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Charlotte Symphony brings world’s best-known pianist in 2017-18 season

Feb 12, 2017

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's 2017-18 starts with Lang Lang and goes out with a bang in Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony. In between come Stravinsky ballets (with dancers!), a great elderly master in Leon Fleisher and a 27-year-old comet in Benjamin Beilman, a concert where virtually every musician walks off during the finale, an altsounds series that is really alt(ernative) a steel pan concerto and the poetry of Bob Dylan and a ton of music the CSO doesn't normally play. Or ever play, in my memory.

Hot dang, as Bach would say. Actually, he'd say "Das wird ein großer Segen sein," pretty much the same thing. He's in there, too, with his beautiful Violin Concerto in A Minor.

Wait, I'm going back to the first paragraph to say this in italics: "Lang Lang is coming." The world's most famous classical pianist (not to mention guest star on Amazon's "Mozart in the Jungle") will play Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto Sept. 12. The symphony is so excited it announced this gala concert without knowing what else it'll perform that night. Tickets go on sale to subscribers in mid-June and to others if there are any at a date TBA.

(I hear you asking what Lang Lang is doing here. Nine years ago, when he was high-flying if not yet so stratospheric, he recorded Nigel Hess' Piano Concerto with Christopher Warren-Green, now music director in Charlotte.)

While the CSO is thinking bigger in some ways, it's thinking smaller in others. It has made a virtue of cost-containment necessity, programming a baker's dozen of pieces written before 1800 for smaller ensembles. That means we'll get Telemann's "Don Quixote" Suite and Haydn's Symphony No. 65, gems we might not hear otherwise. (Those pieces also help musicians grow as players.)

Season subscriptions are on sale now. They offer an amazingly complex variety of options, including choose-your-own packages that link the classical and pops seasons. The simplest packages are these: 12 classical concerts, up from 10 last year, for $269-$669; 8 classical for $229-$569; 6 classical for $179-$429; 6 pops for $179-$429; 6 pops plus 2 classical for $229-$569. The altsounds series for adults and Lollipops for families run $49-$89 apiece. There's also a "Messiah" one-off Dec. 15 and 16, conducted for the first time here by Warren-Green. To get the whole scoop, call 704-972-2000 or visit

And here, concert by concert, is why you might care:


Sept. 22-24: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Overfamiliar, always exciting, self-recommending.
Oct. 6-7: Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger leads Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" (Pablo Sainz Villegas, soloist), the local premiere of Gabriela Frank's "Three Latin American Dances," and four dances from Alberto Ginastera's "Estancia." The CSO has 10 musical premieres and 10 new soloists/conductors this year, by the way.

Oct. 27-28: Pianist Robert Levin and guest conductor Bernard Labadie offer Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, for my money the most beautiful ever written in that genre. Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 and the chaconne from Mozart's ballet music from "Idomeneo" keep us in an 18th-century groove.

Nov. 17-18: Anyone who saw Benjamin Beilman tear up chamber concerts at Spoleto USA the last two seasons will rush to hear him play Beethoven's Violin Concerto. This heavyweight concert also includes Beethoven's overture to "The Consecration of the House" and Brahms' Symphony No. 4.

Jan. 5-6: Can anybody remember the last time the CSO had a soloist-conductor? (I can't.) Aisslinn Nosky will double up in Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1, Telemann's "Don Quixote" Suite, Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 1 and ... wait for it ... Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

Jan. 19-20: Old pals Mozart and Haydn reunite. The former provides his overture to "The Magic Flute" and "Exsultate, jubilate," featuring soprano Amanda Forsythe. The latter gives us two symphonies, No. 65 and No. 45 the famous "Farewell Symphony," where the orchestra leaves the stage bit by bit until only first-chair violinists are left, quietly sawing away.

Feb. 2-3: The Charlotte Symphony Chorus gets an unusual outing in Copland's 10 "Old American Songs," traditionally given to a single voice. Also on the bill: The local premiere of composer-in-residence Mark O'Connor's "Americana" Symphony and Gershwin's "An American in Paris."

March 9-10: Kennedy Center Honoree Leon Fleisher, who'll be 89 when he gets here, lost the use of his right hand in 1964 due to focal dystonia in the middle of a dazzling career. Though he regained it 40 years later, he was already a master of one-armed pieces. He'll play Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand; the CSO will do its first-ever "En Saga" by Sibelius, plus Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

March 23-24: Leonard Bernstein's centenary comes in August 2018, so the CSO is getting a jump with an all-Lenny program: suites from "West Side Story" and "On the Waterfront" and his Symphony No. 1, "Jeremiah." (Mezzo Kelley O'Connor does the solos.)

April 6-7: Speaking of anniversaries, Stravinsky's ballet "Apollon Musagete" premiered 90 years to the month before this concert, 15 years after the incendiary "Rite of Spring." The CSO will perform both of them with dancers from Charlotte Ballet and in some way to be determined later, students from four Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Say what?

April 27-28: After the success of "Concert Romanesc" this season, the CSO brings us more of György Ligeti. This time, it's his equally short "Melodien," matched with Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. Kirill Gerstein will anchor the show with Brahms' ticket-friendly Piano Concerto No. 1.

May 11-12: Mozart, Mozart, Mozart and Petering. Not a Viennese law firm but the climactic Symphony No. 41, the Violin Concerto No. 4 (Calin Ovidiu Lupanu, soloist) and the first of Mozart's great symphonies, No. 25 in G Minor. Mark Petering wrote his Tuba Concerto seven years ago for Aubrey Foard, now the CSO's tuba player; sadly, this concert has room only for the opening movement, "Lament."


These are self-explanatory.

Oct. 13-14: "Cirque Goes to the Cinema."

Nov. 30-Dec. 3: "Magic of Christmas," with the Charlotte Symphony Chorus, Charlotte Symphony Children's Chorus, and Mark O'Connor and the O'Connor Band.

Jan. 12-13: "Music of John Williams."

Jan. 26-27: "Dancing Queen: The Music of ABBA."

March 2-3: "Rocky Mountain High: John Denver."

May 4-5: "Disney's Fantasia."


Sept. 30: "The Musical World of Harry Potter."

Dec. 2: "Magic of Christmas," featuring Mark O'Connor.

Jan. 27: "Stone Soup."

May 5: "Disney's Fantasia."


These are not self-explanatory. In fact, I am not entirely sure how to explain them, which may be the point.
Nov. 10: "Concerto for Steel Pan and Orchestra." Columbia, S.C. native Andy Akiho has written a concerto for himself as soloist, playing the instrument that evolved in the Caribbean in this piece inspired by Rome's Pantheon.

Feb. 16: A show titled "Beatbox Plus" features Brooklyn based, flute-cello-doublebass ensemble Project Trio. Adam Schoenberg wrote a concerto called "Scatter" for them, and they will play it here.

April 20: "Mr. Tambourine Man: Poems of Bob Dylan." Conductor Christopher James Lees and his wife, soprano Lindsay Kesselman, will perform John Corigliano's Grammy-winning settings of Dylan's lyrics to new musical themes. School of Rock Charlotte will take part.

By Lawrence Toppman, Charlotte Observer

Original story here.