With its 2019-20 season, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra sustains an impressive track record of emphasizing affordability and taking concerts to communities with limited access to high-quality classical music.

Announced Wednesday, the new season continues the orchestra’s West Side Series with three concerts at St. Paul’s Humboldt High School, free to all residents of the city’s West Side. The series includes an appearance by outstanding French oboist François Leleux (Nov. 21) and an evening with the SPCO’s newest artistic partner, Rob Kapilow. Known nationally for his “What makes it great?” concert events, Kapilow will unpack Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in a special lecture/performance (March 12, 2020).

The SPCO also continues its links with north Minneapolis with a pair of chamber concerts (Oct. 25 and April 3, 2020) plus a collaborative program led by composer, arranger and Moore by Four founder Sanford Moore (Jan. 24-25, 2020).

SPCO Managing Director and President Jon Limbacher claimed in a statement that the SPCO offers “the most affordable ticket prices of any professional American orchestra.” For the fourth consecutive season, free tickets for students and children to nearly all SPCO concerts will be offered via the donor-funded New Generation Initiative — a project the orchestra credits with quadrupling attendance by children and students since 2016. What’s more, members of the SPCO’s Club 2030 program — for people in their 20s and 30s — will continue to receive best-available seats for $10.

Another effort to make boost accessibility is the SPCO’s Concert Library, offering free full-length performance videos. Up to 10 concerts will be livestreamed during the 2019-20 season. Dozens of past SPCO performances continue to be available for free on-demand viewing at thespco.org.

Highlights for 2019-20

The quality of music-making is set to remain high when the SPCO performs across 15 Twin Cities venues during the 2019-20 season.

Among concerts by the orchestra’s formidable roster of artistic partners, the return of English baroque specialist Richard Egarr is an obvious highlight. Egarr teams with the storied St. Olaf Choir for four performances of Mozart’s beloved Requiem (May 7-10, 2020). The first of these dates, at the St. Paul Cathedral, will feature additional choral works (still to be announced) while Egarr leads Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony at the three remaining Ordway Concert Hall performances.

Pianist Jeremy Denk, violinist Pekka Kuusisto and harpsichordist/conductor Jonathan Cohen also return as SPCO artistic partners. Denk opens the season by playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto (Sept. 13-15). Kuusisto leads the U.S. premiere of a new Violin Concerto by Nico Muhly (Jan. 10-12, 2020). Cohen has done outstanding work retooling the SPCO’s approach to baroque repertoire in recent seasons. He spreads his wings even further with a season finale that includes Tippett’s “Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli” and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (June 12-14, 2020).

Concerts featuring the SPCO’s own players as soloists proved popular in recent seasons. In 2019-20, the orchestra’s outstanding principal bass, Zachary Cohen, steps into the spotlight with the U.S. premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Contrabass Concerto “Dark With Excessive Bright” (Nov. 1-2). Also look out for flutist Alicia McQuerrey and principal cello Julie Albers. McQuerrey performs John Corigliano’s “Voyage for Flute and Strings” (Nov. 29-Dec. 1) while Albers plays Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 (Dec. 5-7).

Among the season’s invited soloists, standouts include pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violist Tabea Zimmermann. Judged by many as one of the greatest living pianists, Andsnes plays two Mozart piano concertos (Nos. 21 and 22) in a single program (Feb. 7-9, 2020). Another world-cass soloist, Zimmermann will play her own arrangement for viola of Schumann’s beautiful Cello Concerto (Oct. 11-12).

The 2019-20 season culminates with a visit to New York City for Lincoln Center’s 54th Great Performers Series. The SPCO and Artistic Partner Kuusisto will play a program featuring Bach, Hillborg, Haydn and Prokofiev (May 16, 2020). It’s a prestigious invitation that confirms the SPCO’s reputation as one of country’s most forward-looking and inclusive orchestras.


Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at artsblain@gmail.com.