On the surface, the N.C. Symphony's 2011-2012 classical season might seem less starry, with fewer big events, than in recent years.
There are no performances by the equivalents of Joshua Bell and Lang Lang or high-profile events like John Mauceri's "Hollywood Émigrés" or "Amadeus" with PlayMakers Repertory Company, all highlights of the last two seasons.
On closer inspection, however, the upcoming season reveals a well-balanced variety of works, with some intriguing thematic programs and a brace of soloists who are among the best in their fields.
The classical series in Meymandi Concert Hall comprises 14 two-night concerts, offering 48 separate works, only five of which have been offered before during Music Director Grant Llewellyn's seven seasons.
Llewellyn conducts nine concerts on the Raleigh series, beginning with performances in September of Mozart's Requiem, commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and ending in May 2012 with Carl Orff's popular "Carmina Burana," both with the N.C. Master Chorale. In between, Llewellyn presides over an evening of works by fellow Welshmen, as well as a program of South American composers, including a concerto for bandoneón, the Argentinian concertina.
Three guest conductors - Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Joana Carneiro and Andrew Grams - have slots on the series, along with Resident Conductor William Henry Curry and Associate Conductor Sarah Hicks.
An impressive array of pianists appears throughout the season, playing concertos that are their specialties: Poulenc by Pascal Rogé, Beethoven by Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Liszt by Louis Lortie, Rachmaninoff by Stephen Hough and Mozart by sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton.
And those who remember pianist Yuja Wang's stunning debut here two seasons ago will want to be present for her one-night special event in May 2012, by which time she'll have fully established herself as worldwide household name.
Pops gems too
Next season's Pop Series holds two of the orchestra's most unusual events. In November, Leonard Bernstein's daughter Jamie Bernstein narrates "Bernstein on Broadway," an evening of excerpts from "West Side Story," "Candide," "On the Town" and "Wonderful Town." Next April, there'll be a semi-staged production of Broadway classic "The Music Man."
The series also touts the return of Art Garfunkel and programs devoted to the music of Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra. The eight concerts on the popular Summerfest series in Cary's Regency Park Amphitheatre range from evenings devoted to music by Paul McCartney and works about pirates to appearances by the category-defying string trio Time for Three and the astonishing 16-year-old Conrad Tao in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto.
Friday Favorites matinees, Young People's Concerts and the annual New Year's Eve concert round out the symphony's generously filled new season.