Composers have sometimes pigeonholed September as the beginning of the end. “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September,” run Maxwell Anderson’s lyrics for Kurt Weill’s famous “September Song” in the 1938 show Knickerbocker Holiday, the idea being that anyone sitting around waiting to fall in love had better seize the moment. Still more crepuscular is the most magnificent of all September songs, the setting that is one of the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Composed in Sept. 1948 — Strauss would die exactly one year later — “September” perfectly conveys the combination of sensuousness and exhaustion described in Hermann Hesse’s poem: “Summer summons up a smile — astonished, weak — in the dying dream of the garden. It remains standing yet a while beside the roses, yearning for peace. Slowly does it close its big, weary eyes.”
We get the picture, but did these composers forget that September is also the start of the concert season? In Santa Fe, it is really the end of August when music lovers close their big, weary eyes (and ears) after the ridiculously jam-packed sounds of summer. September is a time of rebirth, ushering in a new annual cycle of concert-going.
In that sense, the 2016-17 season is like those that preceded it. This year, however, our local presenters are offering little in the way of international-level stars, and the programming our homegrown organizations have put together looks over-familiar and even a bit weary. Back in July we commented on the paucity of classical-music concerts in this year’s lineup from Performance Santa Fe, at least following the flurry of its summer vocal recitals. Shortly after that, the Lensic Performing Arts Center announced its season, which added nothing significant to the mix in the way of live classical music. Last spring the Santa Fe Symphony selected Guillermo Figueroa as its new principal conductor, following two years of auditioning candidates who injected occasional sparkle into the programs; and having done that, it seems to be settling back into the meat-and-potatoes repertoire routine to which it had been previously accustomed. Santa Fe Pro Musica continues to show gumption, hosting two string quartets of high quality, in addition to including some recently composed works along with familiar classics in each of its self-produced orchestral concerts. The Los Alamos Concert Association also seems to be bucking the trend; after a few humdrum years, it is offering a season that should inspire Santa Feans to make multiple treks up the hill during the coming months.
Each of our city’s many musical organizations has its own following, as they should. There is no reason that music-loving fans should not go to everything their favorite group presents. A curious thing about Santa Fe’s concert life, however, is how little audience crossover one sees from organization to organization. For example, a surprising number of people report that they go to the Santa Fe Symphony but not to Santa Fe Pro Musica; or they go to the Desert Chorale but not to the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble; and so on. I have long thought it would make good sense for our city’s classical music groups to band together to create an inter-organizational subscription series that would entice people to sample the variety of their offerings. Since they haven’t, I will.
By picking and choosing selectively among the offerings of various concert organizations, I have devised a promising listening plan for Santa Fe’s classical music lovers in the 2016-17 season. I have chosen these based on the concerts themselves, not by trying to be even-handed about including one organization or another, although they do end up offering a considerable variety of performing forces and repertoire. I have steered away from programs that arrive with annual predictability. If you always like to go to the Symphony’s Messiah, the Desert Chorale’s Christmas-season “carols and lullabies,” or Pro Musica’s Holy Week Baroque concerts, you should absolutely go again this year — but you shouldn’t expect anything radically different from your past experience. Announcements for unanticipated events will surely arrive as the season progresses, but based on what we know at this point, this looks to me like a promising “subscription” you could put together for yourself out of the season’s offerings.
▼ Sunday, Oct. 16 (4 p.m., Lensic Performing Arts Center) — Pianist Olga Kern, the co-winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, has impressed in past performances here. This Russian pianist (now living in New York) tends toward powerful, virtuosic playing, which should serve her well in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, warhorse that it is. The guest conductor for this Santa Fe Symphony concert is Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a notable pianist in his own right but also an accomplished conductor. Yes, his father was Aleksandr. Authentic Russian bona fides should be brought to bear on the Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture before the orchestra concludes with Sibelius’ big-boned Fifth Symphony.
▼ Saturday, Nov. 5 (4 p.m., Lensic) and Sunday, Nov. 6 (3 p.m., Lensic) — The string players of the Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra, conducted by Thomas O’Connor, present Schubert’s famous Death and the Maiden String Quartet as transcribed and “retouched” (as he put it) by Gustav Mahler — an interesting intersection of great names. Rounding out the concert are Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, which draws on the Peruvian strand of her family heritage, and a piece that should make Santa Feans spring to attention: Michael Daugherty’s Ladder to the Moon, consisting of two movements inspired by specific paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Scored for solo violin and string orchestra, it was premiered in 2006 by violinist Ida Kavafian, who will be the soloist here as well.
▼ Tuesday, Nov. 29 (7:30 p.m., Lensic) — Stephen Hough is a remarkable pianist, but sometimes he gets labeled a “pianist’s pianist” or a “connoisseur’s musician” because his stage demeanor is so unprepossessing and his interpretations are so obviously driven by serious intellectual curiosity. Music lovers should not miss the opportunity to experience masterworks as filtered through the mind and fingers of this respected British performer. In his recital, presented by Performance Santa Fe, he’ll play Schubert’s late, searching A-minor Sonata; Franck’s luminous Prélude, Choral et Fugue; one of his own compositions, Sonata III (Trinitas); and pieces by Liszt, including two of the Transcendental Etudes.
▼ Monday, Dec. 5 (7:30 p.m., Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi) — Performance Santa Fe’s other major classical offering this year is The King’s Singers. Founded in 1966 by six choral scholars at King’s College, Cambridge, this a cappella ensemble has remained in fine form for half a century, seamlessly surviving many changes in personnel while upholding their punctilious style and charming humor. We assume their concert will include selections from their new CD, titled Christmas Songbook, which consists of familiar carols in imaginative arrangements; but their programs usually involve some Renaissance motets, too, as well as witty settings of popular songs.
▼ Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 (3 p.m., St. Francis Auditorium) — The top drawer of American string quartets is not crowded, but you’ll definitely find the Brentano String Quartet there. Going strong since 1992, the foursome is a major exponent of classic literature, such as the works by Haydn (Op. 20, No. 1) and Beethoven (Op. 59, No. 1) that figure in this concert. Also on their playlist is a new piece being written for them by American composer Steven Hartke, whose works are always expressive but, apart from that, hard to predict. “We composers write the music we do because we like it,” Hartke has said. “We do it as an offering to intrigue, please, entertain, stimulate, and move.”
▼ Friday, Feb. 3 (8 p.m., Duane W. Smith Auditorium, Los Alamos High School) — Quite a few young hotshots of the violin world have confessed that, at one point or another, they aspired to be Joshua Bell. A fine fiddler he is, this fellow from Indiana who will turn fifty at the end of 2017 but still exudes youthful exuberance. His program is not yet announced, but since he’s coming with a piano accompanist (Sam Haywood, his usual duo-partner), at least we can assume he’ll put his Stradivarius to use in some standard sonata literature. To whet listeners’ appetites, Los Alamos Concert Association will be screening The Return of the Violin, a documentary that traces the curious story of Bell’s Strad, on Jan. 22 at 2 p.m.
▼ Sunday, March 5 (3 p.m., St. Francis Auditorium) — Another highly regarded string quartet arrives courtesy of Santa Fe Pro Musica: the Calidore String Quartet, which sprung to prominence last spring when it was awarded the oddly named M-Prize, which carries with it $100,000, the richest purse of any chamber music honor. It is currently on the roster of CMS Two, a constituency of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center that promotes especially promising young ensembles. Two major classics are on their program here — Mozart’s Quartet in D minor and Dvoˇrák’s American Quartet — along with a new work by Caroline Shaw, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
But there’s a problem. Exactly one hour later begins a concert by the Baltimore Consort, an adept and entertaining early-music group that is being presented by the Los Alamos Concert Association (Duane W. Smith Auditorium, Los Alamos High School). They’ll be playing a “greatest hits” program of instrumental music from the British Isles. You decide.
▼ Sunday, March 19 (4 p.m., Lensic) — The concert marking Guillermo Figueroa’s accession as principal conductor of the Santa Fe Symphony will have taken place on Jan. 22, but a more interesting program is this one, in which he’ll lead Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a piece most famous for its affecting Adagietto movement. The symphony as a whole is a vast panorama of human emotions, and it will demand careful preparation from the conductor and the orchestra. Also on the bill is Glazunov’s colorful Violin Concerto, with emerging virtuosa Jinjoo Cho.
▼ Saturday, April 29 (4 p.m., Lensic), and Sunday, April 30 (3 p.m., Lensic) — If Beethoven is your man, this should ring your bells. This season and next, Thomas O’Connor will be conducting his Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra in all five of that composer’s piano concertos, beginning with Nos. 2, 3, and 4 in this concert. The pianist for the entire incentive is Anne-Marie McDermott, an impressive soloist and chamber musician as well as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail festival in Colorado. I have never known a performance of hers to disappoint, and you can wager on the fact that she wouldn’t undertake a trek like this if she weren’t deeply committed to it.
We’ll remind you about all these concerts as they approach, along with any program changes that may arise. But, basically, there you have the core of a pretty good concert season. ◀