The 2016–17 performing arts season in the Triangle is shaping up to be a doozy. Carolina Performing Arts set the bar high with a schedule as broad and deep as anything they’ve had in recent years, with a particularly strong selection of orchestras, dance troupes, and international music. And the North Carolina Symphony continues to dive into the music of the twenty-first century with sympathetic works from the canon.

But, somehow, Duke Performances has managed to blow them all away with the season they announced yesterday. It seemed to take me forever just to finish browsing their schedule. Unsurprisingly, the major strength is music, particularly from smaller groups.

In many cases, it’s enough to merely list who’s coming: Aaron Neville, Simone Dinnerstein, Zakir Hussain, Branford Marsalis, Talib Kweli, Stephin Merrit, Blonde Redhead, Christian McBride, and Anoushka Shankar need no introductions. But that’s only just scratching the surface.

The contemporary classical programming is as ambitious as ever. The Mivos Quartet play bracing works by Helmut Lachenmann and Thomas Adés one night and collaborate with the iconoclastic poet Saul Williams the next. Shara Worden returns to the Triangle to present a new song cycle with Sō Percussion and to perform with her shapeshifting pop project My Brightest Diamond. Jeremy Denk presents a nicely reaching concert that includes Charles Ives monstrous Concord Sonata (which Denk has written about so eloquently).

The Deviant Septet and soprano Melissa Hughes
explore the outer reaches of Schoenberg’s seminal Pierrot Lunaire. Mahan Esfahani offers a compelling case for the harpsichord as a twenty-first century instrument. And Eighth Blackbird and Will Oldham (Bonnie “Prince” Billy) will wrap up the year an absolutely bonkers performance of Frederic Rzewski’s great minimalist protest piece Coming Together, which sets a letter written by Attica riot ringleader Sam Melville. (I haven’t even mentioned the intriguing shows by the Arditti Quartet and Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.)

The more traditional classical list is, well, more traditional. Almost all of the chamber music performances feature at least one work from Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, or Brahms, played by a solid set of performers including the St. Lawrence Quartet and Christian Tetzlaff. Most noteworthy will be Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adés’s journey through the complicated depths of Schubert’s Winterreise. There’s also a nicely diverse set of vocal music that spans a millennium.

Ageless saxophonist Charles Lloyd, ageless drummer Billy Hart, and the aforementioned Branford Marsalis and Christian McBride lead the jazz side of things. In addition, Rez Abbasi will make up his ice-hampered show from last year. Antonio Sanchez will perform his epic score for the film Birdman.Anat Cohen and Cécile McLorin Savant will do their things, and Gerald Clayton will continue Duke Performances’s tradition of commissioning expansive works about Southern culture.

Then there’s Arturo O’Farrill’s collaboration with Malpaso Dance Company, an extended residency by theater group The Civilians, and a pair of site-specificperformances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company. And there’s so much more that I haven’t even mentioned. It’s astonishing, really.

If my bank account would let me, I’d go to all of them.