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Mark Swed: 2021 classical music for L.A., O.C., San Diego


We’re back! We’re back?

You may have noticed, thanks to the lithium shortage, a dearth of semiconductor chips to power crystal balls, making them even scarcer and pricier than used cars. We’re on our own, folks.

We approach an uncertain fall season that, just a Delta-undaunted month or two ago, seemed hopeful and poised for celebration. Instead, regulations and recommendations seem to change daily. Cancellations — be they because of artist infections, fear of traveling or visa problems — remain an ongoing reality. As for indoor gatherings, who now knows?

This much, though, is certain: The equation for the foreseeable fall will be Music = Mask + Vax.

If the list below is weighted toward the major institutions, that is because many others haven’t had the means to finalize plans. Please don’t forget to look out for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Wallis, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, REDCAT, the Beckmen YOLA Center, the Broad Stage, Monday Evening Concerts, Piano Spheres, UCSB Arts & Lectures and the many new music organizations, chamber ensembles and mixed-media artists who make the Southland a happening scene.

In the meantime, reopening promisingly proceeds, so let our attention be an optimistic focus on the openings. On paper, they look like a new world dawning.

Sept. 1-4

Mark Grey’s “Birds of the Moon”

The composer and brilliant sound technician Mark Grey has proved especially invigorating and thought-provoking in music theater, most recently and originally in “Frankenstein,” written for the venturesome La Monnaie in Brussels. His latest is a “mobile opera,” quirkily looking at migration via a work written to travel and be performed in a shipping container. “Birds of the Moon” will have its West Coast premiere at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. $25-$75.

Sept. 14

“Yo-Yo Ma: The Bach Project”

Four years ago, Yo-Yo Ma made the astonishing discovery that he could play the full set of Bach’s six profoundly intimate and interior cello suites straight through in the Hollywood Bowl where distraction tends to be unavoidable. Yet, some 17,000 of us stayed put for close to three hours and listened with an arresting intensity that became downright contagious. Ma has since repeated that feat all over the world and brings it back to the Bowl at a time when we desperately need to be reminded that not all contagion is to be avoided. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. $16-$171.

Rhiannon Giddens

Americana musician Rhiannon Giddens will perform at the Ojai Music Festival.

(Rick Loomis/For The Times)

Sept. 16-19

Ojai Music Festival

The outdoors Ojai festival, three-quarters of a century young and relevant, has been moved past its usual early June weekend to contend with the coronavirus. John Adams is this year’s music director. His focus is on young composers and performers. Among them are the illuminating stellar Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólafsson and the genre-fluid star Rhiannon Giddens. Libbey Bowl, 210 S. Signal St., Ojai, and other venues. $20-$150 per show; festival passes are $75-$950.

A scene from Francisco Negrin's production of "Il Trovatore," shown in a performance from the Opera de Monte Carlo.

A scene from Francisco Negrin’s production of “Il Trovatore,” shown in a performance from the Opera de Monte Carlo.

(Alain Hanel)

Sept. 18-Oct. 10

Los Angeles Opera performs “Il Trovatore”

Although it’s one of Verdi’s best-known operas, “Il Trovatore” is hardly his most performed. Get it right, and it is pure operatic fire. Get it wrong (as is far too common), and it becomes a guffaw-fest (as the Marx Brothers “A Night at the Opera” never ceases to prove). Clearly, Los Angeles Opera hopes to aim straight at an opera-starved audience’s gut with this season opener conducted by the company’s music director, James Conlon, an electrifying Verdian. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $19-$292.

Reena Esmail

Los Angeles composer Reena Esmail.

(Arnaud Pyvka)

Sept. 25-26

Los Angeles Master Chorale

No ensembles have struggled more mightily during the pandemic than choruses, as singers are inevitable spewers of the damnable coronavirus. The Los Angeles Master Chorale plans to return full-throated throttle to Walt Disney Concert Hall with a fantastically mixed program of short pieces given first as a tribute to teachers and then as a free concert for subscribers. Looking back and ahead for inspiration, the chorus’ versatile music director, Grant Gershon, begins with Medieval plainchant and reaches the present with Reena Esmail’s “Together at Last.” Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. Sept. 25: Teachers with ID are free. Sept. 26: subscribers are free. All others pay what you can.

Sept. 26

Piano Spheres’ “Catalogue d’oiseaux”

While the Broad Stage sends operatic birds to the moon with Mark Grey’s new opera, leave it to the ever-exploratory Piano Spheres to find meaning on the ground. Olivier Messiaen’s massive and fanciful catalog of bird song amplified into 13 ferociously inventive and virtuosic piano etudes will be played by 13 pianists at the source where bird watchers, piano aficionados and Messiaen’s feathered friends alike may gather. Audubon Center at Debs Park, 4700 Griffin Ave., L.A. $150.

Pianist Emanuel Ax

Pianist Emanuel Ax joins the Pacific Symphony for its opener.

(Los Angeles Times)

Sept. 30-Oct. 2

Pacific Symphony

Longtime music director Carl St.Clair has the estimable Emanuel Ax to help bring his orchestra back into his Costa Mesa hall with Mozart’s youthful Piano Concerto No. 17, along with Tchaikovsky’s achingly emotive Fifth Symphony. The program begins with the premiere of an orchestral version of Wayne Oquin’s ode to skyscrapers, “Tower Ascending,” written a dozen years ago for band. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $25-$209.

Oct. 8

San Diego Symphony

The San Diego Symphony will move outdoors this fall into its eye-catching new concert shell on the bay. The city’s got the weather to do it and the shell, which opened this month, has the latest bells and whistles. The orchestra’s vibrant music director, Rafael Payare, is a former L.A. Phil Dudamel Fellow who also will become music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. He has a bright opening program with Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G (Inon Barnatan is soloist) and Mahler’s First Symphony. Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 222 Marina Park Way, San Diego. $25-$108.

Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Phil

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil mark their return to Disney Hall in October.

(Los Angeles Times)

Oct. 14-17

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel opens the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s homecoming to Disney Hall more reflective and hopeful rather than pro forma celebratory with Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” and Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration.” Beyond that transfiguring, it’s an otherwise archetypal L.A. Phil fall. All the guest conductors are women: Susanna Mälkki, Nathalie Stutzmann, Simone Young and Xian Zhang. Fully 71% of the symphonic programs include the premiere of a new piece. Disney Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $91-$227.

A man raises his arms while a woman looks on

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary welcomes the installation “Sun & Sea.”

(Andrej Vasilenko)

Oct. 14-16

“Sun & Sea”

A highlight of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the environmentally themed “climate opera” installation by Ruglié Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte will transform the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary into a beach with at least 10 tons of sand. Yes, L.A. already has all the beach in the world and our globally warmed October can be counted on for continuing beach weather. But the 13 sun-bathing singers will have something to tell you that you’re not going to overhear from Santa Monica tourists. Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, downtown L.A. $20, $25.

Oct. 16

Pasadena Symphony

The 24-year-old violinist Randall Goosby, who made a splendid Hollywood Bowl debut this month, is a player with a superbly lyric tone and grace beyond his years. But the 18th century concerto he played by Joseph Boulogne is a slight work andgood as the sound system is, the Bowl is the Bowl, always leaving something to the acoustical imagination. Ambassador Auditorium will be the place to hear more when Goosby opens the Pasadena Symphony’s season as the soloist in the meaty Brahms Violin Concerto, conducted by Music Director David Lockington. Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. St. John Ave., Pasadena. $35-$130.

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen returns as director of conducting at the Colburn School.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Nov. 13

Colburn Orchestra

L.A. Phil’s conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will surely make news this fall as he opens his first real season as music director of the San Francisco Symphony and tries to transform the ensemble into a true 21st century orchestra. Besides his ongoing connection with the L.A. Phil, he’s also director of conducting at the Colburn School, and it’s with the Colburn Orchestra that we will encounter him this fall. He can be expected to make convincing sense of Bruckner’s intriguingly strange and neglected Symphony No. 6. The Soraya, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Free with reservation.


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