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Can You Handel It?

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Richmond's reputation for cultural conservatism gets a few healthy kicks in the hindparts in the coming classical season. The dead white European males aren't all singing the same tunes, and some of the most enticing programs feature the work of living composers. (Being alive is not the drawback it once was in highbrow music.)

The Richmond Symphony marks its 50th anniversary with a grand tour of the symphonic repertory, from Bach and Beethoven to Brahms, Bruckner and Bart¢k, plus a sixth B -- the Richmond-bred composer and electronica artist Mason Bates.

Music Director Mark Russell Smith and new Associate Conductor Erin Freeman share the podium with former music directors Jacques Houtmann and George Manahan. Freeman launches her tenure as director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus with Handel's "Messiah" (Nov. 30 and Dec. 3) and Verdi's Requiem (March 14, 15 and 17).

The orchestra season, beginning with performances Sept. 14, 15 and 17, offers 49 classical and pops concerts in more than a dozen venues in and around town. The symphony also joins the Richmond Ballet for its standing appointment with "The Nutcracker" (Dec. 14-23) and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Feb. 8-10), and the Virginia Opera for "Lucia di Lammermoor" (April 11 and 13, plus other dates in Norfolk and Fairfax). Call 788-1212 or visit richmondsymphony.com.

The Virginia Opera's season of four productions at the Landmark Theater sticks to the 19th century, but with minimal (for this company) representation of Italian repertory. Likely highlights are Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" (Oct. 19 and 21) and Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" (Feb. 29 and March 2). Call (877) 673-7282 or visit www.vaopera.org.

The University of Richmond's Modlin Arts Center showcases contemporary composers, with soprano Dawn Upshaw and friends performing Osvaldo Golijov's song cycle "Ayre" (Feb. 22). UR's resident sextet, eighth blackbird, premieres works by Steve Reich and three composers from New York's Bang on a Can collective (March 26), and the 'birds in music by Stephen Hartke (Nov. 7).

Modlin's Great Performances series also features the Shanghai Quartet (Sept. 26 and Nov. 12), the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (Oct. 1), the early music vocal group Lionheart (Nov. 5), countertenor David Daniels (Jan. 16), the Interpreti Veneziani Baroque Orchestra (Jan. 18), and the Polish piano virtuoso Piotr Anderszewski (Feb. 13). Call 289-8980 or visit modlin.richmond.edu.

Virginia Commonwealth University's Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts feature the Richmond debuts of the Brentano String Quartet (Sept. 15) and the French pianist Pascal Rogé (March 1), and return visits by the Baltimore Consort (Nov. 17) and Beaux Arts Trio (April 5). VCU's Music Department also offers an immersion in the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, with pianist Sonia Rubinsky and others (March 27-29). Call 828-6776 or visit pubinfo.vcu.edu/artweb/music/concerts. S



Style Weekly music critic Clarke Bustard produces Letter V: the Virginia Classical Music Blog, at www.letterv.blogspot.com.



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