Summer Classical Music Picks

Craig Smith | - June 25, 2012

"Chamber music, opera, piano recitals, ballet and more are all part of Santa Fe's summer musical feast"

Trying to choose among Santa Fe’s summer classical music offerings is like being given a huge box of super-fine candy and told to pick just a few pieces. What to do? You could try the old challenge, “What would you pick if you only had one week (or whatever) to live?” But instead of such a depressing angle, why not think, “What would I be most loath to miss?” Here are some ideas.

The Santa Fe Desert Chorale has some amazing rep set for its 30th anniversary this summer. One concert is devoted to music ranging from Bach to the Beatles; there’s a special gig to celebrate New Mexico’s 100th anniversary as a state; a chamber concert of works set to Sufi poetry; and an Encore concert that melds favorites from all three.

But their August 16 performance of Rachmaninoff’s fabled “Vespers,” with 12 additional singers joining the Chorale’s regular 24, is really not to be missed. It should be ravishing in the expansive acoustics of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi – and it’s the kind of piece that should be on many a bucket list.

Interestingly, my top choice for a production at The Santa Fe Opera has a link with the Chorale: Karol Szymanowski’s monumental “King Roger,” in which the SFDC singers will join the opera’s brilliant apprentice artist singers in rendering the work’s huge choruses.

The story is grandly operatic on its own terms, and even more so given Szymanowski’s magnificent music. It’s about the moral conflict between giving in to one’s emotions (higher AND baser) or adhering to the rule of law set forth in religious teaching and community values. The two male lead singers are both charismatic dynamite: baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, and tenor William Burden as the itinerant Shepherd (hint: Dionysus) whose message throws Roger into turmoil.

Even though “Roger” is being done more and more these days, it’s still a rarity among major companies, and probably you’ll not have a chance to see it again in your lifetime. Besides, how often do you hear an opera sung in Polish?

Performance dates are July 21 and 25, and August 3, 9, and 14. Of course, don’t forget the rest of the season: Puccini’s thriller “Tosca,” Bizet’s exotic “The Pearl Fishers,” Rossini’s riveting “Maometto II,” and Richard Strauss’ luminescent “Arabella.”

Continuing the collaboration course, the Santa Fe Concert Association – which began presenting in the summer as well the September-through-May season last year – has four events set for July-August, and three of them are joint projects with the opera: the Festival of Song. Leah Crocetto sings July 22, Nicole Cabell is in recital July 29, and Luca Pisaroni takes stage August 5. All are in the historic Scottish Rite Center.

Exciting as those are, I’d give the nod to the Festival of Dance on July 25 and 26, when stars of the New York City Ballet perform solos and ensembles. The amazing dancer-choreographer Daniel Ulbricht assembled a superb cast of soloists and principals for a similar program last year, and this should be hair-raising in the best sense of the word. How could you not like true world-class dance in the comfort of the Lensic Performing Arts Center?

Another anniversary this summer belongs to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival – a full 40 years, but with only three artistic directors during that time: Alicia Schachter, Heiichiro Ohyama, and Marc Neikrug. The challenge here is that there are so many concerts, packed with such exciting repertoire by a brilliant band of composers, performed by acclaimed artists, that you can’t really pick just one. At least, I can’t.

So I’d actually go with one series: the Music at Noon concerts. These 11 performances take place, as the name says, at noon; they’re on varying days of the week spread out over the season from July 17 through August 16; and they cover the gamut from a solo piano recital to chamber music classics.

Music at Noon concerts are popularly priced, and last just about an hour in St. Francis Auditorium of the New Mexico Museum of Art – a perfect haven for a quiet feast of midday music.

By the way, Chamber Music also is collaborating with the Opera this summer, as for many seasons past. The August 15 Music at Noon concert, for example, features SFO Chief Conductor Frederic Chaslin as both pianist and conductor. And in another nice twist, Alan Gilbert – head of the New York Philharmonic, and the opera’s music director from 2003 through 2006 – is artist in residence at SFCMF this summer, playing violin and conducting.

So there are my choices – though to be honest, I’m going to snatch plenty of other performance chocolates from each organization. Do yourself a favor, and do the same thing!