April 30 2009 12:00 AM

New LSO season full of big name guest stars and works

Going into the 2008-‘09 season, Lansing Symphony maestro Timothy Muffitt knew he had an ace up his sleeve in composer Stephen Paulus’ Trumpet Concerto, an unknown “showstopper” with “electrifying” potential. His hunch was right on: The Wharton Center crowd demanded an encore, a first for the conductor.

But for the 2009-’10 season, announced this week, Muffitt said, more than any one particular piece, he’s excited about the out-of-town talent who’ll be joining the symphony’s ranks throughout the year. “[Next] season, the thing that stands out for me a lot is the guest artists,” Muffitt said. “Not to take anything away from the music, but for example, Giora Schmidt on the violin.” Muffitt said he had worked on a concert with violin great Itzhak Perlman a few years ago. Hanging out after the show, he asked the virtuoso, “Who’s the shining light in the next generation of violin?”

The answer: Schmidt. “I did some poking around, and it’s absolutely true,” Muffitt said. “He’s an amazing, amazing violinist.”

Next March, Lansing music fans will get a chance to hear Schmidt when he joins the symphony for Barber’s Violin Concerto, part of a “Reflections on Romanticism” program that also features Schumann’s Symphony No. 3.

Other guest appearances include the return of violinist Ilya Kaler and cellist Amit Peled in to perform Brahms’ Double Concerto in A Minor. “They each came in separately and blew the audience away, and I can only imagine the response they’ll have together,” Muffitt said.

For the first concert of the new season, on Sept. 12, the symphony will welcome renowned pianist and NPR personality Christopher O’Riley to perform Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens in Spain.” O’Riley has also made a name for himself among music fans with his classical arrangements of the music of alternative rockers Radiohead and Elliot Smith. While Muffitt said reviews of this material have been mixed, he applauded O’Riley and his attempts at reaching a larger audience for classical music.

So can we expect to hear some “Karma Police” at the season opener? “We haven’t talked about that yet,” Muffitt said. “Right now the program is a Spanish program, so I don’t know how that would fit in there, but one never knows what will happen in a live performance.”

A more frequent guest Muffitt is excited to work with again is the Michigan State University Choral Union for a performance of Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Holst’s “The Planets.” “We have this great partnership with the MSU chorale union, which is just a terrific group of singers under the direction of David Rayl,” Muffitt said. To close the season, the symphony will be joined by a 2010 Gilmore Young Artist (to be named this summer) for Beethoven’s epic Fifth Symphony. Muffitt seemed to unknowingly nod toward the Lansing Symphony’s marketing slogan for next season of “Escaping the Everyday” as he described the joy in going on the “dundun-dun-DUN” ride.

“One of the reasons those are the most famous four notes of music is it’s just extraordinary music in every regard,” Muffitt said. “As performers, that’s what we focus on. When you’re in the thick of it, when you’re preparing and then doing it in it front of the audience, that’s really where your mind is, is on the gloriousness of this music, and nothing else really comes in and clouds that.”

One in the chamber

There’s still music to be played between now and September, including an interesting Chamber Series concert featuring Muffitt in a rare appearance at the helm.

“Almost by definition, chamber music doesn’t typically use a conductor, but there are pieces that fall into the gray area,” Muffitt said.

The show is a double-bill, featuring Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale,” and Michael Daugherty’s “Dead Elvis.” Written as a companion to “A Soldier’s Tale,” Muffitt said Daugherty’s piece features the same instrumentation as the Stravinsky, the similarities really end there. “The thematic material from ‘Dead Elvis’ comes from Elvis Presley,” Muffitt explained. “These are not arrangements of Elvis pieces. This is a piece of concert music that is — tribute seems strong — but there’s an element of humor in it.” Part of that humor calls for a bassoon soloist dressed as the King, a detail Muffitt was still working out when we talked last week. “I’m hoping,” Muffitt said. “I think that’s the plan.”

3 p.m. Sunday, April 26. Dart Auditorium, 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing. $15/$7. (517) 487-5001. www.lansingsymphony.org.

To subscribe to the Lansing Symphony Orchestras 2009-10 season, visit www. lansingsymphony.org or call (517) 487-5001.

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