Spring For Music: Orchestras Bring Innovative Concerts To Carnegie Hall

May 5, 2011

There's that age-old question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer — at least for the upcoming Spring for Music festival — lies in creative programming for symphony orchestra.

Spring for Music, an innovative new festival debuting at Carnegie Hall May 6, features seven North American orchestras in concert over nine nights. Hosted by Fred Child and Elliott Forrest, the concerts will be webcast live at NPRMusic.org and broadcast live on New York's WQXR and via American Public Media each night at 8 p.m. EDT.

The orchestras appearing in the festival were chosen not for the size of their budgets or their status in the symphonic pantheon, but instead for their interesting musical ideas. Three years ago, when festival organizers announced their plans, they encouraged orchestras large and small not to play it safe when assembling repertoire.

There are no fusty overture-concerto-symphony programs on tap — far from it. The opening concert by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra features a contemporary take on Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos — new pieces from the likes of Aaron Jay Kernis, Peter Maxwell Davies and Melinda Wagner. The Toledo Symphony Orchestra, making its Carnegie debut, will pair Dmitri Shostakovich's neglected Sixth Symphony with a rarely heard theater piece about Soviet dissidents called Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, a collaboration between composer Andre Previn and playwright Tom Stoppard.

The Albany Symphony will also play for the first time in the storied hall; conductor David Alan Miller brings a program titled "Spirituals Re-imagined," mixing contemporary composers' reworked versions of songs like "Deep River" and "Wade in the Water" with Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, which contains its own embedded sacred song, the Shaker "Simple Gifts." The Dallas Symphony is presenting Steven Stucky's full-evening concert drama August 4, 1964, about a pivotal day in the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the Johnson administration.

The discussion of how to invigorate the classical music audience never seems to end. Do we banish Bach, Beethoven and Mozart in favor of contemporary music? Do we uphold the classics, but make the tickets cheaper? Do we engage the concertgoers with something fun?

Spring for Music may not have all the answers but it goes a long way in the right direction. The Montreal Symphony will indeed bring Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but it's paired with Webern, Bach and Stravinsky. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is playing Haydn's Symphony No. 104, but also the New York premiere of a recent work by jazz bandleader and composer Maria Schneider. As far as cost goes, seats for the concerts are just $25. There's even a plan for audience participation — hometown fans of each orchestra will be handed appropriately colored hankies (Dallas is yellow, Albany gets orange) for a little visual representation in the crowd.

So if you've grown tired of conventional classical concerts, you may want to set aside some time over the next nine days to tune in to something decidedly different. And by the way, at home, no one will know which brightly colored hankie you're waving.

Orchestras and their scheduled repertoire are listed below.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Aaron Jay Kernis: Concerto with Echoes
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 6)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission

Melinda Wagner: Little Moonhead
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 4)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Sea Orpheus
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 5)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission
Christopher Taylor, piano

Christopher Theofanidis: Muse
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 3)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission

Stephen Hartke: A Brandenburg Autumn
with world premiere fourth movement
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 1)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission

Paul Moravec: Brandenburg Gate
(Inspired by Brandenburg No. 2)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Commission

Saturday, May 7, 2011
Stefan Sanderling, music director

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6

André Previn/Tom Stoppard: Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
Director: Cornel Gabara
Cast: Pete Cross – Alexander
David de Christopher – Ivanov
Yazan "Zack" Alquadi – Sasha
Kevin Hayes – Colonel
Benjamin Pryor – Doctor
Pamela Tomasetti – Teacher
New York City premiere of full orchestra version

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
David Alan Miller, music director

George Tsontakis: Let the River be Unbroken

"The Spirituals Project:"

John Harbison: "Ain't goin' to study war no mo'"

Donal Fox: "Hear de' lams a-cryin'"

Bun Ching Lam: "Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child"

Tania León: "Didn't my Lord Deliver Daniel"

Daniel Bernard Roumain: "Harvest"

Kevin Beavers: "Deep River"

Richard Adams: "Stan' Still, Jordan"

Stephen Dankner: "Wade in de' Water"
Albany Symphony Commissions
Nathan De'Shon Myers, baritone

Copland: Appalachian Spring (complete ballet)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Jaap van Zweden, music director

Steven Stucky: August 4, 1964
Indira Mahajan, soprano
Kristine Jepson, mezzo
Vale Rideout, tenor
Rod Gilfry, baritone
Dallas Symphony Chorus (prepared by Don Krehbiel)
New York premiere
(Commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and first performed in September 2008 to commemorate the 100th birthday of President Johnson.)

Thursday. May 12, 2011
Carlos Kalmar, music director

Charles Ives: The Unanswered Question

John Adams: The Wound-Dresser
Sanford Sylvan, baritone

Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4

Friday, May 13, 2011

Igor Stravinsky: Concerto in D for Strings

Maria Schneider: Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories
for soprano and chamber orchestra
SPCO Commission
Maria Schneider, conductor
Dawn Upshaw, soprano

Béla Bartók: Five Hungarian Folk Songs
(arranged by Richard Tognetti)
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 104 "London"

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Kent Nagano, music director

Giovanni Gabrieli: Excerpts from Symphonia Sacrae for brass

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sinfonias 1 to 5 (for keyboard)

Anton Webern: Symphony, Op. 21

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sinfonias 8 & 9 (for keyboard)

Igor Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sinfonias 11, 12 and 15 (for keyboard)
Angela Hewitt, Piano

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.