Classical music to see in Philly this fall
Vivid works of Florence Price, a now-grown prodigy and the Crossing choir on the end of the plague.
As the pandemic wore on last season, the silver lining was that both audiences and presenters learned to be flexible. Concert dates appeared and disappeared, safety guidelines shifted, and many learned to roll with the punches.
Much has changed over the summer, however, and the fall arts season arrives under a new and darker shadow. The more-contagious delta variant once again asks listeners to recalculate the risk-reward equation. I might hunger to hear the Elgar Piano Quintet in A Minor, scheduled for October by pianist Jonathan Biss and the Doric Quartet. But just how hungry am I? The idea that we must now weigh the potentially devastating consequences of sitting elbow-to-elbow with others — masked, slight though the risk may be — makes for an uneasy burden. Many listeners of course will have no hesitation. Others might.
Tugging us back into our seats is a well-placed sense of obligation. All arts groups need us. Federal aid has kept many solvent and private donors have been generous, but these sources can’t be counted on forever. The resumption of ticket revenue is critical.
All this leaves each patron with a sobering internal debate. And it’s one that can’t end soon enough. Here are some of the season’s best classical picks. Please be sure to check venues for current COVID-19 protocols.
The Philadelphia Orchestra and the works of Florence Price
Perhaps more than any other major orchestra, the Philadelphians have set out to sketch our most vivid portrait yet of composer Florence Price. Over several seasons, the orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin are creating a long-overdue survey of her symphonies, concertos, and other works. This particular program features her Symphony No. 4 from 1945 — once thought lost — which the orchestra calls “a reflection of her experiences as a Black woman from the post-Civil War South.” Vocalist Laurin Talese opens the concert with James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and pianist Aaron Diehl performs Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Sandwiched among these high-energy works is William Grant Still’s great, hushed mystery, Out of the Silence. (Oct. 7-9, $10-$169, Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-893-1999, philorch.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Elias String Quartet
COVID-19 has put a damper on musical globe-trotting, and it’s not yet clear how many artists and ensembles from abroad might be kept from planned U.S. tours this season. But among string quartets, none would be more welcome in these parts than the Elias. The tight, exquisitely expressive group, based at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, plans to play three Beethoven quartets on the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society series: the B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6; F Major, Op. 135; and E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2. Here’s hoping. (Oct. 10, $30, American Philosophical Society, 427 Chestnut St., 215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org). Addendum: After publication, the Elias canceled its U.S. tour, including its Philadelphia concert, citing pandemic-related travel-visa hurdles. This particular concert will not be rescheduled, but the group had already been booked by PCMS for a concert in March, 2023. 🎟️ Buy tickets
Pianist Kit Armstrong
“He looks like a child, but he plays like a master. His thinking about music-making is unbelievably mature. He has discovered things in classical music that I have not discovered in 70 years.” That’s what the late Curtis piano professor Claude Frank had to say about Kit Armstrong when he was Frank’s student at the school in 2004. Armstrong was 12 at the time. We’ll hear what the pianist has discovered since then when Armstrong, now 29, performs Beethoven, Liszt, Book 1 of Debussy’s Images and other works. (Oct. 21, $30, Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Phantom of the Opera
Organist Peter Richard Conte slips on the role of on-the-spot film scorer when, sitting at the big organ in Verizon Hall, he creates a live soundtrack to the 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney. (Oct. 30, $25, Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Dover Quartet and Davóne Tines
With his beautifully malleable bass-baritone voice, Davóne Tines promises much in this appearance with the Dover featuring Barber’s Dover Beach and Caroline Shaw’s Appalachian-inspired By and By. Also on the program are string quartets by Brahms and Zemlinsky. (Nov. 5, $30, Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Simone Dinnerstein and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
With originality and insight in equal measures, Simone Dinnerstein is a pianist always worth hearing. Especially so here, where she pairs a concerto by Bach with one by Philip Glass — his Piano Concerto No. 3, written especially for her. Dirk Brossé conducts. (Nov. 7-8, $29-$104, Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Rafael Payare leading the Philadelphia Orchestra with clarinetist Ricardo Morales
This Venezuelan-born conductor, 41, has the classical world listening closely for a big future. An alum of the El Sistema music program, he is now music director of the San Diego Symphony and is making the rounds on major-orchestra podiums. Here Payare leads the Philadelphia Orchestra in Dvorak’s alternately sweet and brooding Symphony No. 7 and the orchestra’s principal clarinetist in the premiere of the Clarinet Concerto by Jacob Bancks. (Nov. 11-13, $10-$169, Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-893-1999, philorch.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Thomas Sauer
The duo has constructed an evening in which three Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano are interspersed with three short works by Andrew Norman: Bridging I, II, and III. Programs structured this way — old and new nestled up against one another — sometimes seem contrived. Often, though, they create a lively dialogue across the centuries, and given Koh’s track record of smart inquiry, we’re betting on the latter. (Nov., 23, $30, Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-569-8080, pcmsconcerts.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Nathalie Stutzmann conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra
We’re still getting to know Stutzmann, who takes the title of principal guest conductor with the start of the orchestra’s 2021-22 season. This program should reveal much: a newish score (2013), Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres); and the large expressive canvas of the Schubert Symphony No. 9, “Great.” (Dec. 2-4, $10-$169, Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Sts., 215-893-1999, philorch.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
New work by Shawn Okpebholo
New York-area flutist Beomjae Kim, now under the wing of Astral Artists, unveils a work by Shawn Okpebholo inspired by Henry O. Tanner’s The Thankful Poor. It’s a landmark painting with a lot of Philadelphia connections — including the fact that it was once owned by Camille and Bill Cosby. (Dec. 5, $25, American Philosophical Society, 427 Chestnut St., 215-735-6999, astralartists.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
Carols After a Plague
In a concert presented by Penn Live Arts, the Crossing choir led by Donald Nally presents a dozen works by a dozen composers: Leila Adu, Ambrose Akinmusire, Alex Berko, Edith Canat de Chizy, Viet Cuong, Samantha Fernando, Mary Jane Leach, Shara Nova, Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Nina Shekhar, Tyshawn Sorey, and LJ White. It’s safe to say stylistic diversity will be on display, and of all of the parts of the concert’s title, let’s hope by concert time it’s the “after” that falls mercifully into place. (Dec. 17, $35, Church of the Holy Trinity, 1904 Walnut St., 215-898-3900, pennlivearts.org) 🎟️ Buy tickets
» READ MORE: Find more in our complete fall arts guide