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5 Concerts That No Austin Classical Music Lovers Should Miss In 2010-11 Season

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There are plenty of great concerts lined up for the coming season in Austin, from the Middle Ages to music written in the last ten years. Although many more events will be discussed over the course of the year, here are five concerts that no classical musical lovers in Austin should miss.

Jordi Savall with Hespèrion XXI and Tembembe at the Bates Recital Hall, UT Austin

“The Route of the New World: Spain-Mexico” — October 3, 2010 – 7:00 PM – Tickets: $38

jordi savall
Jordi Savall will appear at UT Austin's Bates Recital Hall on October 3.

If you don’t know who Jordi Savall is, that’s ok: he toils in the salt mines of Early Music, an area which has only recently started to enter the public consciousness.  A Catalan viol-player and conductor, Savall can goose old music into life with a vitality that is nothing short of stunning.  His filmed production of Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera Orfeo is hands-down the best available performance of that opera, and the recordings of his ensemble Hespèrion XXI are a panacea for the dull and dutiful junk you’ll get from most Early Music folks.  I have no idea what music he’s planning on presenting at this concert, but it doesn’t really matter.  If you’re afraid of music written before 1700, try Savall on for size; he takes chances.

Austin Lyric Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata at The Long Center for the Performing Arts

November 6, 10, 12, 14, 2010 – Check website for times and ticket prices

This is an opera you just can’t miss.  It doesn’t matter who’s singing, who’s conducting, what the sets or costumes look like, etc.; there’s a reason that it’s one of the most performed operas in the United States.  Even a bad performance can score all the right emotional points and leave you drained by the end of the evening.  Will Violetta stay with Alfredo?  Will she sacrifice herself for his family’s honor?  Will the power of her love conquer the weakness of her body?  It might be melodrama, even downright silly at times, but old Verdi knew what he was up to.  If you’re not in tears by the final curtain, you have a heart of stone.  Highly recommended for first-time opera goers, especially for those on a hot date.  Read a synopsis ahead of time, follow the surtitles, and soak up those delicious Mediterranean melodies.

Emanuel Ax at the Bates Recital Hall, UT Austin

Franz Schubert:
Four Impromptus, op. 142/D.935
Sonata in A Major, D. 664
Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960

February 10, 2011 – 8:00 PM – Tickets: $36

Those in the know might be surprised to see pianist Emanuel Ax offering an all-Schubert program at Bates Hall.  Ax is usually noted for his performances of Romantic repertoire, specifically Chopin, Chopin, and more Chopin (with a side-helping of Brahms).  That doesn’t change the fact that he can play anything he wants better than most pianists.  Why he chose an all-Schubert program in a non-anniversary year is anyone’s guess, but who cares?  The D. 960 (one of Schubert’s last works before dying of syphilis at the age of 31) is constantly programmed these days, with many pianists vying to play as slowly as possible to prove their intellectual depth.   Ax will probably stake out a middle ground, but as long as he offers his trademark honeyed tone and emotional honesty, it won’t matter.

Nathan and Julie Gunn at the Bates Recital Hall, UT Austin

Songs of Hugo Wolf, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber and others — March 9, 2011 – 8:00 PM – Tickets: $32

Are you into rippling pecs, a dazzling smile and a mellifluous voice?  If so, this concert will be your bag.  The American baritone Nathan Gunn is known in New York as being the go-to singer whenever a role calls for partial nudity; he probably works out his guns as often as he sings his scales.   His smallish voice has been a liability in larger operatic halls, but for a song recital, it’s perfect.  A  disc recorded for EMI ten years ago displayed a singer who had not yet grown into his song characterizations, but by now his Ives in particular should be ripe for the picking.

Jon Kimura Parker with the Austin Symphony at Dell Hall

Gian Carlo Menotti:  Suite from Sebastian
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 16
Peter Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 4 in F Minor, op. 36

May 13-14, 2011 – 8:00 PM – Tickets from $19-48; Student Rush available

Kimura Parker is one of the hottest pianists on the U.S. concert circuit.  His career was kick-started with a Gold Medal from the prestigious Leeds Competition, but he’s much more interesting than your typical competition-winning, brainless finger-wigglers.  Parker’s repertoire embraces not only the Good Ol’ Boys of classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.), but also guys like Chick Corea, John Adams, William Hirtz, Paul Schoenfield and others.  It’s a pity that he’s trotting out an old chestnut like the Grieg, but let’s secretly admit it: if the pianist tears up the keyboard, the Grieg is one kick-ass concerto.  The Tchaik is standard and can be played on auto-pilot (let’s hope conductor Peter Bay avoids that), but it’ll be good to hear the Menotti, a little-played work by a master of melodrama.