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Taking musical journey

Regional orchestra’s performances to include audience participation.

One conductor might liken a concert to a full-course dinner and a symphony orchestra’s season to a banquet.

Another might go for an art-gallery metaphor.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic’s Lawrence Loh likens the approaching 37th season to a globetrotting journey — starting in September with a “Transatlantic Passages” opener for its Masterworks Series.

Showcase events remain in store for the current season, with such approaching dates as the Pops Series’ “Frank Oden’s Cowboy Jamboree” (April 11 at the Scranton Cultural Center, April 12 at Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center) and the Masterworks Series’ “Passion for Perfection” concert (May 2 at Scranton and May 3 in Wilkes-Barre).

The new season’s Pops Series comes with a recurring element of audience participation. A murder-mystery concert this fall will combine themes from detective movies with a let’s-pretend pageant of suspense and surprise. And a continuing opportunity to vote for favorite melodies will add up to the playbill for a “POPular Vote” concert in April 2009.

The musical itinerary follows this course:

Masterworks Series

• “Transatlantic Passages” (Sept. 26 at Scranton, Sept. 27 at Wilkes-Barre) will feature an interpretation of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” (1947) and showcase guest soprano Angela Maria Blasi. The piece is a nostalgic evocation of simpler times, inspired by great Southern storyteller James Agee.

The concert will offer some of Loh’s favorite orchestral showpieces, such as Johann Strauss’ 19th-century standard “The Blue Danube Waltz,” Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” (1899) and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Second Symphony” (1906-1907).

• “Peachtree Street” (Nov. 7 at Wilkes-Barre, Nov. 8 at Scranton) will center on the modern-day composer Jennifer Higdon, whose involvement with the Philadelphia Orchestra has seen two premieres this year. Higdon’s “Peachtree Street,” from a larger work called “CityScape,” recalls her upbringing in Atlanta — a propulsive combination of traditional tonal values with experimental techniques.

The concert also will see a return engagement for pianist Melissa Marse, with Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor” (1868) and a fresh outcropping of Loh’s chronic dedication to the works of Johannes Brahms, with the “Symphony No. 4 in E Minor” (1884-1885).

• “Mozart in Paris” (March 13, 2009, at Lackawanna College’s Mellow Theatre in Scranton, and March 14 in Wilkes-Barre) will concentrate upon W.A. Mozart’s exquisite “Paris” Symphony No. 31 (1778). George Vosburgh, principal trumpet with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, will join the NEPA Phil for Johann Hummel’s “Trumpet Concerto in E Major (1803).” A closing selection will be Beethoven’s energetic “Symphony No. 7 in A Major” (1811-1812).

• “From the New World” (May 1, 2009, in Wilkes-Barre, May 2 at Scranton Cultural Center) will close the season with a varied emphasis on the assembled orchestra, featuring Antonin Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, “From the New World” (1893).

As a late-in-life visitor to America, the Austrian-born Dvorak developed a fascination with Native American and African-American musical forms. The “New World” Symphony, as the composer’s response to such influences, has endured as his most celebrated composition. The concert also will cover Zoltan Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” (1933), recalling his childhood familiarity with the music of Hungarian Gypsies and Robert Schumann’s dramatic “Manfred Overture” (1848-1849).

Holiday Pops

The Christmas-season extravaganza (Dec. 5 at Scranton, Dec. 6 in Wilkes-Barre) will span the centuries, with both a dramatized “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and musical-score selections from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” The playlist also will contain selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” a featured segment for the Choral Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania and sing-along participation from the audience.

Pops Series

• “Death on the Downbeat” (Oct. 10 at Scranton, Oct. 11 at Wilkes-Barre) promises to merge the theatrical possibilities of music with the musical possibilities of staged melodrama, with a crucial element of audience participation. The selections represent an array of movie-music themes representing the film noir, or “dark cinema,” tradition of Old Hollywood’s crime-thriller genre. The story — purely make-believe, of course --- involves the murder of an ill-regarded guest conductor, with every last soul inside the hall qualifying as a suspect. The characters will compound the illusion of B-movie mystery with 1940s-style costuming.

• “The Broadway Tenors” (Feb. 6, 2009, at Scranton, Feb. 7 at Wilkes-Barre) promises a selection of memorable themes from the musical stage, touching on such hit shows as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “West Side Story,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Sunset Boulevard,” and representing such composers as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim and Frank Loesser.

• “The POPular Vote” (April 3, 2009, in Wilkes-Barre, April 4 at Scranton) involves a season-long voting process, aimed at selecting the playlist of popular favorites — titles to be announced, of course.

Crescendo Family Concert

• “Gaia: Song of the Earth” (Oct. 12 in Wilkes-Barre) will feature a return engagement for poet-performer Frank Oden, merging a sustained image of the planet as a complex organism with such evocative classical compositions as Grieg’s “Morning Mood” and Richard Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman Overture.” The purpose is educational in nature, compounded by a wealth of entertainment value.

Concert subscription information for the “Journey with Music” season can be found on the Web at www.nepaphil.org.

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