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5 Classical Music Faces to Watch This Season

Category: Entertainment,Music

The classical music season sprawls over centuries and the entire globe, a dizzying array of performances that manages to include both multimillion-dollar productions in front of 4,000 spectators at the Metropolitan Opera and intimate electronic experiments at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. A balanced cultural diet would include a bit of both, as well as generous helpings of the five artists featured here; we’re particularly looking forward to seeing what they’re up to in the months ahead. They’re musicians who unite virtuosic technique with boundless curiosity, creating new works and reshaping the way we hear old ones. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Julia Bullock

The word “luminous” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to singers, but the soprano Julia Bullock has earned it. Just listen to the way she sings, then repeats, then repeats once more, a simple question — “Am I in your light?” — in John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic,” capturing in just a few seconds a character’s love and loneliness. When she appeared as Kitty Oppenheimer in a new staging of that work this summer at Santa Fe Opera, Ms. Bullock brought new complexity to the role: flintiness, obsession, intelligence, sensuality. She took nothing about the part for granted, just as she and the composer Tyshawn Sorey took nothing about Josephine Baker for granted in their pensive evening-length reinterpretation of Baker songs, a work still in progress. It will be among the offerings in Ms. Bullock’s residency this season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an exciting showcase for an artist who unites vocal glamour and deep thoughtfulness. She’ll also appear in a chamber version of Mr. Adams’s Nativity oratorio “El Niño,” and in a program of Langston Hughes poems set to music. The residency culminates in a rare revival of Hans Werner Henze’s “El Cimarrón” (“The Runaway Slave”) for baritone and small ensemble — Ms. Bullock will presumably be watching from the audience — based on the story of an escaped Afro-Cuban slave. In June she stars alongside Davóne Tines in Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” based on Charles Blow’s memoir, at Opera Theater of St. Louis. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Conrad Tao made a humble Lincoln Center debut with a piano recital one Sunday morning last December, in front of a white-haired audience sipping coffee. But there was nothing sleepy about his performance: adventurous, agile and often electrifying as he navigated works both contemporary and classical. This season, the 24-year-old polymath is back, now as a composer with a much larger platform: the New York Philharmonic. In recent years, Mr. Tao has caught the attention and admiration of Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s new music director, who invited Mr. Tao to write a new work for the orchestra. The piece, “Everything Must Go,” has its premiere on Sept. 27 and is intended as a curtain-raiser for Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Mr. Tao will also perform at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse for the inaugural program of Nightcap, an afterparty-like Philharmonic initiative created with the violist and new-music specialist Nadia Sirota. And that’s not all: Mr. Tao will be busy with the score for “More Forever,” a new evening-length dance work Caleb Teicher is choreographing for his company. The Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series will host a preview in October, ahead of the dance’s premiere at the museum in January. JOSHUA BARONE

Ashley Fure

Ashley Fure’s recent work about climate change wasn’t exactly about climate change. “The Force of Things,” which she called an “opera for objects,” was more precisely about the emotional impact, the permeating anxiety, of a mounting ecological crisis whose impact is simultaneously omnipresent and imperceptible. Singers whispered ominously in a language we in the audience couldn’t quite understand. Subwoofers made sounds too low-frequency for us to hear, but the waves they produced had material — and, indeed, musical — effect. Glacial and scary, the piece conjured the internal and external world in which we now live with far more acuteness than more overtly “political” compositions I’ve heard. Given its New York premiere this summer by Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, it was work of impressive subtlety and confidence. The New York Philharmonic clearly has confidence in Ms. Fure, too: It’s giving her its biggest stage, the opening slot on its season-beginning gala program, Jaap van Zweden’s first as the orchestra’s music director, on Sept. 20. Immersive and hall-filling, the piece, “Filament,” features adventurous musicians — Rebekah Heller, Brandon Lopez, Nate Wooley, Constellation Chor — who are not, to say the least, Philharmonic regulars. It’s clearly meant to be a loud signal that a new era is beginning at Geffen Hall. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Nico Muhly

Contemporary music is a rarity at the Metropolitan Opera, which didn’t stage John Adams’s “Nixon in China” — one of modern opera’s undisputed masterpieces — until more than 20 years after its premiere. Yet twice within the past five years, the company has presented new works by Nico Muhly, a wunderkind-turned-war horse. His first major opera, “Two Boys,” which ran at the Met in 2013, featured a fine, if unlikely, entry into the canon of great opera choruses: “U There? / Who Is This?,” which radiantly evoked the frenetic energy of internet chat rooms and the excitement that comes with first speaking to a stranger online. Behind this luminous music, however, was a dark story of catfishing and violent crime. The tone is not terribly brighter for Mr. Muhly’s follow-up, “Marnie,” which has its American premiere at the Met in October. (This isn’t his only premiere in store for the coming season: The Tallis Scholars will perform a new work of his at the Miller Theater in December, and Trinity Wall Street is scheduled for another in February.) Adapted from Winston Graham’s 1961 novel, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film, “Marnie” tells the story of an elusive young woman prone to theft and changing identities. With there be any groundbreaking choral moments here, too? Mr. Muhly offered a glimpse in an interview with The New York Times last year: “They can function as real people — in the office, at the pub, at the country club. But they can also switch into a psychologically oppressive force.” JOSHUA BARONE

At 11, an age when many student violinists are still toiling through elementary études, Hilary Hahn made her debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Performances with some of the great American orchestras — in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland — followed. So did her first album: At 17, she recorded three of Bach’s solo violin works, including the Second Partita and its infamous Chaconne, an audacious choice for a young artist. Her interpretations were clear and declarative, and utterly convincing. As if that weren’t enough of a statement, she also contributed liner notes to the album, which was a hit for Sony. In a 2002 interview with The Times, she was asked whether she would ever return with the remaining Bach solo works. “I don’t have any plans for them at the moment, because I like to still have them ahead of me for a while, something to look forward to,” she said. Well, 16 years later — and just over two decades since that debut was released — Ms. Hahn has finished the job. “Hilary Hahn Plays Bach: Sonatas 1 & 2, Partita 1” is out Oct. 5 on the Decca label, and her calendar for the coming season is a victory lap of Bach recitals around the world, including a stop in New York during Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival on Oct. 23. JOSHUA BARONE

Zachary Woolfe has been the classical music editor since 2015. He was previously the opera critic of the New York Observer. @zwoolfe


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