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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2005

Symphony looks forward to more high notes

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

With its steadily improving artistic and financial status, the Toledo Symphony may not yet be out of the woods, but it is clearly moving into the light. The current season has been top notch. Expectations are that the 2005-06 season - which runs from this September through next May - will be stronger still.

As always, there will be an array of superstars to fill the marquee. Next season highlights flutist James Galway, pianist Stephen Hough, conductor Valery Gergiev with the Kirov National Orchestra, Debbie Reynolds, and the Supremes.

But that's just the veneer.

The real story lies deeper and concerns Toledo Symphony's long-term health, which continues to improve under the focused artistic leadership of principal conductor Stefan Sanderling. And despite financial hardships, morale is up among the musicians, who are pleased with their increased input in administrative decision-making. These palpable accomplishments are paying off at the box office, where ticket sales are up significantly.

Expect artistry to remain on the upswing next season as Sanderling directs five of the nine Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle-based Classics Series programs, as well as one concert from the four-event Mozart and More Series housed at the Franciscan Theatre and Convention Center.

"We have reason to be proud of the orchestra's turnaround. We want to make sure this is not a one-year event, but a direction to be continued," said Sanderling. "Next year's repertoire is extremely challenging. That's good. We can afford that because the orchestra has grown so much over the past couple of years."

Significantly, Sanderling says that the season's highlight will not be a guest soloist, but rather the orchestra's performance of Gustav Mahler's ethereal Symphony No. 9.

"Here, Mahler was looking to see just how far orchestral playing could go. It is one of the most difficult orchestral pieces ever written," said Sanderling.

Repertoire will be diverse throughout the season.

Until now, Sanderling has mostly limited himself to an 18th and 19th-century Austro-Germanic repertoire from Haydn to Mahler. There will be another strong dose of that, but also a significant breakout into other styles.

The Classics Series seasons opens decisively the weekend of Sept. 23-24 with Sanderling conducting a pair of iconic works: Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11. In contrast, the series of Nov. 18-19 is a smorgasbord, with colorful music by American Charles Ives and Frenchmen Camille Saint-Saens and Maurice Ravel, as well as the Toledo Symphony premiere of Hungarian Bela Bartok's muscular Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion (featuring the Onder Piano Duo).

Future Sanderling concerts in 2006 include music of Haydn and Mahler (Jan. 13-14), Sibelius and Beethoven (with pianist Peter Rosel March 3-4), and Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky (with pianist Denis Matsuev on May 19-20).

Toledo Symphony resident conductor Chelsea Tipton II directs two Classics Series programs: Respighi, Copland, and others featuring clarinetist Georg Klaas (Oct. 28-29) and Strauss, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky featuring violinist Karen Gomyo and The Glassmen (March 24-25).

Guest conductor Roberto Minczuk, who conducted here in May, 2004, leads the orchestra in music of Mozart and Berlioz (Feb. 3-4); conductor Daniel Hege is joined by violists Valentin Ragusitu and Ellen Craig in a program of music by Martinu, Gubaidulina, and Mussorgsky (April 28-29).

Classics Series subscribers will receive a bonus concert: James Galway conducting and performing with the Polish National Chamber Orchestra (Feb. 27).

This event is one of three perks designed to encourage subscription sales. Subscribers to the four-event Peristyle Series receive tickets to the Pittsburgh Symphony with conductor Hans Graf and violinist Sarah Chang (Nov. 29). Mozart and More subscribers get passes to Toledo Symphony performing Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 at Rosary Cathedral Concert (March 9). Pops Series subscribers receive tickets to Doc Severinsen (Nov. 26).

Debbie Reynolds kicks off the Pops Series when she joins the Toledo Symphony at the Stranahan Theater on Oct. 22; The Supremes perform Feb. 18. April 8 is devoted to the sounds of big-band jazz; Peter Nero closes the series May 13 with "A Tribute to Mothers." The program for Jan. 21 is yet to be decided.

Pianist and MacArthur "genius award" winner Stephen Hough opens the Peristyle Series with a solo recital of music by Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, and Hough. Pianist Arnaldo Cohen presents an all-Chopin recital on Feb. 14. Superstar conductor Valery Gergiev leads the Kirov National Orchestra in music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich on March 16. Closing the series will be Todd Wilson performing on the Peristyle's newly renovated 1927 E.M. Skinner organ.

The four-event Mozart and More Series at the Franciscan Theatre & Conference Center opens Oct. 15 with conductor Edwin Outwater leading the Toledo Symphony in music of Haydn and Mozart. Tipton leads the Jan. 28 program, Sanderling conducts on March 11. The series closes with a program without conductor and featuring bassoonist Richard Beene.

Chamber music concerts at the Toledo Club are scheduled for Oct. 16, Jan. 22, March 19, and May 14.

For more information on the 2005-2006 season, call the Toledo Symphony at 419-246-8000.

Contact Steven Cornelius at: scornelius@theblade.com or 419-724-6152.



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