Classical summer in Philadelphia has grown decidedly more sophisticated in the last few years. Not just about longer light and lighter tunes anymore, the scene offers considerable emotional scope.
It plunges audiences into dark realms (The Lord of the Rings) and whips them into a froth (La La Land). For traditionalists, the Philadelphia Young Pianists' Academy opens with Rachmaninoff. But it tends to more modern taste by the end of its run with a fistful of knotty recent works.
No fewer than three different Americas may be heard this summer. Composer Hannibal Lokumbe makes the case for healing and forgiveness in a piece to be premiered two years to the day after the killing of nine worshipers in a Charleston A.M.E. church. Nolan Williams Jr. reminds us of both science and poetry as wellsprings of national ambition in a new work by him commissioned by the Mann Center as part of a space-themed concert. And the Philly Pops once again unfurls the standard red, white, and blue against a background no less authentic than Independence Hall itself.
An unexpected thread of a shared destiny runs through many of these experiences. One of the chief joys of last summer's Harry Potter showing at the Mann was the knowing crowd, creating a communal feeling with its spontaneous reactions. Mother Bethel, where Hannibal's piece is to be performed, always seems attuned to the common good.
It's not likely that everyone who spreads a blanket on the grass of Independence Mall every year for the patriotic pops has the same vision of America. But it sure feels that way. And for one evening, at least, the illusion is a welcome one.
Russian Opera Workshop Masterclasses (June 8-Aug. 3). When Benita Valente, Angela Meade, and Stephen Costello give master classes this summer, the public will no doubt pick up on intriguing concepts. But if Florence Quivar, the now-retired Philadelphia-born mezzo, reveals any clues about how she went about producing such a regal sound, her July 21 masterclass at the Academy of Vocal Arts will be well worth attending. This year's workshop also includes performances of The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky and Rusalka by Alexander Dargomyzhsky. (267-475-6500, www.russianoperaworkshop.com)
Crucifixion Resurrection: Nine Souls a Traveling (June 17). "Nine souls now traveling – in the realm free of time and —fear so near yet so far removed from the world – they made so rich with life. Of their tragic demise." So says a scribe at the start of this new work by Hannibal Lokumbe to be premiered at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Society Hill. The work, part of the composer's residency for the Philadelphia Orchestra, gives voice to the victims killed two years ago at the church in downtown Charleston, S.C. The concert, which is free, is preceded by a procession that begins at Weccacoe Park. Tickets are required, and may be reserved at www.philorch.org.
Simone Dinnerstein and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra (June 17 at Longwood Gardens, June 19 at the Barnes Foundation). José Antonio Méndez Padrón conducts these concerts, in which the Cuban orchestra comes through with the superlative and inventive pianist, performing slightly different programs in each venue: a mix of Mozart's piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 23, Copland's Appalachian Spring and Punto y Tonadas by Carlos Fariñas. (610-388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org; 215-278-7200, www.barnesfoundation.org)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (June 24). It takes a lot of musicians to conjure a seeing-stone in sound, not to mention a horde of hobbits, Middle Earth, the chase for a ring, escape from a volcano, and a battle or two. Specifically, it takes members of the Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Ludwig Wicki, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Boys Choir in a score by Howard Shore – played live to screen at the Mann – that can be as dark and bellicose as it is poignant. (800-745-3000, www.manncenter.org)
Delaware Symphony Orchestra With Peter Serkin (June 25). Whether you consider the venerable pianist individualistic, willfully contrarian or simply odd, Serkin is always an aural stimulant. Flashes of eccentricity lit his recent Brahms with the orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 promises no less an opportunity for expressive liberties. A bonus on this all-Beethoven concert led by David Amado is the Symphony No. 4 – least-performed of his symphonies, and whose pastoral overtones should fall nicely on the spirit at Longwood. (610-388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org)
Philadelphia Orchestra Free Neighborhood Concerts (June 29 and 30). The orchestra and conductor Kensho Watanabe perform on the 29th at 7:30 p.m. at Northeast High School, and the 30th at 8 p.m. on the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, in works by Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others, plus the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture. (215-893-1999, www.philorch.org)
Philly Pops (July 3). The pops orchestra pays its annual Independence Day visit to Independence Mall with a program that includes vocalists Mandy Gonzalez (currently in Hamilton on Broadway) and Tony DeSare. The concert is free. (215-875-8004, www.phillypops.org)
Apollo's Fire (July 7). Gretna Music hosts the energetic Cleveland-based Baroque chamber orchestra at the Mount Gretna Playhouse, near Hershey, Pa., in Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Conductor Jeannette Sorrell tells the stories depicted in the movements and has the musicians play brief excerpts illustrating these points, and then leads the ensemble in the complete piece. (717-361-1508, www.gretnamusic.org)
Esperanza Spalding and the Philadelphia Orchestra (July 18). The charismatic double-bassist/vocalist performs with the orchestra as part of its NYO2 initiative with Carnegie Hall for young instrumentalists. The program also includes Copland's Billy the Kid Suite (NYO2 alone), Falla's Suite No. 2 from The Three-Cornered Hat (Philadelphia Orchestra alone), and Stravinsky's Suite From "The Firebird." This performance is free, with all seating general admission, but tickets are required. Tickets can be reserved starting at noon July 12 at www.philorch.org.
Curtis Summerfest (July 21). Jonathan Bailey Holland, who studied with Ned Rorem at the Curtis Institute of Music, returns to his alma mater to present his Trio for violin, cello, and piano. The work is on a program with Schumann's noble Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47. Ieva Jokubaviciute is pianist in both pieces, and is always a bright, sensitive presence. (215-893-7902, www.curtis.edu)
"Hold Fast to Dreams" (July 25). The new piece by Nolan Williams, Jr. will be unveiled as part of the Mann's tribute to Col. Guion Bluford, the Philadelphian who was the first African American in space. Williams' piece is for large forces, featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra, choir, soloists, and spoken word – all led by conductor Cristian Măcelaru – and is being programmed alongside space-themed classics like excerpts from Holst's The Planets and John Williams' E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. (800-745-3000, www.manncenter.org).
Jordan Dodson (July 27). The guitarist, a Curtis graduate currently on the roster of Astral Artists, curates a Barnes Foundation recital with an eye toward the new, with world-premiere performances of Stand Still Here by Jenny Beck and North Star by Mark Yodice, as well as works of established masters such as Luciano Berio and Domenico Scarlatti. (215-278-7200, www.barnesfoundation.org)
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" With the Philadelphia Orchestra (July 28). Last summer's live-orchestra-to-screen showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone brought a crowd to the Mann that may have been the venue's biggest ever for a classical concert. This second installment in the Mann's Harry Potter series, again with the Philadelphia Orchestra, promises another big evening of togetherness for the muggle community. (800-745-3000, www.manncenter.org).
Philadelphia Young Pianists' Academy (Aug. 8-15). The faculty-recital part of this year's crash-course for keyboard artists opens Aug. 8 with an all-Rachmaninoff recital by Ching-Yun Hu that includes the Sonata No. 2 in B Flat minor (Op. 36) and complete Etude Tableaux (Op. 39). Renowned new music champion Ursula Oppens picks up the Rachmaninoff theme with an Aug. 13 piano recital that covers some of the Etudes (Op. 33) before moving on to more contemporary territory: Elliott Carter's Two Diversions, John Corigliano's Winging It, and Conlon Nancarrow's Two Canons for Ursula. Both at the Curtis Institute of Music. (347-324-8967, www.pypa.info)