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Baroque and beyond

Betting on the best this fall
By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  September 14, 2009

SIR SIMON RATTLE: He’ll be doing Brahms and Schoenberg with what’s arguably the world’s greatest orchestra.

Ten-best lists usually come at the end of the season, but this year the Phoenix has asked its critics to provide a calendar of 10 events that, at least on paper, might wind up on an end-of-season Top 10. Boston, in case you didn't know it, is a great city for classical music, so it's not easy to keep the list short. But here goes.

RUSSELL SHERMAN | September 24 | A Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at New England Conservatory, Sherman, who's now in his 70s, has become Boston's keyboard guru. Of course, those of you who've been following his playing for the past few decades have known this all along. He'll be playing Chopin's complete Préludes and Book II of Debussy's Préludes on NEC's brand new Steinway. You can't argue with the program — or with the ticket price, since this event is free. | Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St, Boston | 617.585.1100 or

BOSTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA | October 8, 10, 11 | BPO founder and conductor Benjamin Zander is such an insightful performer, his pre-concert talks are almost as popular as the concerts themselves. The BPO's opening program offers the Boston debut of young Chinese violin virtuoso Feng Ning in the Brahms Violin Concerto, and then Dvorák's Seventh Symphony, which I think is his best. | Jordan Hall, Boston [October 10] | Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St, Cambridge [October 8 + 11] | $15-$78 | 617.236.0999 or

HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY | October 9, 11 | Founded in 1815, H&H begins its 2009–2010 season under a new artistic director, Harry Christophers. But the opening concert has Jean-Christophe Spinosi conducting a major international star, rich-voiced countertenor Andreas Scholl, in arias by Handel and Vivaldi plus Vivaldi's Stabat Mater. | Symphony Hall, 301 Mass Ave, Boston | $25–$87 | 617.262.1815 or

BOSTON BAROQUE | October 16-17 | I loved soprano Ava Pine in the Boston Baroque performance of Handel's Xerxes last season, and she's back with BB as a lovesick sorceress in an even rarer and more intimate Handel opera, Amadigi di Gaula. Music director Martin Perlman conducts the period-instrument orchestra; the semi-staging is by Paul Peers. | Jordan Hall, Boston | $25–$73 | 617.484.9200 or

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA IN BEETHOVEN | October 22-24 | Our own great orchestra, the BSO, will be back for its 129th season, the heart of which is its first complete survey of all nine Beethoven symphonies. James Levine's Beethoven performances have given new life to the old warhorses. The first concert in the series offers the delightful first two and then the most famous symphony ever written, No. 5 in C minor. Will Fate be knocking on your door? | Symphony Hall, Boston | $29–$105 | 617.266.1492 or

EWA PODLES: The phenomenal Polish coloratura contralto comes to Boston for Opera Boston’s Tancredi.

OPERA BOSTON INTANCREDI | October 23, 25, 27 | The little company that could, Opera Boston, is now presenting the most exciting opera programs in town. This season opens with a real rarity, Rossini's exciting bel canto historical melodrama, Tancredi, with the Boston stage debut of the phenomenal Polish coloratura contralto (!) Ewa Podles in the hair-raising title role, one of her specialties. Boston favorites Amanda Forsythe and Yeghishe Manucharyan are the other principals; Gil Rose conducts. | Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont St, Boston | $71–$184 |617.451.3388 or

EMMANUEL MUSIC | October 25, November 14 | Don't be a sissy! The season's most challenging programming is Emmanuel Music's series of works by two of the greatest composers who wouldn't win a popularity contest: Haydn and Schoenberg. The chamber series begins on October 25 with a program of serenades; the biggest event in the series, called "Inventing Genesis" (November 14), includes Schoenberg's Prelude Opus 44 ("Prelude to the Bible," from his Genesis Suite) and Haydn's irresistible choral masterpiece The Creation, with a stellar vocal cast conducted by John Harbison. | Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St, Boston | $10-$125 | 617.356.3356 or

CANTATA SINGERS | November 6 | No music group in Boston has done more serious surveys of individual composers than the Cantata Singers in their recent seasons. This year, they're focusing on the greatest German composer before Bach, Heinrich Schütz. The opening program comprises Schütz's magisterial Musikalische Exequien, Bach's heavenly Cantata No. 8 (Liebster Gott), the Totentanz of Hugo Distler (a 34-year-old German composer who committed suicide in 1942), and Schoenberg's sublime choral prayer for peace, Friede auf Erden. I've never heard anyone lead more moving performances of the Schoenberg than music director David Hoose. | Jordan Hall, Boston | $17-$52 | 617.868.5885 or

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Related: Contertizing, Schnozzola!, A little history, More more >
  Topics: Classical , Entertainment, Music, Gil Rose,  More more >
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    Ten-best lists usually come at the end of the season, but this year the Phoenix has asked its critics to provide a calendar of 10 events that, at least on paper, might wind up on an end-of-season Top 10. Boston, in case you didn't know it, is a great city for classical music, so it's not easy to keep the list short. But here goes.
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