017 with Renaissance and Baroque, a presenting organization. Highlights of its season include “Foreign Accents,” featuring great composers such as Bach and Handel writing cantatas in other languages than their mother tongues, with soprano Pascale Beaudin, Chatham Baroque and The Four Nations Ensemble (Sept. 20-22), “Haydn in London” with Sylvia Berry playing on a restored 1806 Broadwood piano (Oct. 5), “Charms, Riddles and Elegies from the Middle Northlands” with Benjamin Bagley and Sequentia performing music from as early as the ninth century (Jan. 14), “Vivaldi and the Apotheosis of the Concerto in the 18th century” performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra (Feb 20) and “Les Nations,” a program of French baroque music with guest artists including flutist Stephen Schultz (April 3-5).
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.