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Fall Arts Preview 2015: Classical Music

Russian accordions, the Vienna Boys Choir and the all-American Aaron Copland

By Nick Esquer September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax

The relationship between Emanuel Ax and Johannes Brahms might be the greatest in classical music history (if not for the fact that Ax is currently alive and 66 and Brahms has been dead for more than 100 years, that is). Ax, who earned his stripes at Juilliard after coming to the US from his native Poland by way of Canada, first began playing the German composer’s works more than 40 years ago, and the two have been making amazing music together ever since. It’s a love affair that has taken Ax all around the world (including Jones Hall this October), and produced legendary concerts with such classical giants as Yo-Yo Ma.

“I really love all the intimacy of it, the grandeur,” Ax says of his favorite composer’s work. “Each time I play him or listen to him, I find these little pieces of something new.” The pianist is a musical detective of sorts, culling nuggets of emotionality from songs he’s heard hundreds of times or focusing on a certain section of a concerto over and over again.  

“It challenges me to keep getting better at it. It’s always beautiful and exciting.” That’s literally music to our ears.

Oct. 16–18. houstonsymphony.org

Three Quartets at Chamber Music Houston

Chamber Music Houston is bringing some celebrated foursomes to town, among them the Austin-based Miro Quartet with acclaimed clarinetist David Shifrin. Others on the way: Rice University’s own Dover Quartet, which uses old-fashioned gut strings to produce its round and bellowing sounds, and the Chiara String Quartet, playing music by Brahms and Bartok. 

Miro, Sep. 15; Dover, Nov. 10; Chiara String, Dec. 8. chambermusichouston.org 

Mahler Symphony #5

The Houston Symphony presents a three-night event featuring Gustav Mahler’s landmark Symphony No. 5. Music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada will also conduct Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano’s latest work, “Stomp,” but Mahler’s piece, especially its sprawling adagietto, is worth the price of admission alone. 

Sep. 17, 19 & 20. houstonsymphony.org 

Snapshots of America

Da Camera will kick off its season with a sumptuous program of works by American composers. Selections include Aaron Copland’s timeless and uber-Americana “Appalachian Spring” and Charles Ives’ moving odes to his New England roots. Rounding out the evening, Grammy-winning soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish are joined by experimental drumming quartet Sō Percussion for the Civil War–era spiritual composition “Winds of Destiny” by George Crumb. 

Sep. 26. dacamera.com

Vienna Boys Choir

The globetrotting group, featuring 100 members from 30 different countries split into four groups, has been touring the world since its inception in 1924. For their performance at St. Paul’s United Methodist, the boys will do a program called “Silk Road,” featuring songs from countries such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China.

Oct. 30. brilliantentertainment.com

Accordion Virtuosi of Russia 

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Accordion Virtuosi of Russia

This isn’t your great-great-grandmother’s accordion show. Heading to Houston for the first time, the 30-member ensemble will play traditional tunes and classical compositions, but also rock ballads and pop hits. Founded during the siege of Leningrad in 1943, the group has been touring the world ever since. 

Nov. 14. spahouston.org

Homage to the Sun King

Lovers of French baroque masterworks can expect a night of stunning chamber music in honor of the 300th anniversary of Louis XIV’s death. And that’s not all. The Hobby Center will go full regalia with historical dress, instruments and dance steps taken directly from the ancien régime. On the program are Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s sparkling chamber opera Les arts florissants, along with royal motets and chamber works by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau and François Couperin.

Nov. 20. arslyricahouston.org

Britten: Saint Nicolas Cantata

Depicting the life of Saint Nicholas (in his pre-rosy cheeked Coca-Cola days), Britten’s dramatic work, performed by adult and children’s choirs and an orchestra, tells it like it really was for the jolly ol’ elf in 3rd-century Turkey, showcasing his faith, good deeds and enduring legacy. 

Dec. 5. houstonchamberchoir.org

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