Season Preview 2008-2009

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The only constant in life is change and that surely applies to South Florida—the epicenter of transience—more than most places. Across three counties, the volatile, ceaselessly mutating music scene is marked by new beginnings, novel challenges and evolution this season, as well as some stagnation and retrenchment.

The New World Symphony ( remains the brightest light in the local classical firmament. This is the Miami Beach orchestra’s last full season at the Lincoln Theatre before moving into its new Frank Gehry-designed, high-tech edifice, and the New World will once again serve up the most discerning repertoire and starriest soloists and guest conductors led by artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas. MTT will lead off the New World’s season not with the usual one-off gala but instead leap right into subscription concerts with the opening weekend of Ravel and Stravinsky featuring fast-rising young pianist Yuja Wang (Oct. 17-19).

Other New World events to mark on your calendar are Tilson Thomas’ program of Beethoven and Richard Strauss at the Arsht Center (Oct. 25), the brilliant young English composer Thomas Ades conducting his music and others (Nov. 22), Emanuel Ax making a belated NWS bow in Beethoven (Dec. 12-14), conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and violinist Joshua Bell in joint NWS debuts with music of Mahler and Saint-Saens (Jan. 24), a Charles Ives festival with pianist Jeremy Denk (Feb. 20-22), and Marin Alsop’s return in music of Dvorak, Liszt and Golijov with cellist Alisa Weilerstein.

More questions surround the Concert Association of Florida this season than any other in memory, from its recent (and apparently unrequited) bid for the Arsht Center to take the presenting organization over, to the on-again-off-again Florida Symphony initiative, and eyebrow-raising move into booking non-classical artists like Pink Martini last spring and Jose Feliciano and Mariza this season.

The Concert Association of Florida ( still offers plenty of first-class orchestras—largely booked by founder Judy Drucker before her exit last summer—- including Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra (Nov. 3 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, Nov. 6 at the Arsht Center in Miami), the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Jan. 28, Arsht) and Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic (Feb. 29, Arsht). All of the above orchestras will also appear at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (

The Cleveland Orchestra will come to town for its annual three weeks of residency, this time with guest conductors Kurt Masur and Pinchas Steinberg leading populist fare of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky (March 6 and 7 and April 2 and 4). Franz Welser-Most’s sole week (Jan. 30-31) in 2009 has the most interesting lineup with Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony (No. 7) and soprano Measha Brueggergosman in Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs (

This season will see the debut of the Firebird Chamber Orchestra. Patrick Quigley’s new ensemble, which premieres Oct. 9-11 at the Arsht Center in music of Vivaldi, Telemann, and David Diamond, and will perform three other intriguing programs in its first season. Quigley’s choir, Seraphic Fire, will serve up a season-opener of Cuban Baroque music (Sept. 25-28) a program of New Orleans jazz (Oct. 30-Nov. 2), Russian Orthodox works (Feb 12-15) and the now-traditional Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 19). (

The biggest opera stars this season will be heard not on the opera stage, but at the Knight Concert Hall as part of Florida Grand Opera’s demurely titled Superstar Concert Series, featuring Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jan. 10), Marcello Giordani (March 9) and Bryn Terfel, left (April 6).

Neither Florida Grand nor Palm Beach Opera is exactly breaking new ground with adventurous repertoire or blockbuster singers in its staged productions. FGO has the most interesting curio with Leo Delibes’ once-popular Lakme starring Leah Partridge (opening Feb. 21), and local favorite Eglise Gutierrez will make her FGO debut in the season-opening new production of Verdi’s La Traviata (Nov. 15). Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly make up the balance of the FGO season. For the first time, this year all productions will be double cast, so if you want to catch a particular singer, check your dates carefully.

What Palm Beach Opera lacks in programming daring, it makes up for with consistent casting and a charismatic music director in Bruno Aprea. The dynamic Aprea is at his finest in core Italian rep, so figure on Verdi’s Rigoletto (Dec. 12-15) and Bellini’s Norma (Jan. 23-26) as best bets. La Boheme and Le nozze di Figaro are also slated this season.(

For more offbeat repertoire, one can venture across the bog to Sarasota Opera for its spring festival, which this year (Feb 7 -March 29) offers Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz and Verdi’s Don Carlos along with Tosca and L’elisir d’amore ( And if you don’t mind hearing worthy voices in rough-around-the-edges productions, the fledgling Miami Lyric Opera has Bellini’s I Puritani on tap (March 26 and 28) (

Festival Miami ( opens with a tribute to John Corigliano Oct. 9 at the Arsht Center featuring the premiere of his Circus Maximu
for wind ensemble and Red Violin Concerto with soloist Jenifer Koh. Also worth checking out are an all-star chamber concert with the Brahms and Schumann piano quintets Oct. 13 and the closing two-night salute to Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (Nov. 2 and 3).

Sunday Afternoons of Music ( offers a worthy lineup including violinist Elmar Oliviera, (Jan. 11, rescheduled due to Hurricane Ike), the Miami debut of cellist Steven Isserlis (March 14) and Eglise Gutierrez, left, in recital (Jan. 4). The Master Chorale of South Florida enters a new era with artistic director Joshua Habermann, and will open its season with Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Nov. 14-16). (

The Boca Raton Symphonia opens its second season with music director Alexander Platt Dec. 7. There’s also the Miami Bach Society, the Boca Festival of the Arts spotlighting Itzhak Perlman, the Miami International Piano Festival, Miami Symphony Orchestra and season schedules yet to be announced by Friends of Chamber Music, Project Copernicus and other organizations. Watch this space for weekly best bets on upcoming musical events throughout the season.

Posted in Coming Up, season preview

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Sun Sep 14, 2008
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