The past few months have been unsettling for New Zealand's orchestras and those who cherish them. Nevertheless, Auckland Phiharmonia Orchestra has launched its 2013 season, dealing out optimism of the sunniest kind.

Celebration was afoot in the Town Hall, with CEO Barbara Glaser as MC and various speeches alternating with short orchestral previews, ably conducted by Kenneth Young.

This orchestra has thought things through, right from its 52-page brochure, elegantly designed with a minimum of the ad agency excesses to which such publications are prone.

Richard Strauss' hardy Zarathustra provided the launching pad and Glaser quickly pointed out that this would open the orchestra's first Town Hall concert in February. Strauss will sign off that occasion, preceded by a Mozart Piano Concerto with young Norwegian Gunilla Sussmann and, to light the fuse, the sizzling Scherzoid, from English composer Marc-Anthony Turange of Anna Nicole fame.


Similarly neat programming abounds throughout the APO's main concerts, rebranded the New Zealand Herald Premier Series.

Familiar names return. Glaser highlighted violinist James Ehnes who plays Elgar in May and pianist Nikolai Demidenko who presents Rachmaninov's Second Concerto two months later.

APO horn player Emma Richards, the first of a number of guest speakers, was looking forward to Australian Amy Dickson with Dubois' Saxophone Concerto in September.

Watch out for the flamboyant Cameron Carpenter in July giving the Town Hall organ a workout in Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante.

New in 2013 will be French soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet; we may not be able to catch her Wagner and Strauss triumphs on European opera stages but in May, she will sing Strauss' Four Last Songs, exquisitely framed by Zemlinsky and Schubert.

How good it was to see Bayleys taking on sponsorship for the APO's Great Classic Series.

Even here, alongside "classics" like Beethoven's Eroica, we have Haydn (La Reine Symphony), Ravel's piquant Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and two popular returning soloists - Ilya Gringolts with Mozart in April and, come June, Sergio Tiempo promising wild keyboarding in Liszt's Totentanz and Balakirev's Islamey.

The mid-winter Splendour series will be more evenly spaced through the year (three concerts from May to October). The hand of music director Eckehard Stier shows in works by Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Hindemith's 1940 Cello Concerto, one of nine New Zealand premieres throughout the year that include scores by Thomas Ades, Korngold and Martinu.

This year's Trusts Community Foundation Opera in Concert leaps a century ahead from the usual Verdi and Wagner. Stier, in his address from a giant video screen, describes Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress as "very APO-ish ... unexpected".

And to top it off, Madeleine Pierard, who will play Anne Trulove on the night, joined the orchestra for a dazzling performance of the aria, No word from Tom.

Glaser was understandably proud of two special events for next March's Auckland Arts Festival.

The mere mention of Britten's War Requiem occasioned cheers from the hall; the much-anticipated premiere of Jack Body's Songs and Dances of Desire, a tribute to the late drag queen Carmen Rupe, had the audience gasping when Glaser listed a transvestite dancer among the cast. Songs and Dances of Desire is not the only major local commission - later in August, Stier conducts a Fifth Symphony by Ross Harris, neatly partnered by Mahler's Fourth.

As usual, the APO's Town Hall appearances are the tip of the iceberg and Glaser reminded us of all that happens under the name of "Connecting", a small name, as she put it, for a huge amount of music-making.

Owen Glenn, having donated $400,000 to the APO's Sistema initiative, gave a brief address before being tributed by two young girls from Otara.

In the midst of listing all the other community activities, Glaser noted wryly that there are still 10 concerts to go before the end of this year.

The same sense of co-operation and working together that has the APO providing two festival highlights next March is also present in Chamber Music New Zealand's 2013 Kaleidoscopes series.

Setting off with contemporary fare from Kronos Quartet in March, this concert is complemented by a festival collaboration between Kronos and noted pipa player Wu Tan, including a presentation of Tan Dun's Ghost Opera.

There are other top-rank quartets coming next year, from the Goldners (with pianist Piers Lane) to the Tokyo, in what will be one of the ensemble's last performances.

Most cheering is the strong local content you'll find leafing through CMNZ's Kaleidoscopes brochure.

Michael Houstoun revisits his celebrated 1994 Beethoven sonata cycle (April, August and November) while Auckland pianist Stephen De Pledge has coaxed colleagues from Britain and the NZSO to perform in July as the group Einstein's Universe.

These and other concerts, including one by the popular NZTrio, come with generously commissioned works from Gareth Farr, Samuel Holloway, Claire Cowan and Ross Harris.

One problem: the Holloway and Harris pieces are only to be heard in Hamilton. But, gird your concert-going loins as a 90-minute trip down SH1 will be amply rewarded.