A symphony season is a creature unto itself. An opera company or a theatre troupe plans a handful of productions to be performed several times. A symphony orchestra plans dozens of concerts, each of which will be played once or twice. Under the umbrella of a symphony season come the classics season, the pops season and a family season. There are also special events, which this year includes an ambitious, $1,000-per-ticket fundraiser featuring pianist Emanuel Ax.
As you can see from the six events I’ve chosen from among the many dozens of Phoenix Symphony performances this year, diversity is key. And as you can also see, big names are not entirely scarce.
“When John Williams says he’s available Septmeber 28, you say yes,” says Jim Ward, Phoenix Symphony CEO and a stand-in for its music director until a new one is chosen. As luck would have it, not only was Williams available, but the director who has used Williams’ talents in almost every one of his films also decided to show up. Former Scottsdale resident Steven Spielberg will be there, commenting on the collaboration of director with composer. In the classics area, superstar Lang Lang will make a one night appearance. He’ll play Prokofiev, but the composer most loved by Phoenix audiences will be heard three times including a performance of his iconic symphony No. 5, led by this year’s Principal Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta.
“Our audiences love Beethoven,” says Ward. “He tops the list of classical composers whenever we take a poll of the audience. On the pops side, our concertgoers like anything to do with Broadway.” They should be happy, then, with Mandy Patinkin’s appearance, with the Barbra Streisand Songbook and with a concert featuing Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Michael Christie, gone as the Symphony’s music director but not forgotten, will return to guest conduct three events, including the massive, operatic Verdi Requiem. Steven Moeckel, the Symphony’s concertmaster and a first-class soloist, will perform Shostakovich’s amazing Violin Concerto No. 1.