James M. Keller pre­views the up­com­ing mu­si­cal sea­son

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At this time of year, Santa Feans train their eyes on the hill­sides of the San­gre de Cristo range to spy the golden tones that mark the fi­nale of the as­pens’ an­nual cy­cle. At the same time, ears are tuned to the sounds of re­birth, as en­sem­bles and pre­sen­ters launch the fall-to-spring con­cert sea­son aimed at lo­cal lis­ten­ers rather than the mi­grat­ing masses of sum­mer.

The Los Alamos Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion (LACA) takes the plunge into its 70th sea­son this week. It be­gan pre­sent­ing tour­ing mu­si­cians in the 1946-1947 sea­son, a year af­ter the town made its most ex­plo­sive mark in history and many of its res­i­dent sci­en­tists and their fam­i­lies were set­tling into a more nor­mal­ized ex­is­tence, or at least one that was in­fused with less ur­gency than dur­ing the World War II years. The or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­sented three “acts” in each of its first four sea­sons, and brows­ing through the per­form­ing ros­ter of those early years, which cu­ri­ous mu­sic lovers can do at LACA’s web­site, of­fers time-capsule rec­ol­lec­tions of such stars as vi­o­list Wil­liam Prim­rose, mezzo-so­prano Martha Lip­ton, harpist Mil­dred Dilling, and the Trapp Fam­ily Singers. In the 1950s, of­fer­ings were ex­panded to four per year. (Re­mem­ber the Longines Sym­phonette, fea­tured in 1952-1953, or the Hol­ly­wood String Quar­tet, from 1958-1959, in which con­duc­tor Leonard Slatkin’s par­ents, Felix and Eleanor, played vi­o­lin and cello?) They in­creased to five an­nual per­for­mances in the mid-’60s, a quan­tity that main­tains to this day.

The con­certs, which take place in the lo­cal high school au­di­to­rium, seem very much com­mu­nity af­fairs, but a 45-minute trip from here to there hardly seems un­war­ranted when lead­ing mu­si­cal lights are at the other end — although the moun­tain­ous drive home in the dark may not be ap­peal­ing, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter months. Then, too, LACA of­ten presents mu­si­cians who con­cer­tize fre­quently in Santa Fe, which makes their draw gen­er­ally less force­ful.

This year, how­ever, LACA has put to­gether its most promis­ing sea­son in re­cent mem­ory, with each of its five con­certs seem­ing full of po­ten­tial. First off the block is pi­anist Sean Chen, a bright lad who grew up near Los An­ge­les; had to sort through in­vi­ta­tions from Har­vard, MIT, and Juil­liard when he reached col­lege age (he de­cided on the last); and went on to win the third place at the Van Cliburn In­ter­na­tional Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion in 2013, the first Amer­i­can to medal at that qua­dren­nial event since 1997. Chen’s tech­ni­cal fa­cil­ity is at the high level such achieve­ment re­quires, but he also ex­udes per­sonal and mu­si­cal charisma that en­hances his con­nec­tion with his au­di­ences. On Fri­day evening, Sept. 25, he’ll be pre­sent­ing vir­tu­osic works by com­posers who were also no­table pi­anists: a lit­tle-vis­ited suite by Niko­lai Medt­ner, études by Chopin and De­bussy, Ravel’s Sona­tine, and Rach­mani­noff’s Sonata No. 2.

The Amer­i­can who pre­ceded Chen to the Cliburn medal cer­e­mony in 1997 was Jon Nakamatsu, who, in a pleas­ing act of sym­me­try, will ap­pear in the sea­son’s clos­ing con­cert, on April 17. Nakamatsu is no stranger to mu­sic lovers here­abouts, hav­ing ap­peared most re­cently in sev­eral con­certs of this past sum­mer’s Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val. He seems to me more dis­tinc­tive as a cham­ber player than as a solo recital­ist, and it is in the for­mer role that he will ap­pear in Los Alamos, as half of the long­stand­ing duo he has formed with clar­inetist Jon Manasse.

In be­tween come an or­ches­tra, a vo­cal ensem­ble, and a string quar­tet. The Ir­ish Cham­ber Or­ches­tra, on the slate for Nov. 7, will ex­ert spe­cial ap­peal on Hiber­ni­ans and Hun­gar­i­ans. Based in Lim­er­ick on the Emer­ald Isle, it is con­ducted by Gá­bor Tákacs-Nagy

and will spotlight cello soloist István Vár­dai, both of whom are prod­ucts of the Franz Liszt Academy in Bu­dapest. On the bill are two cello con­cer­tos, by Haydn and C.P.E. Bach, in ad­di­tion to Haydn’s Sym­phony No. 49 (La pas­sione) and Bartók’s Diver­ti­mento for String Or­ches­tra. A Hun­gar­ian touch should prove en­rich­ing in Bartók, but it should also be apro­pos in Haydn; when he wrote La pas­sione, in 1768, the Ester­házy Court (which em­ployed him) was mov­ing its prin­ci­pal ac­tiv­i­ties from the en­vi­rons of Vi­enna to its newly ren­o­vated palace in Ester­háza, within Hun­gar­ian borders.

The 12-mem­ber men’s vo­cal ensem­ble Chan­ti­cleer trav­els down from its roost in the Bay Area on Jan. 24 with a pro­gram that is not yet an­nounced. On March 11, the stage will be the do­main of the Dover String Quar­tet, an ad­mirable young ensem­ble that puts a strong em­pha­sis on tonal el­e­gance. The four­some, which in 2013-2014 was the first-ever quar­tet-in­res­i­dence at the Curtis In­sti­tute in Philadelphia, will play a piece by David Lud­wig (of the Curtis faulty), as well as Mozart’s Quar­tet in B-flat ma­jor (K. 458, nick­named the Hunt thanks to its open­ing theme, which evokes a horn call) and Beethoven’s Quar­tet in F ma­jor (Op. 59, No. 1, the first of his Razu­movsky set). At least the Dover’s recital should be a must on mu­sic lovers’ “to do” lists.

On the home front, the San Miguel Chapel con­certs, which be­gan in some­what ten­ta­tive fash­ion last sea­son, are re­ally tak­ing off this year, with 19 con­certs planned from now through July. These are self-pro­duced con­certs by a va­ri­ety of per­form­ers who seized the op­por­tu­nity to per­form in a his­toric venue with very good acous­tics, no am­pli­fi­ca­tion (hal­lelu­jah!), and a ca­pac­ity of 142 seats. The rental fee is mod­est, and so, in a way, are the ameni­ties; lava­to­ries, for ex­am­ple, are in the pizza res­tau­rant next door. Last year, an evening in the pews could prove pen­i­ten­tial, but they have now been re­fur­bished with cush­ioned seats, which should be a marked im­prove­ment. The con­certs be­gin on Satur­day, s go-to clas­si­cal gui­tarist, who will re­turn on March 12 with a pro­gram of mod­ern guitar works. Other clas­si­cal high­lights in­clude Baroque con­certs in­volv­ing the ac­claimed vi­ola da gam­bist Mary Springfels with in­ter­na­tion­ally noted col­leagues, in­clud­ing (among oth­ers) vi­o­lin­ist El­iz­a­beth Blu­men­stock on Oct. 23 and April 8 and coun­tertenor Drew Min­ter on Nov. 19.

Also kick­ing off a new sea­son this week­end is the Santa Fe Sym­phony. Its open­ing pro­gram is cus­tom­ar­ily billed as a “Show­case of the Stars” and fea­tures not one but two con­certo soloists, in this case vi­o­lin­ist Itamar Zor­man and pi­anist Olga Kern (another Cliburn medal­ist, be­ing one of two re­cip­i­ents of the first prize in 2001). Of greater longterm in­ter­est, how­ever, is that it is the first of two Sym­phony con­certs this sea­son that will be led by Guillermo Figueroa. Since the 2013-2014 sea­son, the or­ches­tra has been en­gaged in a search for its next prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor, and it has now an­nounced that of the nu­mer­ous con­tenders who have graced its podium since then, it has nar­rowed its list of fi­nal­ists to four, three of whom will be pay­ing re­turn vis­its this sea­son: Figueroa (on Sun­day, Sept. 27, and Feb. 14), Ryan McA­dams (Jan. 17 and May 14 and 15), and Oriol Sans (March 20). (The May 14 and 15 con­certs are two go-rounds of an all-Beethoven pro­gram in which Sean Chen will be the un­der­used soloist in the Choral Fan­tasy.) The fourth fi­nal­ist is James Fed­deck, whose au­di­tion­ing ex­tended across two am­bi­tious con­certs in 2013-2014 (Bruck­ner’s Fourth Sym­phony) and 2014-2015 (Verdi’s Re­quiem). From a lis­tener’s point of view, this seems an ap­pro­pri­ate win­now­ing, although I re­gret that sched­ul­ing con­flicts pre­vented my at­tend­ing Sans’ ap­pear­ances lead­ing the group and that I must there­fore ac­cept his in­clu­sion among the fi­nal­ists as a mat­ter of faith.

Sev­eral can­di­dates the Sym­phony in­cluded on its orig­i­nal list dropped by the way­side and never ap­peared, pos­si­bly be­cause book­ing sched­ules just didn’t work out, pos­si­bly be­cause their ca­reers headed in di­rec­tions the Sym­phony found in­com­pat­i­ble with its needs. It would seem ob­vi­ous that all the fi­nal­ists gen­er­ated good rap­port with the play­ers and

On the home front, the San Miguel Chapel con­certs, which be­gan in some­what ten­ta­tive fash­ion last sea­son, are re­ally tak­ing off this year.

the ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is sure to play a ma­jor role in the se­lec­tion. Figueroa is cer­tainly the most known quan­tity here­abouts, since he was mu­sic di­rec­tor of the New Mexico Sym­phony Or­ches­tra for 11 years un­til its demise in 2011. He will al­ready be a col­league and most likely a friend of many of the or­ches­tra’s play­ers, which means that he could hit the ground run­ning. The Sym­phony must be pon­der­ing the fact that Figueroa is sixty-two years old and is there­fore closer to the end of his ca­reer than to its be­gin­ning. With age comes ex­pe­ri­ence, to be sure, and the Sym­phony will need to weigh that in the bal­ance when de­cid­ing who is to lead the group into its fu­ture.

The other can­di­dates are con­sid­er­ably younger. Fed­deck, who will turn thirty-two in Novem­ber, would seem to be the far­thest along in his ca­reer. He was awarded the pres­ti­gious Sir Ge­org Solti Con­duct­ing Award in 2013 and this sea­son has a full plate of guest-con­duct­ing en­gage­ments in the United States, Canada, and Europe, in­clud­ing his sub­scrip­tion de­but with the Chicago Sym­phony. He seems to be on ev­ery or­ches­tra’s back-up list, and in the past cou­ple of sea­sons he has filled in for con­duc­tor can­cel­la­tions at the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony, Helsinki Phil­har­monic, Royal Scot­tish Na­tional Or­ches­tra, Res­i­den­tie Or­ches­tra (the Hague), and Hallé Or­ches­tra (Manch­ester). I am frankly sur­prised that he has not been plucked for a mu­sic di­rec­tor­ship so far; and yet, the Sym­phony will prob­a­bly be won­der­ing how long he would stay if they did se­cure his ser­vices.

McA­dams is thirty-three, and in 2010 he was given the Sir Ge­org Solti Emerg­ing Con­duc­tor Award, which is a sec­ond-tier award com­pared with what Fed­deck re­ceived. He, too, has a ré­sumé full of ad­mirable book­ings, if gen­er­ally on a less starry level, and last sea­son led quite a lot of opera in staged or con­cert per­for­mances with the Or­ches­tra Sin­fon­ica Nazionale della RAI, Teatro Re­gio Torino, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and Word­less Mu­sic Or­ches­tra. The last of these un­der­scores his deep in­volve­ment in con­tem­po­rary mu­sic, which he is down­play­ing in his ap­pear­ances here — the most re­cent score he’ll con­duct is Shostakovich’s Fifth Sym­phony, com­ing up in March — but may prove sig­nif­i­cant as the or­ches­tra con­sid­ers it fu­ture. Sans, who I would guess to be in his mid-thir­ties, has not yet ad­vanced as far on his pro­fes­sional path. Much of his ré­sumé re­volves around the Univer­sity of Michigan, where he earned a doc­tor­ate in con­duct­ing four years ago. In re­cent sea­sons, he over­saw we­b­casts for the Detroit Sym­phony, but his guest con­duct­ing en­gage­ments are few and far be­tween. Still, past per­for­mance is not an in­di­ca­tor of fu­ture re­sults (as the in­vest­ment folks re­mind us), and it may be that he pro­vides an at­trac­tive fit in the bal­ance of mu­si­cian­ship and bud­get. The Sym­phony will have some in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing to do by the time this sea­son is over, and we will all be ea­ger to hear what news it has nine months from now.

Sean Chen ex­udes per­sonal and mu­si­cal charisma that en­hances his con­nec­tion with his au­di­ences.

Sean Chen

James Fed­deck

Ryan McA­dams

Olga Kern

Itamar Zor­man

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