Visitors from Afar

Apr 13, 2016

The Celebrity Series of Boston has announced a 2016-2017 season that includes the Berlin Philharmonic (x 3), pianist Igor Levit, Roomful of Teeth, and much, much more. It all reminds me of a story....

A lifetime ago, I auditioned at a few graduate schools to study music, among them the New England Conservatory. I had already gotten an acceptance from NEC when, just to keep all options on the table, I auditioned for another school in a Midwestern city. Let’s call it NotChicago.

At the NotChicago Conservatory, one of the professors asked where else I was applying. I mentioned the other schools, including the fact that I was already accepted at NEC. She immediately stopped the conversation and said, “You should definitely go to Boston.”

My 22-year-old self managed to overcome the awkward circumstance of a professor telling me not to go to her school and say, “Why?”

“Because,” she said, “You’ll hear far more musicians play concerts on tour there than you’d ever hope to here in NotChicago.”

The Celebrity Series of Boston just announced its 2016-2017 season, and it confirms the lesson that professor taught me so many years ago. In the midst of concerts given by incredible locally-based ensembles like the Handel and Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, the Boston Chamber Music Society, and so many more that a even a blog post can’t contain them, artists from all over the world will add to a classical music concert calendar only a handful of cities can claim.

Among the highlights I'm most looking forward to are visits by two very special orchestras: the Berlin Philharmonic, on Nov. 11, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, on Feb. 12.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear the Berlin Philharmonic several times: at the Philharmonie in Berlin, in Lucerne, and here in Boston. Without fail, the performances have been stunning. One piece they'll be playing in Boston is Mahler's Symphony No. 7:

And the Celebrity Series isn’t just presenting the orchestra; they’re also presenting two ensembles from within the orchestra: the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, on Feb. 3, and the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin, on Mar. 3. It would be tremendous if the Berlin Philharmonic and the Celebrity Series came up with some sort of special prize to give anyone who attends all three concerts. But whether that happens or not, the concerts themselves will be a great reward. 

Also rewarding will be the Budapest Festival Orchestra, with conductor Ivan Fischer. I find their recordings to be some of the most distinctive of any orchestra. And while their Celebrity Series program is All-Beethoven, they may pull off a surprise choral encore, as they did in Prague during a tour last year:

On the other end of the head-count spectrum from orchestras are solo pianists, always an important part of what the Celebrity Series brings to Boston. Four of the most charismatic and intriguing artists from that category are being presented in 2016-2017. Two of them are well-known in Boston and routinely sell out whichever hall they’re playing in: Paul Lewis (Jan. 20) and Marc-André Hamelin (May 5).

And the other two are Celebrity Series debuts. Imogen Cooper (Nov. 5) is a British pianist whose Mozart concerto recording series confirms a musician of supreme grace and elegance. Then there’s Igor Levit (Jan. 20), whose fearlessness is already evident simply by looking at the program he’ll perform: Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

Amazing singers are visiting Boston next season, too. Among them is Ian Bostridge, whose recent book about Schubert’s Winterreise could be a sort of program-note-on-steroids for his Oct. 28 performance of the piece with Thomas Adès. Also, VOCES8, a British group we’ve all fallen in love with here at the station through their recordings, will sing a concert on Feb. 15. And Roomful of Teeth, a group unlike any you’ve ever heard (trust me) will partner with A Far Cry, one of Boston’s most imaginative ensembles, in a concert on Apr. 13.

There is way more that the Celebrity Series is presenting next season, so make sure to check out the entire schedule. Then, grab a calendar, and start plotting your course!