By Mario R. Mercado
March 21, 2014

Cincinnati is rightly admired for its rich cultural life—art museums, theaters, summer opera as well as the annual May Festival, devoted to choral music. It also has one of the country’s leading symphony orchestras and in one of the biggest gets in the classical music world appointed Louis Langrée as its new music director.

The French conductor, a force that has revitalized New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival and orchestra, has appeared regularly with the world’s great opera companies. Yet, there will be no more exciting place in the music world than Cincinnati this weekend (March 21 and 22) when Langrée leads the orchestra in premieres by two contemporary American composers, Nico Muhly and David Lang, as part of a collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, organized by Bryce Dessner, guitarist in the indie rock band The National (and a Cincinnati native).

The two works—Pleasure Ground by Muhly and mountain by Lang—are musical portraits: a depiction of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, in the case of Muhly; Lang offers a tribute, no less, to the American composer Aaron Copland. There’s more. Bryce Dessner’s piece Murder Ballades will be performed by the hip ensemble, eight blackbird. And one of the most audacious works of the twentieth century, Polymorphia by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, which can best be described as fomenting a singular soundscape (hint: it has been used into films The Exorcist and The Shining) will be juxtaposed with 48 Responses to Polymorphia by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and an admirer of Penderecki. Langrée says of Cincinnati, “It is such a great orchestra with a great tradition, but it is also a place where one can experiment.”

Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.