By Kenneth LaFave
Classical music continues to change shape and form, and as it does, this handful of Valley venues continue to present it.
As the name says, this venerable venue is home to The Phoenix Symphony, the state’s largest budgeted non-rofit arts organization. “Classical music” takes on a wide definition under the Phoenix Symphony’s watch, from Beethoven to Harry Potter to orchestral accompaniments of rock tribute bands.
The orchestra’s season starts with the work that rocked the classical music world a century ago: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Music director Tito Munoz will conduct it September 15 and September 16. A screening of the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (October 6 to October 8), will find the symphony providing John Williams’ score live. Remaining season highlights will include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (October 20 and October 21), West Side Story in concert (March 2 to March 4), and a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (April 20-22).
Two forms of staged art that feature classical music also perform at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Ballet Arizona produces many of its ballets there, and it is Arizona Opera’s main Phoenix venue. For Ballet Arizona (www.balletaz.org), this year will bring Swan Lake (October 26 to October 29), Nutcracker (December 8 to December 24), Cinderella (February 15 to February 18), and All-Balanchine (May 3 to May 6). The first three will feature live musical accompaniment by the Phoenix Symphony. Arizona Opera (www.azopera.org) starts 2017-18 with a unique offering: Hercules vs. Vampires (October 21 and October 22), a campy old film with a new, live operatic soundtrack. The remaining offerings will include Tosca, Candide, and Das Rheingold.
One name: Yo-Yo Ma. A November 10 appearance by the genre’s single biggest living superstar anchors a season that, even without him, would be stellar. A first-class lineup of pianists in recital will include Emanuel Ax (January 7), Yefim Bronfman (February 16), and Murray Perahia (April 19). A glance at the website under “classical” reveals yet further delights, including chamber music, and something called “The Ten Tenors” – which is a lot.
While the MAC may not give us as many classical performances as some other presenting venues, but the ones they provide are startlingly innovative. Take the Matt Herskowitz September 21. It will feature the music of Chopin “reimagined in a 21st century context of mixed genres, grooves and improvisation.” Featuring pianist Herskowitz along with classical stars Lara St. John (violin) and Zuill Bailey (cello), the trio will also present classical-jazz fusion scores by Claude Bolling. Following up November 16 is Trio Jinx, a whimsical combination of violin, flute and double bass; Chopin by Candlelight (February 15), and the icon-smashing classical organist-turned-showman Cameron Carpenter (February 24).
The intimate performance facility at the world’s premiere museum of musical instruments lends itself perfectly to small ensembles, but among a lineup made predominantly of jazz, blues, global, folk and pop concerts, classical artists are hard to find here. Still, when they do show up, the acoustics at The MIM Music Theatre make it worth the wait. Try Arizona Musicfest’s Young Musicians Concert (November 5); classical guitarist Sharon Isbin (December 7); the Phoenix Boys Choir (December 14); and the American Brass Quintet (February 12).
Considering that it was named by classicfm.com as the 12th best venue in the United States for classical music, it’s surprising how few such events happen at this elegant old building in the heart of downtown. The main draw here: Phoenix Opera, the Valley’s “other” opera company. The annual “Today’s Masters” program of Ballet Arizona (www.balletaz.org), featuring new works by living choreographers, takes place at the Orpheum. This season’s edition, March 22 to March 25, will include a world premiere ballet from company artistic director, Ib Andersen.