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VOL. 133 | NO. 70 | Friday, April 6, 2018

Outside the Box

Memphis Symphony Orchestra unveils 2018-19 season lineup

By Andy Meek

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The Memphis Symphony Orchestra wants audiences to be “challenged” and introduced to new people and ideas via its programming choices and performance series, a philosophy that informed how the symphony’s upcoming season, which kicks off in September, was put together.

That’s according to the symphony’s music director, Robert Moody, and president and CEO Peter Abell, both of whom told The Daily News in separate interviews they want to see the organization balance an adherence to the classics with a comfort in shaking things up and thinking outside the box.

“Audiences will tell you, ‘We want the things we love, but we also want to be challenged, and to see diversity and inclusion in your music selection,’” Abell said.

Memphis Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Moody says the 2018-19 season will be unlike any other, with a lineup that blends familiar classics with popular and experimental works. (MSO)

That certainly appears to be one of the themes of the symphony’s just-announced 2018-19 concert season, which marries the classics with popular pieces and other experiments to try and appeal to nontraditional symphony audiences.

Moody described the upcoming season as “unlike any season this symphony has ever created.”

Among them is a Classic Accents series concert called “Devil at the Crossroads” that pairs music by classical composer Igor Stravinsky with that of influential blues musician Robert Johnson.

“We’re doing Stravinsky’s ‘Soldier’s Tale,’ which is a piece he wrote during World War I, and it tells the story of a soldier who goes AWOL. Meets the devil at the crossroads, sells his soul to the devil, and the story ensues from there.

“Here we are in Memphis, so close to the crossroads in Clarksdale – the great story of Robert Johnson meeting the devil at the crossroads there. It’s a unique place where we can put two great works of art together, and I’m very proud of that.”

Later in the season, the symphony will also combine two very different but iconic music names – Beethoven and the Beatles – to create a concert that a mass audience can enjoy and find approachable.

The 2018-19 Masterworks Concert Series presented by Paul and Linnea Bert will feature works from expected names like Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, among others.

And then there are performances like Masterworks 2, which will be performed on Veterans Day weekend and features a piece by contemporary composer Karl Jenkins titled “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.” It’s a piece comprised of 13 movements that take the concertgoer through the cycles of war, from the onset of hostilities to peace, and was deliberately chosen to be performed on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Other pieces address topics like the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, an effort by the symphony to use music to make grand statements and do something more profound than simply entertain audiences with music that’s centuries old.

The point, Moody says, is to present classical music as not just something that comes “in the form of Beethoven and Mozart.”

Along that same line, the 2018-19 Memphis Symphony Orchestra Pops series features a lineup that includes a performance on “Stars Wars Day” – May 4, 2019 – focused on the music of the landmark sci-fi film series. It will feature performances of composer John Williams’ iconic scores from the now nine Star Wars movies.

Also on the Pops schedule is a tribute concert in honor of musician David Porter. Other Pops shows will include the traditional “Magic of Memphis holiday” concert and a tribute to Elvis Presley.

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