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Horns will blow, heads will roll for Halloween and Korngold will pop in next year’s Lansing Symphony season, announced to subscribers after Friday’s season finale.
A big highlight is a Jan. 6 solo appearance by horn virtuoso and hometown hero David Cooper, who has just been named principal horn player of the Berlin Philharmonic, no less.
After a year filled with muscular works of 20th-century titans Stravinsky and Shostakovich and bold strokes like Friday’s electro-acoustic world premiere, the 2017-18 season largely retreats to more Romantic terrain, but music director Timothy Muffitt continues to find ways to freshen up the bouquet and tackle some of the repertoire’s biggest mountains.
The Feb. 11 concert is anchored by a little-heard epic symphony, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F-Sharp. Korngold, known more for his fine film work in the 1930s and ‘40s, only wrote one symphony, but it’s a doozy.
“Today’s audience is familiar with his language because he was copied by so many of today’s film composers,” Muffitt said. “It’s an epic journey through time, the way a Mahler symphony is. I’m willing to bet that there will be fewer than five performances on the planet next year, and we’ll be one of them.”
Another epic symphony, the Sibelius Third, will anchor the March 24 concert. Beethoven’s Second will be heard Jan. 2 and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” will cap the year May 11.
Perhaps the biggest beast of the season is the “Symphonie Fantastique” of Hector Berlioz, set for a Halloween-ish concert Oct. 6, with its (musical) beheading and an electrifying turn by mezzo-soprano Amanda Bottoms.
“She has an extraordinary dramatic presence in front of an orchestra,” Muffitt said. “The going to be a powerful combination of her singing this work.”
The October concert is a devilish one as well, with Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” and an overture from an obscure opera by Heinrich Marschner, “Der Vampyr.”
Muffitt was bitten by the vampire when he heard the New Orleans Opera perform the entire opera.
“I thought was a really bold move, but it was a big success, and I grabbed onto the overture,” Muffitt said.
Bringing back local musicians who have made good in the wider world, a tradition at the LSO, reaches spectacular heights Jan. 6, when horn virtuoso and hometown hero David Cooper will be the soloist in the little-heard Horn Concerto by Russian composer Reinhold Glière.
Cooper has just been named the principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, which Muffitt described as “the biggest job in the world.” He is now the principal horn of the Dallas Philharmonic and will take up his duties in Berlin in November. Luckily, he still has a soft spot for Lansing, where his uncle and grandmother played for the Lansing Symphony, and for MSU, where Cooper played in the top ensembles at age 15.
“We look forward to that being a big community event,” Muffitt said.
By tradition, Muffitt features one of the symphony’s first-chair players as soloist each year. Charismatic principal cellist Hong Hong gets his turn March 24, with Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1.
Whether he is getting down with earthy fiddler Rachel Barton Pine for an encore of Scottish folk tunes or playing his heart out on Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” Hong has been a radiant presence in the orchestra.
“I hear so many comments from audience members who really enjoy him as a musician,” Muffitt said. “He’s a very strong musical personality and something of an audience favorite.”
Major pieces of modern or contemporary music are in short supply on next year’s slate, but two newer works showcase two MSU-based composers — a voice of the future and a voice from the past.
The May 11 concert will feature music from one of MSU’s newly hired composition professors, Zhou Tian, “Poem from a Vanished Time.”
“Last year he sent me samples of his music, and I find it to be really engaging and spiritual and colorful,” Muffitt said.
“He’s a fresh voice in music. He descends from the line of Debussy and Ravel, not that his music sounds like that, but it’s that kind of vivid color and powerful sense of atmosphere.”
The March 24 concert will feature “Three American Dances” by MSU professor and composer James Niblock, who will turn 100 in November. Niblock was on the MSU faculty from 1948 to 1985 and was LSO concertmaster for 15 years.
“We will have him in the audience, and we’re very excited about that,” Muffitt said.
The season-ending concert May 11 will continue the orchestra’s partnership with the biennial Gilmore Keyboard Festival, which has brought forth some of the Lansing Symphony’s most electrifying performances in recent years. The Gilmore Young Artist will perform with the orchestra in a work yet to be named.
To round out the MasterWorks series Nov. 10, another tradition will continue as MSU’s director of choral music, David Rayl, leads the annual choral concert, a Baroque blowout with Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and music by Bach and Handel.