Season Preview: A look at Amarillo Symphony's 2016-17 offerings

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Amarillo Symphony opens its 2016-17 season Sept. 16 and 17.

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

On tap for Amarillo Symphony's 2016-17 season: Performances by soloists with strong ties to Amarillo, a one-of-a-kind Broadway concert, aerialists soaring over the musicians and a piece known to cause a riot.

The Symphony's 92nd season will feature seven subscription concerts that blend a strong lineup of classical favorites with light classical and contemporary compositions, as well as a new Christmastime tradition.

Conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos walked me through the season last week as he was preparing for his debut with the Houston Symphony during its Summer Symphony Nights series.

Up first, on Sept. 16 and 17, is a program of opera highlights featuring Mary Jane Johnson in what's billed as her final performance with the Symphony.

"I chose repertoire that goes best with what her strengths are ... but at the same time really exposes who she is as an artist," Bairos said. "It's a very tailor-made concert specifically for her."

Bairos met with Johnson about a year ago for a private recital: "She moved me to tears. ... I was just blown away, so impressed," Bairos said.

The program will feature selected arias by Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss, as well as a performance of Johannes Sebastian Bach's Symphony No. 3 and Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and Die Meistersinger.

The season continues Oct. 14 and 15 with a light classical concert of music from and influenced by the Americas, including Aaron Copland's Rodeo Suite and Morton Gould's Latin-American Symphonette and American Salute.

"That program is very cool, and it involves some of my best friends," Bairos said, referring to the Symphony's composer-in-residence, Chris Rogerson, as well as clarinet soloist Anthony McGill, who met Bairos when they were teenagers at Interlochen summer camp.

McGill is principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic and performed with Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. In Amarillo, he'll perform a new concerto by Rogerson and Claude Debussy's Premiere Rhapsody for Clarinet, which was inspired greatly by American jazz idioms, Bairos said.

Guest conductor Steven Jarvi will join forces with vocalist Whitney Claire Kaufman for the Nov. 18 and 19 concerts, "Broadway Blockbusters."

Kaufman, a singer and actress with credits around the world, is the daughter of renowned pops conductor Richard Kaufman and will bring with her arrangements of Broadway hits written by her father.

"It's going to be a really fun night, and you'll enjoy a wide spectrum of music presented in a fashion that no one else is going to hear," Bairos said.

In December, the Symphony will take a break from its regular season to launch what it hopes will be a new tradition — Its Happy Holiday Pops concert, scheduled for performances at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

"I've been dying to do one in Amarillo since I arrived," Bairos said. "It'll be a real family-friendly event with a lot of singalongs."

The season proper picks back up in January with a special performance by Cirque de la Symphonie, who'll bring in acrobats, jugglers and aerialists to join the Symphony on Jan. 20 and 21.

"They're amazing, fantastic," Bairos said. "I've worked with them many times before. They put on a really dazzling show.

"The thing I love about this program is the visuals and the epic nature of what they do is very compelling, but the music is also some really wonderful repertoire."

On Feb. 24 and 25, world-renowned pianist Anne-Marie McDermott joins Bairos and the Symphony for a concert packed with classics: Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 101, The Clock; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, Elvira Madigan; Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 8; and the overture to Giochino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

"I'm so excited about this program," Bairos said. "Anne-Marie is a Mozart specialist. ... She brings an extra-special panache.

"It's a very classical program, probably the most classical program we've done start-to-finish since I've been here."

The Symphony will court controversy — at least of the early 20th-century kind — with its March 24 and 25 concerts, which feature Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

The piece so inflamed the audience at its 1913 premiere in Paris that it led to a near-riot, though that may have been aimed more at the accompanying ballet performance, or it could just be chalked up to a radically diverse audience of bohemians and the upper-crust, both looking for different flavors of art.

Bairos said he expects to speak from the stage about the avant-garde score, to "dive into" it because "parts of it are really angular and angry, and without context, they can be tough to take."

"I think if I contextualize that piece a little bit ... it will make a lot more sense to our audience," he said.

The concert also will feature a world premiere of Rogerson's first full symphony, as well as piano soloist Martina Filjak on Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major.

And the season will close with the return of a woman whose ties to the Symphony stretch back to her childhood: Violin soloist Ilana Setapen, whose father, James, was the Symphony's music director and conductor for 19 years.

The younger Setapen is the associate concertmaster at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and will perform Ernest Chausson's Poème​ and Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Cappricioso.

"She's world-class," Bairos said. "Whether she had connections in Amarillo or not, she's someone I would consider for a solo position.

"It kind of bookends what the whole season is about — celebrating the talent of Amarillo, between Mary Jane and Ilana and the musicians of the orchestra."

The April 28 and 29 concerts also will feature Leopold Stokowski's transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue, as well as Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

All concerts (other than the holiday pops matinee) will take place at 7:30 p.m. each night in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St.

Season tickets are $110 to $326 each. Holiday pops tickets are $13.50 to $31.50 for children and $19.20 to $48 for adults. Single tickets for the season will go on sale in August.

Call 806-376-8782 or visit




Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at on Facebook.

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