A well-seasoned set of concerts await ECSO fans

Today’s quiz: What does a symphony orchestra concert have in common with sex?

Answer: As Oscar Wilde reportedly said of sex, “Some take it like the sacrament and some take it like tea.” Some folks yearn for 90 minutes of peering into the existential abyss with Gustav Mahler, and some yearn for a medley of the greatest hits from “Cats.”

In his seven seasons as music director of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Toshi Shimada has balanced the two extremes of concert programming. Selecting the music to be played and crafting not just single concerts but whole seasons is a skill in itself. So reading the lineup for the coming season informs and entertains without a note being played.

Early on in his tenure, Shimada committed to new music and went a step further: new music by women composers. Audiences were treated to many evenings when the composer came up to the stage at the Garde Arts Center to take a bow, a thrilling moment for those of us who have been told for decades that classical music is dead.

But this current season, which concludes with a concert on April 29, seemed a bit ominous. Looking at seasons is a bit like being a Fed watcher. You search out clues and hints and trends … and the trending this season was a bit worrisome. The dial on the Music-o-Meter was tilting toward “Cats” …

The season opened with “Scheherazade,” a staple of pops concerts for decades, and included a “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” program capped off by another pops staple, The Planets by Holst. The season had no new music (that Ligetti’s “Atmosphères,” written 56 years ago, passed for the new music is a bit discouraging), and its grand finale, Beethoven’s Ninth, has acquired so much extra-musical significance it’s almost more of a ritual than a musical event (unless you’re a soprano chorister who must hit those 70-plus high As).

There was nothing wrong, in detail, with any of the concerts, and the “Star Wars” concert was great fun. But on the whole, a suspicious mind could see pops creeping in on little “Cats” paws. Any time you see the name “Gene Roddenberry” in program notes, your blood ought to run cold.

So it was with great relief that I read next season’s coming attractions. (See the full season lineup listed with this column). Shimada has crafted a season that stands firmly on the bedrock of the repertoire, with remarkably little kitsch.

Yes, there’s a pops-y concert, an all-American program with Copland and Gershwin and Ferde Grofé, but it also includes the music of a woman composer, Peggy Stuart Coolidge. (A stages-of-separation oddity: Jazz pianist Grofé not only orchestrated “Rhapsody in Blue” for Gershwin, he also orchestrated music for Coolidge, too.) But the season opens with a plunge in the deep end, a concert of Wagner, Prokofiev and Beethoven’s Ninth. No messing around there.

There’s a simply wonderful Mozart program planned, with soprano Sarah Yanovitch singing arias from “Zaide” and “Il re pastore” and performances of both of Mozart’s sinfonia concertante. The Miller-Porfiris Duo will be guest soloists in the deservedly well-known concertante for violin and viola, and ECSO principals will be featured in the less-well-known concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon.

There’s a two-symphony program that contrasts the music of that most-cheerful of composers, Joseph Haydn, with that of the least-cheerful of composers, Gustav Mahler … sort of like running from the steam bath to jump in the icy lake. And the final concert of the year — as always, with the ECSO Chorus — should be a delight: A concert performance of Bernstein’s opera “Candide,” with soloists from Salt Marsh Opera, to honor Bernstein’s centennial.

Oh, and there’s new music by a living woman composer, “This Ease” by Yale faculty member Hannah Lash.

Welcome back, Toshi!

Milton Moore can be reached at mmoore3@gmail.com

 

The ECSO 2017-18 season

October 21 

Wagner’s Overture to “Tannhäuser,” Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with guest soloist Mark Markham, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”)

November 18

Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s 1970 “Pioneer Dances,” Copland’s Suite from “Our Town,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with guest soloist Lindsay Garritson, and Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite

January 27, 2018

Lalo’s Overture to “Le Roi d’Ys,” Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Orchestra K. 297b, a pair of Mozart arias from “Zaide” and “Il re pastore” with soprano guest soloist Sarah Yanovitch, Lalo’s Rhapsodie Norvegienne, and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola K. 364, guest soloists The Miller-Porfiris Duo

February 24

Hannah Lash’s “This Ease,” Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, guest cello soloist 2017 ECSO Instrumental Competition Winner Yi Qun Xu, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” orchestrated by Ravel

March 24

Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 (“Military”) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

April 28

Concert performance of Bernstein’s “Candide,” with soloists from Salt Marsh Opera

Bernstein's 100th anniversary

 

For ticket information, call (860) 443-2876 or visit ectsymphony.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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