The musical bridge to the 21st century looks like a fun ride, covering lots of ever-welcome, evergreen terrain, but also including enough off-the-beaten-path curves to give a touch of adventure to the journey.
The 2000-2001 lineup provides a particularly strong retort to anyone who may have picked up the notion that Baltimore's cultural life is confined to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Lyric Opera House. Naturally, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Opera Company will continue their dominant role in that life, but the scene is ripe with other noteworthy organizations that have a lot of rich music to offer, from a glorious Mass by Schubert presented by the Concert Artists of Baltimore to a pared-down production of Debussy's haunting "Pelleas and Melisande" by Opera Vivente.
As for the BSO, this will be Yuri Temirkanov's first full season as music director, giving musicians and audiences alike a good opportunity to take the measure of the man and his leadership. His effort to boost the orchestra's Russian repertoire will include such enticing items as Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta," the composer's last and absurdly under-appreciated opera, and Prokofiev's stirring film music for Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible." Temirkanov's choices for the season also include symphonies by Brahms and Mahler and Mozart's "Requiem," which promise much in the way of insightful interpretations.
Skimming the schedule reveals many other orchestral attractions in the months ahead, among them: "A Peanuts Gallery," by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, one of America's most gifted composers (Baltimore Chamber Orchestra); Vaughan Williams' sumptuous "A Sea Symphony," based on Walt Whitman texts (Annapolis Symphony Orchestra); and Mahler's elegiac Symphony No. 9 (Peabody Symphony Orchestra).
It's a big milestone for Baltimore Opera - the 50th season - so nothing less than two truly grand operas would do: Verdi's "Aida" and Puccini's "Turandot." But note that the company will also produce two classics from the German repertoire, Humperdinck's charming "Hansel and Gretel" and Strauss' still-electrifying "Elektra" (with famed diva Renata Scotto singing the role of Klytamnestra for the first time). And don't forget Peabody Opera Theatre, which, among other things, will give us a rare production of Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Chamber music, too, will be in abundance, thanks to such groups as Pro Musica Rara, with its period-instrument performances, and the Shriver Hall Concert Series, which is presenting such stellar ensembles as the Emerson String Quartet and Kronos Quartet. Also on the Shriver series will be the superb voices of the Tallis Scholars, complementing the remarkable amount of home-grown choral activity that has long been part of the Baltimore experience. This season, vocal masterworks by Bach, Handel, Faure, Orff and others will spice up the calendar, thanks to such ensembles as the Choral Arts Society and Handel Choir.
From campuses to churches, the new-music season guarantees an earful of possibilities.