Almost every year, the Shriver Hall Concert Series presents an exceptional roster of artists, but the 2008-2009 roster looks even starrier than usual.
The 80th birthday (it's in July) of nearly legendary pianist Leon Fleisher will be celebrated in several places and several ways next season. One of the most festive may well be at Shriver Hall on Oct. 5, when he'll collaborate in four-hand music with three former students - his gifted wife, Katherine Jacobson, playing Ravel; the formidable Yefim Bronfman, playing Dvorak; and one of best younger-generation pianists, Jonathan Biss, playing Schubert.
That nonsubscription event will be followed by an eight-concert series that boasts the return in February of celebrated pianist Radu Lupu after an absence of 30 years. His program includes works by Beethoven and Schumann. Sensational contralto Ewa Podles, who raised the Shriver roof in her 2004 series debut, will also be back, accompanied by the eloquent, front-rank pianist Garrick Ohlsson in October. Music by Chopin and Russian composers will be featured.
Chamber music ensembles include the distinguished Guarneri String Quartet, paying a visit on its farewell concert tour after 45 years; the Ritz Chamber Players, a showcase for some of the finest African-American musicians, joined by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Jonathan Carney; and the excellent Brentano String Quartet with notable pianist Peter Serkin.
Ingrid Fliter, who received the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award, one of the major honors for pianists today, will make her Shriver debut. So will Emmanuel Pahud, principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic, in a recital with Trevor Pinnock, best known for his early music explorations, at the piano. And eloquent tenor Ian Bostridge, who had to cancel his Shriver debut last season, is slated to make up that date in April 2009 with an all-Schubert program, accompanied by pianist Julius Drake.
Shriver Hall will again present a free "Discovery Series" at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Classical artists include harpsichordist Richard Egarr in a performance of Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (November); pianist Michael Berkovsky, winner of the 2008 Yale Gordon Competition at the Peabody Conservatory, playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff (March 2009); and teenage clarinetist Julian Bliss, who made a sensational BSO debut a couple years ago (May 2009).
Rounding out the Discovery Series will be rising world-music star Lura, from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, west of Senegal, in October.
For more information on the new season, call 410-516-7164.
Shriver Hall was certainly the place to be Sunday night, when brilliant French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard made his Baltimore debut in a demanding recital built around the principle of counterpoint.
Aimard devoted the first half of the program to the first 11 items from Bach's The Art of Fugue, a pinnacle of contrapuntal thinking. Although he kept the music in front of him (only a Beethoven sonata later in the evening was played from memory), the pianist clearly had the notes under firm command, allowing him to elucidate the increasingly complex, adventurous paths of each fugue with great clarity and character.
The experience of hearing such incisive, eventful Bach made the subsequent exploration of Schoenberg's atonal Klavierstucke, Op. 23, all the more lucid. That was clearly Aimard's intent, and he made the complex flashes of counterpoint sound powerfully logical and communicative.
This penetrating musicianship extended to Beethoven's Sonata No. 31, Op. 110. The playing was dry-eyed, but not coolly cerebral, with drama and lyricism in equal measure. The giant fugue in the finale, of course, brought the program full circle to compelling effect.
Aimard's first encore was, if anything, more impressive, as he tore through a technically thorny, deliciously dissonant, thoroughly winning Catenaires, a perpetual motion toccata written for him recently by Elliott Carter, who turns 100 this year.