Robert Spano returns to Carnegie Hall December 4 to conduct the New York Premiere of The Classical Style, an opera with music written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky and words by pianist and librettist Jeremy Denk, based upon the book of the same name by the late legendary pianist and scholar Charles Rosen

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Conductor, Pedagogue, Pianist and Composer 

Conducts The Classical Style
at Carnegie Hall


Robert Spano returns to Carnegie Hall December 4 to conduct the New York Premiere of The Classical Style, an opera with music written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky and words by pianist and librettist Jeremy Denk, based upon the book of the same name by the late legendary pianist and scholar Charles Rosen. The opera’s immediate success at the Ojai Music Festival last June with its world premiere has only provided more anticipation for its New York premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall. The program begins with Denk at the piano performing Mozart’s Fantasia and Sonta in C minor as a prelude to the one-act opera.

The Classical Style is an opera buffa/comic libretto where chords are characters sharing the stage with Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and, as Denk describes, “several unnecessary characters.” The opera, at face value, is simply about death, yet fashioned with absurd humor and great music. The three composers are distraught by newspaper reports of the death of classical music and their own apparent irrelevance. They get wind of Rosen’s book and go looking for him for advice. Stucky’s music seamlessly stitches together recognizable bits of the composers’ works, along with other allusions that zip in and out almost too quickly to be heard.

“Underlying the jokes (good ones and the groaners) and tomfoolery, Stucky’s resourceful score and Denk’s droll text produce an ingeniously eloquent musing on the meaning of life.” (Mark Swed, LA Times)

When the score arrived in the mail, Spano immediately sat down at the piano to play through the opera while singing along.  Working his way through the score proved nearly impossible, as he noted he had to stop at regular intervals simply because he was laughing so hard. The cast is made up of eight singers and the music is performed by The Knights chamber orchestra, an orchestral collective based in New York.

Watch the original World Premiere in its entirety here.


  • Jeremy Denk, Piano
  • The Knights
  • Robert Spano, Conductor
  • Mary Birnbaum, Director
  • Jennifer Zetlan, Soprano
  • Rachel Calloway, Mezzo-Soprano
  • Peabody Southwell, Mezzo-Soprano
  • Dominic Armstrong, Tenor
  • Keith Jameson, Tenor
  • Kim Josephson, Baritone
  • Aubrey Allicock, Bass-Baritone
  • Ashraf Sewailam, Bass-Baritone


MOZART Fantasia and Sonata in C Minor, K. 475/457
STUCKY / DENK The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)

Conductor, pianist, composer and pedagogue Robert Spano is known worldwide for the depth and intensity of his artistry as well as his unique communicative abilities. Beginning his 14th season as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, this imaginative conductor is an approachable artist with the innate ability to share his enthusiasm for music with an entire community and concert hall. He has quietly been responsible for nurturing the careers of numerous classically-trained composers and conductors and enjoys collaborations with composers and musicians of all ages and ability. As Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, he oversees the programming of more than 300 events and educational programs for 630 students, including Aspen’s American Academy of Conducting.

Under Maestro Spano’s guidance, the ASO and audiences explore a creative programming mix. The Atlanta School of Composers reflects his commitment to American contemporary music, thus defining a new generation of American composers. He has led ASO performances at Carnegie Hall (2014-2015 marks Spano’s ninth consecutive season as a guest of that prestigious venue), Lincoln Center, and the Ravinia, Ojai and Savannah Music Festivals. Guest engagements include the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia symphony orchestras, as well as Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, BBC Symphony and Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He has conducted for Covent Garden, Welsh National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera and the 2005 and 2009 Seattle Opera productions of Wagner’s Ring cycles.

Following a highly successful performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Carnegie Hall and partially staged production of Verdi’s Aida in Atlanta, Spano conducted world premiere performances at the Ojai Festival of Steven Stucky’s The Classical Style, based on the Charles Rosen book with libretto by pianist and writer Jeremy Denk. The Classical Style will be reprised at Carnegie Hall in December. In addition to his hands-on leadership at The Aspen Music Festival and School, he conducts eight Festival concerts and numerous others from the piano or on the podium in the Benedict Tent and Harris Concert Hall. Of particular note is the August premiere of Spano’s Hölderlin Songs with soprano Susanna Phillips and, in September, four performances of his new solo piano work Tanz III written for the Atlanta based dance company glo.

Maestro Spano is currently slated to conduct the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for thirteen weeks this season, including three world premieres and eleven Atlanta premieres. Elsewhere, he conducts Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte with the Houston Grand Opera and a Higdon/Chopin program with the Houston Symphony. Guest conducting engagements with symphony orchestras in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are woven with Spano’s passion for education on tour with the Curtis Institute of Music’s Orchestra (including a Jennifer Higdon world premiere viola concerto written for Roberto Diaz), seminars at University of Georgia and Keenesaw State, and a New England Conservatory Philharmonic engagement in Boston. The Atlanta concert season closes with Samson et Dalila in June 2015 with Stephanie Blythe in the title role. Robert Spano is currently completing an album of his solo piano work under water and the Hölderlin Songs, with soprano Jessica Rivera.

With a discography of critically-acclaimed recordings for Telarc, Deutsche Grammophon and ASO Media recorded over nine years, Spano has won six Grammy™ Awards with the Atlanta Symphony. An all-Vaughan Williams disc for ASO Media comprising The Lark AscendingDona Nobis Pacem and Symphony No. 4 is slated for release in September, 2014. Robert Spano is on the faculty of Oberlin Conservatory and has received honorary doctorates from Bowling Green State University, the Curtis Institute of Music, Emory University and Oberlin. Maestro Spano was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and is proud to live in Atlanta.

© 2014 Kirshbaum Demler & Associates


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