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The Oklahoma City Philharmonic is celebrating its milestone 35th season with a "Joyful Noise."
But that theme doesn't mean that patrons should expect nothing but chirpy, syrupy music from the orchestra's 2023-2024 programming.
Instead, the season is about celebrating our shared humanity, said OKC Philharmonic Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate.
"It's this time of joyfulness ... but we're talking about the humanity of all those composers that are so famous. Many of those that we perform were also in really deep pain ... either physical pain — Bartok and Beethoven, of course — or like Tchaikovsky, who was in a kind of psychological and social pain," Micklethwate told The Oklahoman.
"There's a reality to those composers that they personally had to overcome — and because they did, they wrote amazing music and really connected and helped people to heal."
Free outdoor Labor Day weekend concert leads up to 35th season
Before it moves to its usual home at Civic Center Music Hall for its 35th anniversary run, the OKC Philharmonic is performing a free outdoor pre-season concert at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at the Love’s Travel Stops and Great Lawn at Scissortail Park.
The theme of the Labor Day weekend concert will be "Marvelous Music from the Movies," and OKC singer-songwriter Graham Colton will join the orchestra as a guest performer for the family-friendly show.
"We love being part of the community ... and with those big crowds, it's amazing," Mickelthwate said, noting that an estimated 20,000 people attended the philharmonic's Independence Day concert in Scissortail Park.
Eclectic programs highlight OKC Philharmonic's milestone season
Tracing its roots back to OKC's first professional orchestra, which started in 1924, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic formed in 1988 under the musical direction of Joel Levine with the support of many civic leaders, organizations and corporations.
From Pops shows featuring Broadway star Bernadette Peters and returning favorites Mariachi Los Camperos to Classics concerts ranging from Romantic period masterworks to innovative contemporary compositions, the orchestra will celebrate its 35th season with a wide variety of music.
“Our concerts are for everyone, and we bring in artists from around the world," OKC Philharmonic Executive Director Brent Hart said in an email. "Experiencing 80 or more incredibly talented musicians playing their hearts out to a hometown crowd never gets old."
The OKC Philharmonic's 2023-2024 season includes eight Classics concerts, six Pops programs and three Discovery Family shows at the Civic Center. Here are 10 anticipated highlights of the new season:
1. An all-Tchaikovsky 'Opening Night!'
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 9.
The OKC Philharmonic launches its Classics season with Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35" and "Symphony No. 6 in B minor ('Pathétique')."
The concert will feature Ukrainian violinist Anastasiya Petryshak as soloist.
The all-Tchaikovsky program is planned in collaboration with Lyric Theatre, which is staging the world-premiere production of Alan Olejniczak's fact-based musical drama "Concerto" Sept. 13-Oct. 1 at its Plaza District theater.
Starring Lyric mainstay Matthew Alvin Brown as Tchaikovsky, Kris Schinske as his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, and Sheridan McMichael as violinist Iosif Kotek, the play will take audiences behind the scenes as the composer works on his only violin concerto, a polarizing 1878 piece now considered a masterpiece.
"We're starting this year with some amazing music ... with this whole Tchaikovsky program," said Mickelthwate, who is serving as music supervisor on Lyric's "Concerto." "'Symphony No. 6,' we haven't done for quite a long time. ... He wrote it just a couple of days before he died."
2. 'An Evening with Bernadette Peters'
When: 8 p.m. May 3-4, 2024.
The OKC Philharmonic will close its Pops series with the star power of legendary Broadway diva Bernadette Peters.
Peters, 75, began her performing arts career at age 3 on the game show “Juvenile Jury” and has become a force to be reckoned with on Broadway, in film and television and as a recording artist. She has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, twice winning best actress in a musical, for 1985's “Song and Dance” and for the 1999 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
In addition, Peters has been nominated for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, winning the latter in 1982 for best actress in a comedy/musical for the movie “Pennies From Heaven," and is considered the leading interpreter of the works of the late, great musical theater innovator Stephen Sondheim.
"I can't believe that we're actually getting her here, so I'm really excited about it," Mickelthwate said.
3. 'Funky Fresh & Sugar Free!' with Sugar Free Allstars
When: 2 p.m. Jan. 14, 2024.
The orchestra will reunite with OKC's own Sugar Free Allstars for a spirited Family Discovery Series show conducted by Shanti Simon, the director of bands at the University of Oklahoma.
The "family funk super duo" of Chris “Boom!” Wiser and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin recently released their latest tuneful single “6th Grade Band,” accompanied by an exuberant music video featuring Edmond’s Oakdale school band.
Ahead of the OKC Philharmonic concert, the Sugar Free Allstars plan to drop their fifth album and first EP, playfully titled "Extended Play," on Sept. 21.
4. 'Cirque Musica: Heroes & Villians'
When: 8 p.m. April 5-6, 2024.
As part of its Pops series, the OKC Philharmonic is bringing back Cirque Musica, a traveling show that puts circus performers on — and often above — the same stage as symphony orchestras.
The acrobats, aerialists, strongmen and other circus entertainers previously performed with the OKC orchestra in 2018. Mickelthwate said they're expected to bring a "different show but similar idea" to Oklahoma City next spring.
5. 'Pines of Rome'
When: 8 p.m. April 20, 2024.
During his five-year tenure as the OKC Philharmonic's music director, Mickelthwate has developed a reputation for building eclectic programs, and this Classics concert seems sure to add to that.
The program includes French composer Lili Boulanger's (1893-1918) "D’un matin de printemps," Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana's (1824-1884) "Die Moldau," Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's "IBM 1401 Processing Unit" and German composer Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) "Forest Murmurs" from his 1876 opera "Siegfried."
"It's nature vs. technology," Mickelthwate said.
Plus, the New York quartet Sō Percussion will join the OKC Philharmonic on American composer David Lang's "man made," and the grand finale will be the orchestra's performance of Italian composer Ottorino Respighi's dramatic tone poem "Pines of Rome."
6. 'A Very Merry Pops' with Take 6 and Sandi Patty
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 1-2.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic will celebrate the season with a jolly new holiday Pops extravaganza featuring two Grammy-winning special guests, including one especially familiar to OKC audiences.
After the orchestra brought Elk City native, former Miss America and coloratura soprano Susan Powell back to Oklahoma for its 2023 Christmas show, this year's yuletide program will feature contemporary Christian star Sandi Patty, an OKC native and longtime resident who recently relocated to Indiana.
The show also will spotlight the vocal harmonies of Take 6, an a cappella gospel sextet who has worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder.
7. 'Gothic Midnight'
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7.
The orchestra will help ticketholders get into the spooky spirit of the Halloween season with a concert titled "Gothic Midnight" featuring Ukranian pianist Dmytro Choni as soloist.
The program will include Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," Franz Liszt's "Piano Concerto No. 1" and Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."
"'Symphonie Fantastique' has the 'Dream of a Witches' Sabbath,' and it's just basically like an acid trip in the 19th century," Mickelthwate said. "Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' is a little bit like when you see Count Dracula (in the movies) and there's an organ ... just very Baroque and dramatic.
"Then, Liszt was considered himself like the devil, so it's this whole combination of pieces that were, in the 19th century at least, associated with the underworld."
8. Mariachi Los Camperos
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 26-27, 2024.
The Grammy-winning group Mariachi Los Camperos will return to the Sooner State in early 2024 for another lively pair of Pops concerts. A favorite of OKC Philharmonic patrons, the venerable Los Angeles-based ensemble last performed with the local orchestra in 2020.
Considered a visionary who took mariachi performances out of cantinas and into concert halls, Natividad “Nati” Cano founded Mariachi Los Camperos in 1961, and three years later, his group became the first mariachi ensemble to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
The band collaborated with Linda Ronstadt on her 1987 landmark album “Canciones de Mi Padre” and the 1992 sequel, “Mas Canciones" and toured with the singer nationwide. Mariachi Los Camperos has recorded and performed with many other artists, including Pedro Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar and Luis Miguel.
9. An evening of Brahms with Benjamin Schmid
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 3, 2024.
The OKC Philharmonic also will reteam with Viennese-born violinist Benjamin Schmid, who previously worked with the orchestra on the 2019 Classics program "Italian Gems," performing Niccolò Paganini's "Violin Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 7"
"When he did the Paganini, I couldn't believe how ... he made it speak. It was just amazing. So, it's like, 'Gosh, what would he do with a Brahms?'" Mickelthwate said.
Along with tapping Johannes Brahms' "Violin Concerto" to spotlight Schmid, Mickelthwate has lined up a full evening of the German composer's works, including his "Hungarian Dance No. 4" and "Symphony No. 3."
10. 'Chinatown to La La Land'
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 3-4.
The philharmonic opens its Pops series with a cinematic program devised and conducted by Golden Globe-nominated composer Brian Byrne, an Irishman now based in rural Oklahoma.
In 2003, Byrne moved from his native Ireland to Los Angeles to develop his career as a film and television composer. He has worked as a composer, conductor, arranger, songwriter, producer and pianist on a wide range of projects, including the Amazon series "Modern Love" and the movies "Sex and the City 2," "In America" and "A Most Violent Year."
He earned a Golden Globe nod for writing the music to the song "Lay Your Head Down" for the 2011 period drama "Albert Nobbs"; he shared the nomination with Glenn Close, who not only penned the lyrics but also garnered Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for playing the lead role.
Byrne's wife, lyricist Kasey Jones, is a Paoli native who also relocated to L.A. in 2003. They wed in Oklahoma in 2006 but continued to live in L.A. until about six years ago, when they settled in Purcell.
"I'm so happy to have Brian Byrne back conducting, but also he's in charge of that program. So, he's tapping into his Hollywood connections," Mickelthwate said.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC Philharmonic launches 35th season: See Labor Day concert, schedule