Great performances

 

World-class pianists, stunning strings and major tenors make for a fine classical music season. Critic Lawrence A. Johnson picks the plums.

Nicola Benedetti
Violinist Nicola Benedetti performs at the Broward Center January 21. Photo: Simon Fowler
 

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The South Florida scheduling gods must be piano lovers, for the 2007-2008 season is remarkably rich in world-class keyboard artists from across the various organizations: Murray Perahia, Lang Lang, Piotr Anderszewski, Yundi Li, Stephen Hough, Yefim Bronfman, Radu Lupu, the Labeque Sisters, André Watts, Garrick Ohlsson, Denis Matusev, Simone Dinnerstein, Christian Zacharias and Yakov Kasman. Add the biennial Dranoff Two-Piano Competition, the Miami International Piano Festival, and the 30th anniversary of the Chopin Foundation, and a bounteous keyboard cornucopia is in the offing.

Not that string musicians will be neglected. In addition to those mentioned above, visiting players include violinists Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lara St. John, Nicola Benedetti and Elmar Oliveira, and cellists Nina Kotova and Laurence Lesser.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony mark their 20th anniversary with a somewhat conservative season in comparison to the standard-setting programming over the past two decades. But, as always, it has a stellar lineup of guest conductors and soloists, including violinists Gil Shaham, Christian Tetzlaff and James Ehnes, as well as pianists Stephen Hough and Peter Serkin.

This fall will be the first Concert Association of Florida season in 40 years without colorful, high-profile founder and former president Judy Drucker at the helm (Drucker recently took a job as senior artistic advisor with the Florida Grand Opera). The schedule is her creation, however, and boasts an array of first-rate visiting artists and orchestras.

Due to unforeseen operational costs at the Arsht Center, says general director Robert M. Heuer, Florida Grand Opera has retooled its planned schedule for a second year in the Ziff Ballet Opera House that is heavy on well-known works. Still, this season will revive Bizet's melodious but rarely heard The Pearl Fishers (Jan. 26-Feb. 16) and offers promising casts in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte (Nov. 17-Dec. 15) and Handel's Giulio Cesare (Apr. 26-May 17).

The second year of the Cleveland Orchestra's Miami residency will be highlighted by two starry guest soloists, pianist Radu Lupu (Feb. 1-2) and violinist Midori (March 28-29).

Plus there will be more fascinating programs by Seraphic Fire; the Miami Lyric Opera continues to make great strides, and there's chamber and instrumental events aplenty courtesy of Friends of Chamber Music of Miami and Sunday Afternoons of Music.

Lawrence A. Johnson is The Miami Herald's classical music critic.

BEST BETS

* ON (SERAPHIC) FIRE: Artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley and Seraphic Fire will serve up their usual array of smart, envelope-pushing programs. Among the best bets for Miami's chamber choir are the season-opening concert performances of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas Sept. 28-30. Also worth checking out: an enterprising evening of Jewish and Christian chants Jan. 10-13 (various venues).

* FAR EASTERN PIANISTS: The celebrated Lang Lang makes his Miami debut March 9, bringing his brand of uninhibited pyrotechnical flash to the Arsht Center. But it is another young Chinese pianist, also presented by the Concert Association of Florida, that is the event to catch. Yundi Li will perform a recital April 1, and though less acclaimed than his compatriot, Li, for many, is the more interesting and thoughtful artist.

* TENORS IN TOWN: The biggest vocal names will be heard not on the opera stage but in concert, with a decided tenorial emphasis. Placido Domingo is scheduled for the BankAtlantic Center on Jan. 4. And Sunday Afternoons of Music will bring Canadian Ben Heppner to Gusman Concert Hall on Jan. 20. Of Florida Grand Opera's season, the season-opener of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte appears to have the best chance for success with a worthy cast including Ana Maria Martinez, Rinat Shaham and Suzanne Mentzer.

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