Music in the Air 

From Nashville Opera to Camerata Musicale, fall is full of musical choices

From Nashville Opera to Camerata Musicale, fall is full of musical choices

Good things are happening in classical music around Nashville this fall. Some of them come from the Nashville Symphony, whose calendar includes everything from Bobby McFerrin to Mozart to Michael Kurek to Saint-Saëns to Dr. Seuss’ Gerald McBoing Boing. It’s a season that promises plenty of symphonic whimsy. The first major subscription concert, called “Orchestra Showcase,” happens Sept. 13-14 at TPAC. It opens in the 18th century with Mozart’s elegant and brilliant Symphony Concertante and closes with Saint-Saëns’ late 19th century Symphony No. 3. The first piece has solos by principal violinist Mary Kathryn Van Osdale and new principal violist Daniel Reinker. The second, a luscious gallic entrée, calls for an organist—and Elizabeth Smith answers. Between this 1800s Austrian crystal and this 100-year-old premier cru comes the first symphony of Elliot Carter (b. 1908 in New York). It’s early (1942) and neo-classical, before Carter hooked up with atonality.

The Blair School’s new Ingram Hall is the best acoustic venue in our city. On Sept. 14, a project that began there last year continues. By the end of next spring, pianist Craig Nies, cellist Felix Wang and violinists Christian Teal, Cornelia Heard and Carolyn Huebl will have played all the Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin and for piano and cello. This Beethoven does not build huge cathedrals, but rather sculpts small bronzes—sometimes cool and witty, sometimes ornate, sometimes jagged, always interesting, often exhilarating. Each concert features two sonatas for piano and violin, and one for piano and cello. In this one, Heard will join Nies to do the Opus 12, no. 1; Teal and Nies will do the Opus 12, no. 3. Between these two, Wang and Nies will play the Opus 69.

Belmont University’s Camerata Musicale often performs music rarely heard anywhere else. It might be a radical piece by Charles Ives. But often it’s a lovely mainstream masterwork some cultural El Niño has washed into an archive. To hear such music is a refreshing surprise. On Sept. 16 a program called “Steinway and Friends” enables that, while showcasing a new grand piano in three chamber music configurations. Pianist Kris Elsberry, with violinist Elisabeth Small and cellist Keith Nicholas, will do the Haydn Piano Trio No. 35. Then flutist Erik Gratton and guest violist Harold Levin join Small and Nicholas to do the Flute Quartet in A Major from Opus 145 by Ferdinand Ries. And pianist Robert Marler joins Small, Levin and Nicholas to do the Fauré Piano Quartet No. 1. In the Belmont Mansion at 7:30 p.m.

For some ears, the perfect chamber ensemble is the string quartet (two violins, a viola, a cello), because of its versatility and likeness to singing human voices. The Blair String Quartet is one of the finest of such ensembles, and Blair’s new Ingram Hall is a perfect venue for them. There, on Sept. 27, the BSQ visit the robustly rational 18th century beginnings of the genre in Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in D Major from Opus 76, and the mordant humor of a 20th century maverick in Charles Ives’ String Quartet No. 2. They also showcase a passionate 19th century affair with a piano in Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat Major, Opus 44, featuring pianist Amy Dorfman.

The Belmont Camerata Musicale presents its second fall concert on Oct. 14. “The World of Two Prodigies” will offer a quintet by Mozart and one by Mendelssohn. Though neither Amadeus nor Felix reached age 40, each composed masterworks unsurpassed by other composers of whatever age. These quintets, though rarely played these days, are among them. To the customary quartet configuration, these add a second viola and so produce a darker, richer tonal timbre. Violinists Elisabeth Small and Kristen Frankenfeld are joined by violists Paul Frankenfeld and Harold Levin, along with cellist Benjamin Karp, in performing Mozart’s Viola Quintet in B-Flat, K. 174, and Mendelssohn’s Viola Quintet in A Major, Opus 18. Between these is inserted a single-movement Intermezzo by Anton Bruckner, using the same instrumentation. At 7:30 p.m. in the Belmont Mansion.

For some years now the Nashville Opera Association has been my classical music MVP in Music City. Without a good performance hall, NOA has nevertheless delivered, year after year, productions that meld music and drama into powerful and delightful spectacles. This season promises more of the same. It opens with a brilliant romantic comedy, Rossini’s enormously popular The Barber of Seville, based on the same story Mozart used for his equally brilliant and popular The Marriage of Figaro, written some 30 years earlier. In Rossini, Figaro is the barber who helps a young friend get the girl despite jealous opposition from a wealthy geezer. The richly ingenious levity of the music makes it some of the best known and best loved in all opera. (Some may remember a version starring Bugs Bunny called The Rabbit of Seville.) In TPAC’s Polk Theater on Oct. 11, 13, 17 and 19.

The Nashville Chamber Orchestra is really cooking right now. NCO ended last season with a dazzling and vibrant two-week long guitar festival. It kicks off this season with what promises to be a vibrant and dazzling program called “Fiddlers Three,” designed to do what NCO typically does—bring supposedly incompatible musical idioms into delightful union. This opener will feature bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan, Celtic fiddler Crystal Plohman and classical violinist Carolyn Huebl. The evening turns around a new commission by Atlanta-based Nickitas Demos—a kind of double concerto that counterpoints the playing of Duncan and Plohman. Huebl starts the show with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, and concludes it with Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D. At The Factory in Franklin Oct. 18; and at Ingram Hall Oct. 19.

The Nashville Symphony’s customary musty programming is swept away by a broom called “Piano Spectacular!” Led by Kenneth Schermerhorn, it begins with a kind of minature piano called a celesta: The keyboard causes steel bars to be struck to produce a glockenspielish sound, first used in 1892 in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Here it will sound in the premiere of Blair prof Michael Kurek’s Fairy Dreams: A Concertina for Celesta and Orchestra. Then come the Elliot Carter piano concerto for one piano, a Mozart piano concerto for two pianos and a Bach concerto originally scored for three harpsichords. As a grand finale, the orchestra is joined by four pianos and a large chorus to perform Stravinsky’s Les Noces (The Nuptials), a 1923 ballet score. And you thought your wedding party was wild! Oct. 25-26 in TPAC’s Jackson Hall.

About a week later the symphony, led by associate conductor Byung-Hyun Rhee, does a one-shot matinee aimed at youngsters. But adults would enjoy it too—even if they don’t have kids. Several goodies are on the menu, including Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and a version of Dr. Seuss’s Gerald McBoing Boing, a story about a boy that can’t use words but can use a lot of weird sounds. The Saint-Saëns uses a narrator to identify a parade of animals—among them an elephant, a lion and a flock of chickens—before each appears in an orchestral texture including two pianos. It’s witty, playful stuff that shows off different sections of the orchestra. Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. in Jackson Hall.

A whiff of musty returns to the symphony when guest conductor Bernhard Gueller takes the podium to lead César Franck’s 1882 tone poem suggested by Gottfried Bürger’s 18th century ballad in which an arrogant count goes hunting instead of going to mass—and all hell breaks loose. Called le chasseur maudit in French, the story of “the accursed hunter” is not redeemed from silliness by Franck’s melodramatic musical reincarnation. But that shouldn’t keep listeners from going to hear Sergei Prokofiev’s soaringly lyrical Violin Concerto No. 2 (1935), featuring soloist Chee-Yun, a superb young Korean violinist—and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874), musical evocations of a set of paintings by a friend who had recently died. Originally for piano, the work is better known in the brilliantly puissant orchestration (1922) by Maurice Ravel used here. Nov. 15 and 16 in Jackson Hall.

Nashville Opera follows the brilliantly comical Barber of Seville with a much darker fable—Verdi’s La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). Set in 1850s Paris, where a woman without a father or a protector didn’t have many options, a beautiful woman has chosen to be a courtesan—a prostituée charging very high prices. But Violetta the businesswoman has developed consumption before she meets a man she really loves, and who retires her from the office. Her history catches up with her, though, and she is forced to make a hard choice. She picks heroic selflessness and dies an early death. Done with taste and imagination, it can be an authentically moving story embodied in unforgettable music. In Jackson Hall Dec. 5 and 7.


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