World premieres, new venues enliven classical music scene

From a resurgent year at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to varied and exciting programming in a variety of venues from the Atlanta Opera, this past year in classical music provided forward-looking material while paying homage to the classics. In smaller environs, avant-garde collectives like Sonic Generator pulled Atlanta audiences into the 21st century.

Among the highlights this year:

"Three Decembers." Under the direction of Atlanta Opera Music Director Tomer Zvulun, this 90-minute, intermission-less interpretation of the Terrance McNally play was described by AJC opera critic Andrew Alexander as filled with "likable, tuneful music that support(ed) a moving drama." Part of a May partnership with the Alliance Theatre, the work was composed in 2008 by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Gene Scheer.

"Soldier Songs." Performed at the Rialto Center for the Arts, this Atlanta Opera production used a libretto drawn from interviews with veterans — to positive reviews. Written by contemporary composer David T. Little, it also was directed by Zvulun.

World premieres. ASO Music Director Robert Spano's dedication to new music has turned the ASO into a standard bearer in the world of classical music. In 2015, he brought fresh, new works to symphony audiences while still paying homage to orchestral warhorses. From the last few months, a world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff's Symphony No. 2 and Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra. The players themselves have shown polish and determination, really getting into the new, challenging material.

ASO Chorus. Norman Mackenzie, the ASO's director of choruses, has the massive ASO Chorus in top form. After helping end the 2014-2015 season in May with a concert staging of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida," the chorus returned with a rapturous, emotional version of Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony. The chorus' other big showing came during the exceptional "Messa da Requiem" by Verdi.

Chamber groups. The city's three most forward-leaning chamber groups – Sonic Generator, Bent Frequency and Chamber Cartel – continued excellent, inventive programming. Bent Frequency emerged in October at GSU with a free staging of chamber opera "DeCachetitoRaspado," and Chamber Cartel opened its 2015-2016 season with the southeastern premiere of Pleiades, a percussion composition by Iannis Xenaki.

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