Alabama Symphony Orchestra
Album: Paul Lansky: Imaginary Islands (Bridge)
Why we care: Justin Brown drew a lot of attention during his six seasons as music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, winning kudos for adventurous programming. Here are the fruits of his naming Paul Lansky as the orchestra's first resident composer in 2009-10.
Why we like it: Lansky is known for electronic music, but he shows a gift for writing for orchestra. Shapeshifters, a concerto for two pianos and orchestra, featuring Quattro Mani (Susan Grace and Alice Rybak), is exceptionally appealing. With the Grain is another concerto, with guitar soloist David Starobin. The orchestral Imaginary Islands is in three movements, "each a kind of sonic landscape for an imaginary island."
Reminds us of: Radiohead, Ravel
Download this: Shapeshifters
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Album: Steven Stucky: August 4, 1964 (DSO Live)
Why we care: Composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer were handed mission impossible: commemorate the 100th birthday of Lyndon Baines Johnson. They created a 70-minute "concert drama" for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and soloists, Jaap Van Zweden conducting. It focuses on a day in the Johnson presidency that included both the discovery of the bodies of three civil rights workers in Mississippi and the report (inaccurate, it was later learned) of an incident in the Tonkin Gulf used to justify escalation of the Vietnam War.
Why we like it: Stucky's score is a marvel, but a musical portrait of LBJ still seems impossible.
Reminds us of: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro's multivolume biography
Download this: August 4, 1964
San Francisco Symphony
Album: Beethoven (SFS Media)
Why we care: Beethoven is not the first composer you would associate with Michael Tilson Thomas — that would be Copland or Stravinsky or maybe Mahler, whose works have dominated the San Francisco Symphony's recording activity the past few years. But here he is in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and the Leonore Overture No. 3, part of a Beethoven cycle planned by music director and orchestra.
Why we like it: You can hear why the San Francisco Symphony has thrived under Tilson Thomas in this alert, spontaneous performance of the Beethoven symphony that Wagner described as "the apotheosis of the dance."
Reminds us of: How many recordings of Beethoven symphonies there are.
Download this: Symphony No. 7
Virginia Symphony Orchestra
Album: Adolphus Hailstork: An American Port of Call (Naxos)
Why we care: In a low key way, JoAnn Falletta has become one of the most recorded conductors, with more than 40 entries in her discography. Her latest is a selection of works by African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork played by the Virginia Symphony, with whom Falletta has been music director since 1991.
Why we like it: Like Celebration, Hailstork's most famous piece, An American Port of Call is exuberantly picturesque, inspired by the port of Norfolk, Va. Whitman's Journey, featuring the splendid baritone Kevin Deas and the Virginia Symphony Chorus, has text from Leaves of Grass to "Launch out on endless seas."
Reminds us of: John Williams
Download these: Symphony No. 1, An American Port of Call, Whitman's Journey