Few professions were so directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic as the performing arts – here referring to music, classical and jazz. Measures to slow the spread of the virus struck at the heart of these groups’ collective mission – to bring people together, literally, to share experiences that could feed our spirit. It was a cruel irony that these groups had to pause their work just when our spirits so needed an extra helping of food.
We’re not yet back to “normal,” of course, but this fall is looking more familiar as many groups return to full-capacity, in-person performances. Many seasons are starting later and are weighted more toward the end of the year. Nevertheless, there’s no scrimping on the product, and there’s plenty that qualifies for don’t-miss classification. Just in case, double-check nearer the date to confirm that these events with these artists are still on the bill.
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Many organizations starting back up post-pandemic are playing it safe with programming, offering up friendly warhorses to lure audiences back. Not the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which instead shows it intends to continue to be a dynamic and relevant part of contemporary culture. There’s plenty of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Mendelssohn to come this season, but take a look at these bold season-opening statements:
MusicNow at the CSO
It’s been 15 years since Bryce Dessner – composer and guitarist in the band, The National – founded a contemporary music festival in Cincinnati, his hometown. Since 2014, the CSO has been an integral artistic partner, and that interconnection is on full display with four performances in one weekend.
Collaborating with the CSO are indie-folk group Bonny Light Horseman, pianist Daniil Trifonov, the Erika Dohi Trio and Sō Percussion. They’ll perform in various combinations, large and small, over the course of Friday and Saturday evenings. The programs include everything from music by Baroque master Jean-Baptiste Lully to two Beethoven piano concertos (Trifonov), Dohi’s genre-blending quasi-improvised work, new orchestrations by Dessner and his 2015 composition, “Quilting.” The 7:30 p.m. concerts with the CSO are in Springer Auditorium; the more clublike, post-concert shows each evening are in the second-floor Wilks Studio.
Sept 24 & 25, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., Music Hall; www.musicnowfestival.org
CSO and JCC: Matthias Pintscher
Composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher begins his three-year stint as the CSO’s creative partner with an emphasis on contemporary music. He’s served since 2013 as music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the legendary Paris-based new music group founded by Pierre Boulez, which is to say he knows his stuff. This year, Pintscher leads two programs over a weekend, both featuring the Ensemble and the music of Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth.
Friday’s more traditional concert includes Neuwirth’s flute concerto, music by Pintscher himself, “NUR,” and Scriabin’s then-avant-garde (“then” being about 1908) Symphony No. 4, the “Poem of Ecstasy.”
Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m., Music Hall; www.cincinnatisymphony.org
The next day, in Amberley Village, Pintscher leads a live performance of Neuwirth’s new score to accompany Hans Karl Breslauer’s 1924 prescient, silent film, “Die Stadt Ohne Juden” (The City Without Jews). Meant as a cutting satire of antisemitism in Austria and Germany after World War I, the National Socialists took the film more as a how-to guide. From the perspective of about 80 years since the Holocaust, Neuwirth’s score is understandably more pained than Breslauer could have imagined. This live presentation, in the JCC auditorium, is part of the Jewish Bicentennial.
Oct 2, 7:30 p.m., Mayerson JCC; www.cincinnatisymphony.org
Matinee Musicale: WindSync
Bigger isn’t always better in music, as Cincinnati’s vibrant chamber music presenters have shown us for years. The first program of Matinée Musicale’s season welcomes this innovative, award-winning wind quintet whose hallmark is playing from memory to help break the “fourth wall” between performer and audience.
Oct. 3, 3 p.m., Memorial Hall; www.matineemusicalecincinnati.org
Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra: ‘Reunited Celebration’
A running theme with several events this season is a deep appreciation that they’re happening at all. That’s the case with the CCJO, which marks its return to the Redmoor, site of the group’s big band shows, with vocalist Mandy Gaines. The band, under artistic director Eric Lechliter, also premieres a newly commissioned musical suite for the occasion.
Oct. 21, 7 p.m., The Redmoor; www.cincinnatijazz.org
Kentucky Symphony Orchestra: ‘Psalms Sung Blue’
The KSO is embarking on its 30th season, which should solidify its status as a lasting, serious member of the region’s artistic community. The November concert, dubbed “Psalms Sung Blue” – a trademark KSO pop culture callout – is a collaboration with St. Peter in Chains Cathedral Basilica and features the cathedral’s own choir, which can stake a reasonable claim to being the finest in the region. James Cassidy conducts.
Keystone is Handel’s “Dixit Dominus,” among the most challenging choral pieces in the repertoire. For contrast, the program also includes the ultra-Romantic (and underperformed) setting of Psalm 23 by Zemlinsky and Bruckner’s Psalm 150.
Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., St. Peter in Chains Cathedral Basilica; www.kyso.org
KSO: ‘The New Bs’
The KSO gave its first performance in 1992, the year Greaves Hall opened at Northern Kentucky University. Music Director James Cassidy, who led that first show, is still at the helm for his 30th season-opener with the group. In previous years, the orchestra tackled the “Three Bs” (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms), then the “Killer Bs” (Barber, Bartok and Berg). Now it’s the “New Bs.” On tap are a Tristate premiere, Peter Boyer’s “New Beginnings”; a Midwest premiere, Mason Bates’s “The Art of War” for orchestra and electronica; and a 20th-century orchestral showpiece, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.
Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m., Greaves Hall; www.kyso.org
Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra: ‘Time Out’
The other half of October’s season-opening week is the first in the CCJO’s Sunday afternoon Jazz@First series. Rick VanMatre joins the Phil DeGreg Trio for a look at the career of Dave Brubeck. As you probably guessed from the title, Brubeck’s landmark, meter-mixing album “Time Out” will be well represented.
Oct. 24, 2 p.m., First Unitarian Church; www.cincinnatijazz.org
Cincinnati Pops: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
Like the song says, this is Halloween. In 1993, two years before Pixar revolutionized computerized animation with “Toy Story,” Tim Burton pushed the envelope of stop-action animation with a dark-comic (what else?) cautionary tale of what can happen when holidays become jumbled. Besides being a visual tour de force – just the opening sequence is worth the price of admission – it’s a through-composed musical, with a picture-perfect orchestral score and touching lyrics by Danny Elfman. Elfman also provided the voice of Jack Skellington, Halloween Town’s pumpkin king, whose crisis of purpose sets the action in motion. Experiencing this film with the score performed live is a great treat – I’ve played it, and it was a hit with orchestra and audience alike – so round up the family and head to Over-the-Rhine as Christopher Dragon leads the Cincinnati Pops live to accompany the film.
Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 24, 2 p.m.; Music Hall; www.cincinnatisymphony.org
As presenting organizations feel their way toward fall, we continue to receive new season announcements, including Chamber Music Cincinnati, the Xavier Music Series and Young Professionals Choral Collective, which arrived just as we went to press. Check out their websites for details.