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The Toledo Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is loading up on star power for its upcoming season, emphasizing the importance of women to classical and Broadway music.
Titled “Listen Up,” the roster for the orchestra’s 74th season was announced recently by symphony President Zak Vassar. He said the 2017-18 schedule is designed to make Toledo do exactly that. In addition to the symphony’s traditional seasonal packages, several female superstars will be featured in a season long salute to the contributions of women in the world of music.
“We have this new set of concerts that we’re calling Spotlight Events, and we’re kicking it off June 7, 2017 with Grammy Award winner Renée Fleming, one of the finest singers performing right now,” an enthusiastic Vassar said. “She’s at the top of her game really. She has never sung with the symphony here. … I would categorize her as royalty of classical music.”
Another operatic stalwart heading to Toledo is Grammy Award winner Kathleen Battle, once a dominant figure on the opera scene, who launched a successful comeback last fall. “About 22 years ago, Kathleen Battle had a famous fallout with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and all of the opera houses fell in step with the Met in [refusing to hire] her,” Vassar said of an artist known for being temperamental. “That means an entire generation of music fans really has not had a chance to hear her voice. I was fortunate enough to hear her return to the Met on November 13, 2016 and was astonished at the breadth of her range, which is just as stunning as it always was.” Battle is set to perform on March 16, 2018, and take listeners on a journey through music of the Underground Railroad.
Grammy Award and six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald joins the symphony on November 4, 2017 pairing works from her solo CDs with songs from her Tony Award winning roles in shows such as Ragtime, Porgy & Bess, and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Audiences can also expect to hear the dynamic folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls perform at the Stranahan Theater on June 1, 2018, while Leslie Odom, Jr., who won the most recent Best Actor in a Musical Tony for Hamilton, will bring songs from that show and other highlights to town on October 21, 2018. You’ll know Odom’s voice even if you haven’t seen Hamilton. The Nationwide Insurance commercials in which he sings the jingle in a studio have become ubiquitous.
If you favor meat and potatoes music over celebrity garnish, there will be plenty on tap. The symphony will continue its various concert series designed to reach a diverse listening community in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
On the Classics series, nine concerts will cover the map of musical history. It opens with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in September. October features the world premier of Lowell Liebermann’s new Cello Concerto and Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 10. November is Dvorák’s New World Symphony and the Brahm’s Violin Concerto with Rachel Barton Pine.
The turn of the year brings a series of monster orchestral works: Brahm’s Second Symphony, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and Mahler’s Titan Symphony to name a few. Then, to balance, in April arrives an evening devoted to the classical music of Duke Ellington and works inspired by jazz.
The KeyBank Pops Series brings five novel concerts aimed at the lighter side of listening. In September, a concert of music devoted to football fans bears the moniker Ohio State v. Michigan. Leslie Odom, Jr.’s evening of Broadway and jazz hits in October will be followed by vocalist Storm Large’s The Crazy Arc of Love for February 17, 2018.
The music of David Bowie rocks the house in April, and Conor Bogart closes the set in May with pop favorites in Oh, What a Night!
The Franciscan Center at Lourdes University still plays host to the Welltower Mozart and More Series, but the concerts will be on Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. (October, November, and February and March of 2018). Titled A Festival of 88, the concerts, being held in memory of Dorothy MacKenzie Price, will survey eight of Mozart’s best-loved piano concerti. It will be the symphony’s first afternoon series, a direct response to older concert-goers who don’t like to drive at night.
The Andersons’ Family Series continues its annual tradition with the Hallowe’en Spooktacular on October 29, 2017, and Christmas at the Peristyle on December 2, 2017. A Showcase of Young Talent will be added featuring the winners of the Toledo Symphony League’s Young Artist Competition on February 11, 2018.
The Blade Chamber Series on Sunday evenings at the Toledo Club offers an intimate look at music-making with an assortment of works for smaller ensembles. On offer next season are Bach’s Goldberg Variations on September 10, 2017, Mozart and Dvorák on November 5, 2017, Schubert String Quartet on January 7, 2018, Romance and Spirituals on March 11, 2018, and Brahms’ Piano Quintet on April 29, 2018.
Special holiday events happen the weekend of December 2, 2107 with Christmas at the Peristyle and Handel’s Messiah.
Finally, in a celebration exploring the African-American musical journey from the 1850s to the 1960s, the symphony is bringing together Toledo’s various cultural organizations in their North Star Festival. The event is a series of four concerts in March and April. Kathleen Battle sings music celebrating the Underground Railroad on March 16, 2018. Romance and Spirituals is a concert at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library on March 11, 2018.
In collaboration with The Toledo Opera, there will also be a staging of Douglas Tappin’s I Dream, a rhythm and blues opera on the life and vision of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 7, 2018. Classical Duke Ellington will sample the music of the jazz great with his version of The Nutcracker and his tone poem Harlem on April 20-21, 2018.
“The North Star Festival ranges from small intimate concerts to an entire opera,” Vassar said. “Through these performance we intend to have a serious, immersive view of African-American music from the 1800s through jazz and the Civil Rights movement. It’s a question we’ve never asked as an orchestra: What happened after the spiritual?” Season will also overall salute to contributions of women in music. —by Wayne F. Anthony, Toledo Blade, with edits/corrections by Under The Duvet Productions.