The symphony orchestra is the basic unit of American classical music: it requires more community buy-in than a chamber-music society, yet compared with grand opera—the ultimate international art form—it retains a local feel. For many discerning listeners, the finest is the Cleveland Orchestra, which returns to Carnegie Hall this winter (Jan. 23-24). It may hail from one of America’s great Rust Belt cities, but its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, continues the orchestra’s profoundly European outlook. (Its 2017-18 classical season contains not a single work by a living American composer.) The orchestra will offer a New York première from the respected Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud, along with what will doubtless be delectable excursions through Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Haydn’s glorious oratorio “The Seasons.” Meanwhile, few maestros burn with more Italianità than Riccardo Muti, a matchless advocate for his country’s musical heritage. But his tenure at the head of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has included some robust American programming, a trend that marks his own Carnegie concerts (Feb. 9-10), in which recent works by Jennifer Higdon and Samuel Adams are nestled amid chestnuts by Britten, Brahms, Stravinsky, Chausson, and, of course, Verdi.
In Baroque performance, European groups, naturally, have much to teach their American counterparts. Lincoln Center’s schedule includes an all-Vivaldi evening at Alice Tully Hall (on Jan. 24, including “The Four Seasons”)—and, when the orchestra is the renowned Concerto Köln, who’s to mind? (For a fine home-town alternative, head to St. Joseph’s Church, in Greenwich Village, on Dec. 30, where the superb musicians of TENET will perform Psalm settings and motets by their favorite composer, Monteverdi.) Elsewhere on the campus, orchestral performances reach for operatic grandeur. The incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden, will use one of his programs (Feb. 14-17) to show off not only his new-music chops, with a New York première by John Luther Adams (“Dark Waves”), but also his growing profile as a Wagner conductor, with a concert version of Act I of “Die Walküre,” featuring Heidi Melton and Simon O’Neill. At the Met, James Levine will conduct several concert performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” (Nov. 24-Dec. 2).
The Met’s new productions alternate between the traditional and the unexpected. David McVicar’s staging of “Tosca” (beginning Dec. 31) will recall Franco Zeffirelli’s beloved production, which was unwisely jettisoned in 2009. Phelim McDermott’s rollicking new “Così Fan Tutte,” however, is set in nineteen-fifties Brooklyn (opening March 15). You can’t get more American than that. ♦