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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Rhode Island Philharmonic's 2019–20 season: Bronfman, McDermott, Ehnes, DiGiacomo, Tovey

Soprano Julianna DiGiacomo sings in the Verdi Requiem next May with the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

Soprano Julianna DiGiacomo sings in the Verdi Requiem next May with the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

The Rhode Island Philharmonic made the sobering announcement this month that artistic advisor Bramwell Tovey had been diagnosed with cancer. That annoucement was quickly and happily updated to say that the newly named conductor would be healthy enough to start the orchestra’s 2019–20 season in September, after a summer’s recuperation.

He can’t miss this anniversary, after all. It might be Tovey’s first full season as artistic advisor, but the Philharmonic celebrates its 75th this year, and Grammy winners, outstanding singers, and world renown soloists are coming to mark the occasion with music.

In his first season of complete artistic planning, Tovey will welcome pianists like Yefim Bronfman (season opener, Sept. 28), Anne-Marie McDermott (Nov. 16) and Joyce Yang (March 13–14); violinists James Ehnes (Oct. 19) and Karen Gomyo (Jan. 25); and cellist Johannes Moser (Feb. 14–15). 

In addition, a sensational array of vocal soloists for both the Verdi “Requiem” (soprano Julianna DiGiacomo, alto Susan Platts, and others, May 2) and Handel’s “Messiah” (including soprano Andriana Chuchman, Dec. 14). 

The women of the Providence Singers, directed by Christine Noel, have two collaborations with the Philharmonic: the “Messiah” performances, and October presentations of Holst’s “The Planets.” Guest conductors Tania Miller (in February) and Carl St. Clair (April) return for subscription season engagements.

Kelly-Marie Murphy’s 1995 “From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat,” on March programs, is the only work by a female composer during the season. The standard repertory is well represented, with great concertos by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Saint-Saëns, and memorable symphonies by Shostakovich (the 10th), Beethoven (the 8th) and Mozart—“Jupiter,” in a January concert for Mozart lovers with Gomyo soloing in the 3rd concerto, and the orchestra performing the overture to “The Magic Flute.” 

The presence of estimable soloists like Bronfman, McDermott, Ehnes, Yang, Moser and others is a tribute to Tovey’s own professional standing. The large-scale vocal presentations—Holst’s “Planets,” “Messiah,” the Verdi “Requiem”—are sure to be highlights as well. 

The October Holst program also features Ehnes playing the Barber concerto, and a composition of Tovey’s own, the comic “Urban Runway.” An April concert—St. Clair conducting a Beethoven/Ravel program, with Natasha Paremski performing the two-hand Ravel concerto—also seems particularly focused. 

In all there are almost two dozen concerts during the season—a mix of subscription programs, the popular Friday Rush Hour series, educational and other performances.

The four Rush Hour concerts—shortened programs, on Friday in the early evening—are an excellent alternate to late-night events. This year those concerts include the “Planets” program in October, cellist Moser in February, Yang playing the Grieg concerto in March, and the Verdi “Requiem” performance at the season’s end.

The Philharmonic’s extensive Link Up education concerts that will bring more than 12,000 students grades 3–5 to the VETS in May. Pinchas Zuckerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth will perform at a gala celebrating the conclusion of this 75th anniversary season in the June, 2020.


The Rhode Island Philharmonic begins its 2019–20 season on Sept. 28 at the VETS, One Avenue of the Arts, Providence. Subscription tickets on sale now; single tickets go on sale July 22. Call (401) 248-7000 or visit tickets.riphil.org.


Keith Powers covers music and the arts for the GateHouse papers and WBUR’s The ARTery. On Twitter at @PowersKeith.

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