Spring Arts Preview: Top 10 Classical Concerts & Operas

What we're most looking forward to in the concert halls

Isabelle Faust performs with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. (Courtesy NYP)

Isabelle Faust performs with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. (Courtesy NYP)

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Shostakovich: The Complete Quartets, Cycle 1
The Jerusalem Quartet
Alice Tully Hall
March 17-24
It’s not often that part of a chamber music series is preceded by the launch of its own multi-feature, interactive web site. However, Shostakovich’s string quartets were composed between 1934 and 1974 under the constraints of Soviet Socialist Realism and are rife with embedded codes and symbols. So it seems appropriate that audiences would be invited to participate in some type of interactivity in addition to listening. The Jerusalem Quartet performs the complete cycle of the quartets over four concerts.

San Francisco Symphony
Carnegie Hall
March 21
The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which won a Grammy last month for Best Orchestral Performance for its recording of several John Adams works, performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. The composer’s last fully completed symphony, the work premiered on June 26, 1912—after Mahler’s death in May of the previous year. Music director Michael Tilson Thomas made his San Francisco Symphony debut conducting the work in 1974 when he was just 29. Here, he conducts the SFO’s final Carnegie Hall appearance of the season.

Note: As you may have heard, the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra went on strike Wednesday March 13, 2013. The president of the Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, David Schoenbrun, said that key sticking points include salaries, health care, touring and work rules. Mr. Schoenbrun claimed a “bait and switch” regarding the health care proposal that was in the process of being negotiated had ultimately caused the work stoppage. A rep for Carnegie Hall said that the two Carnegie Hall concerts the orchestra has scheduled for March 20 and 21 remain on the schedule. If they’re canceled, Carnegie Hall policy dictates that ticket holders receive a refund. The musicians of the San Francisco Symphony last went on strike in 1997, a work stoppage that lasted 9 weeks.

New York Philharmonic
Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall
March 20-23
German violinist Isabelle Faust, somewhat of a hidden gem for American audiences, performs Bach’s violin concertos in A minor and E major, as part of the orchestra’s The Bach Variations festival. Ms. Faust is a frequent performer of contemporary music but here turns her attention to two Baroque concertos—conducted by Bernard Labadie, himself an early music expert.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall
March 27
The New York premiere of John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary takes center stage under the baton of conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Mr. Adams’s oratorio, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered earlier in the month, tells the New Testament stories of both Lazarus and Jesus’s Passion. A post performance discussion follows.

Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Carnegie Hall
March 28
After last year’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem, in which conductor Iván Fischer interspersed the chorus with the OSL to involve the instrumentalists with the text, Mr. Fischer returns with Musica Sacra for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The group has a warm and long-standing relationship with Mr. Fischer, which is sure to make this performance of the choral masterpiece well worth catching.

Metropolitan Opera
Rigoletto
Metropolitan Opera House
April 13-May 1
Sometimes the operatic reinterpretations coming out of General Manager Peter Gelb’s Met garner headache-inducing reviews. But director Michael Mayer’s 1960s “Rat Pack” setting of Verdi’s tragic tale has gotten accolades. It’s certainly a visual spectacle—thanks in large part to the work of set designer Christine Jones, who brings familiar Vegas kitsch to life. A new cast takes over for the April and May performances—with Vittorio Grigolo, Lisette Oropesa and George Gagnidze.

Mitsuko Uchida, piano
Carnegie Hall
April 18
The pianist, known for her interpretation of works by Mozart and Beethoven (her Decca Classics recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerti Nos. 23 and 24 won a 2011 Grammy—her first), switches things up here with this recital program of Bach, Schumann and Schoenberg. Dame Uchida has been called “peerless and magical” by the British press. This Carnegie Hall program features two Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces and several works by Schumann.

Kronos Quartet
Carnegie Hall
May 3
As part of its Late Nights at Zankel Hall and My Time, My Music series, Carnegie Hall presents the Kronos Quartet, which, for almost 40 years, has tasked itself with “expanding the range and context of the string quartet.” Clearly this isn’t your parent’s string quartet. Fans of the San Francisco-based group, and of new music in general, should rejoice. This concert includes the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s You Know Me from Here and the New York premiere of Valentyn Silvestrov’s String Quartet No. 3, among other works.

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
May 17
Sir Simon Rattle conducts Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre with soprano Barbara Hannigan. With little unexpected on the classical stage, the singer’s past reviews for performances of Ligeti’s work (“the singer charged across the podium in patent leather,” read a 2012 review from Münchner Merkur) suggest staid audiences expecting a hum-drum evening out might be in for a surprise. The remainder of the program features Webern’s Passacaglia Op. 1, Berg’s Three Fragments from Wozzeck, and Beethoven Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral.”

Brooklyn Philharmonic
You’re Causing Quite a Disturbance
Brooklyn Academy of Music
June 8, 2013
As part of the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Bed-Stuy series, Grammy winner Erykah Badu and Bed Stuy native Yaslin Bey—known to most as Mos Def—present a program of collaborative arrangements of songs from New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War and works by composer Ted Hearne. At a time when orchestras everywhere are struggling to find ways to reach out to new audiences and broaden their appeal, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, under still-newish artistic director Alan Pierson, is on the front lines.