On a recent trip home from the Salzburg, I left the W.A. Mozart airport, where gift shops marketed cheesy souvenirs from the composer’s birthplace, and I changed planes in Vienna, lugging my backpack through another airport that highlighted the Austrian capital’s incomparable classical music heritage.
I had 10 hours to contemplate arriving at an LAX, where I expected the Hollywood sign, once more, to be our brand. Instead, I emerged from customs to the recorded voice of Gustavo Dudamel, in English and Spanish, welcoming international travelers in the Tom Bradley terminal to a city where music is a right, a city selling classical not as schlock but as substance. It felt like L.A. has become the new Vienna, however much of a stretch that might seem.
We’re just off a Los Angeles Philharmonic centennial season that broke records and boundaries, bringing lasting new music into the world, producing memorable festivals and theatrical projects, putting itself into different genres of music and into many underserved corners of the community.
Nothing can really follow that. The highlights this fall lack the same level of pizzazz. Rather than continually push forward, the mood is one of absorption and finding our bearings, letting all the new settle in. Rather than a second pirate’s bounty of treasures, the orchestra is bringing back highlights, letting new pieces by Andrew Norman and John Adams sink in.
Elsewhere, this is a moment for beginnings. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony have new music directors. And if we want to be the new Vienna, we do need to keep a close ear on what’s happening around the rest of the world.
Mainly, though, what this fall allows is the chance to turn more attention to a scene teeming with smaller organizations and new-music ensembles playing modest halls, alternative spaces and colleges. They are an essential symbol of the artistic health of a community.
San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas
Despite the ingrained San Francisco-Los Angeles rivalry, the San Francisco Symphony has long been integrally tied to its southern counterpart. San Francisco’s beloved music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, who will be stepping down at the end of the season, happens to be an L.A. native. He had been a prominent advocate of American music and of John Adams, who will begin the MTT tributes with a new piece, “I Still Dance.” Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. $35-$160. (415) 864-6000. sfsymphony.org
Sept. 23-Feb. 1
”Porgy and Bess” at the Met
Missing from the Met’s stage for an unforgivable 30 years, the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” will open the season in a new production by James Robinson that will feature a dream cast headed by Eric Owens and Angel Blue in the title roles, with David Robertson conducting. Metropolitan Opera House, New York. (212) 362-6000. metopera.org
Sept. 28, 29
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with Jaime Martín
Spanish conductor Martín begins his first season as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with a new piece by Andrew Norman, who gave the L.A. Phil a centennial sensation with “Sustain,” just released on a digital recording by Deutsche Grammophon. The morning’s dress rehearsal will be open and free to all. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Also Royce Hall, UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood. $31-$143. (213) 622-7001. laco.org
San Diego Symphony with Rafael Payare
San Diego Symphony also has a new music director, the fast-rising young Venezuelan conductor and former Dudamel fellow at the L.A. Phil, Rafael Payare. He opens his tenure with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., San Diego. $23-$85. (619) 235-0804. sandiegosymphony.org
Rod Gilfry in concert
Angeleno Rod Gilfry is well known here as a versatile baritone, a Billy Budd who has a flair for lighter repertory and show tunes and the occasional modern work. In Europe, however, he is much more a go-to opera singer able to take on really big challenges with gripping, daring theatricality, such as starring in the heralded Dutch National Opera production of Messiaen’s “Saint Francois d’Assise.” This will be a chance to see him in the premiere a cabaret show of his own devising and in an intimate setting. Boston Court Pasadena, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. $20-$30. (626) 683-6801. BostonCourtPasadena.org
L.A. Phil’s birthday celebration concert and gala
Never an orchestra to be outdone, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will celebrate its 100th birthday by bringing together conductor emeritus Zubin Mehta, conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen and music director Gustavo Dudamel to each conduct favorite works; they then will jointly premiere Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s “From Space I Saw Earth” for three conductors. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A. $105-$324. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com
“Falling Out of Time” with the Silkroad Ensemble
In the first few years of this century, Osvaldo Golijov was the hottest, most multiculturally transformative composer in America, particularly with his glorious, groundbreaking, millennial “La Pasión Según Marcos.” But success led to missed deadlines and writer’s block (a violin concert commissioned for the L.A. Phil never got written). Finally, Golijov is back with a major new song cycle based on Israeli novelist David Grossman’s “Falling Out of Time” and written for the Silkroad Ensemble, which will tour the work (but not on the West Coast). College of the Holy Cross, Brooks Concert Hall, Worcester, Mass. (508) 793-3835. holycross.edu
Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Colburn Orchestra
Salonen is just embarking on his first “Ring” cycle, conducting new productions of the four Wagner operas with Finnish National Opera in Helsinki over the next two seasons, and for the Philharmonic Society of Orange Country he will preview of the first act of “Die Walküre” in a concert performance with the Colburn Orchestra. Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $28-$268. (949) 553-2422. PhilharmonicSociety.org
Harry Partch’s “The Wayward”
Partch, the ensemble devoted to building Harry Partch’s fantastical instruments and reviving the neglected scores of the most eccentric of the great American maverick composers, will give the first complete performance of Partch’s hobo epic, “The Wayward,” on this Jacaranda Music program, along with other essential Partch works you can’t hear anywhere else. First Presbyterian Church, 1220 2nd St., Santa Monica. $20, $45. jacarandamusic.org
Carla Lucero’s “Juana” at UCLA
As part of an emphasis on the music of women composers, the UCLA School of Music will premiere “Juana,” an opera about the 17th century Mexican poet, philosopher and composer Juana Inés de la Cruz. The composer is L.A.-based Carla Lucero, whose previous opera, “Wuornos,” was dubbed the saga of a lesbian serial killer. Freud Playhouse, UCLA, 245 Charles E. Young Drive East, Westwood. schoolofmusic.ucla.edu
Sheku Kanneh-Mason at Colburn
The young British cellist was set to make his U.S. debut with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in May 2018, but he canceled when asked to perform at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Already one of classical music’s most bankable stars, the 20-year-old will finally make it to L.A. for a recital with his sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason. Colburn School, Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $95, $130. (213) 622-7001. laco.org
Olga Neuwirth’s “Orlando”
She’s one of the most striking opera composers on the international scene and one with an arresting taste for the grotesque. Olga Neuwirth — whose “Lost Highway,” based on the David Lynch film, is the best opera ever set in L.A., even if it has yet to be mounted here — turns her attention to Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” for her eagerly awaited Vienna State Opera commission. Sets are by Comme des Garçons, and a stellar cast includes soprano Kate Lindsey and actress Fiona Shaw. The conductor, Matthias Pintscher, will be music director of next summer’s Ojai festival, where some more Neuwirth is expected. Vienna State Opera, Austria. wiener-staatsoper.at
Carolyn Chen at Monk Space
There is no easy way to describe the intriguing L.A. composer Carolyn Chen, a darling of the DTLA new music scene who is starting to get national and international attention. She begins her website bio by noting that she “has made music for supermarket, demolition district, and the dark.” The excellent monthly series Music@Monk Space devotes a full evening to exploring what else she is up to. Monk Space, 4414 W. 2nd St., L.A. $15, $25. brightworknewmusic.com