SCHENECTADY — It might be said that Derek Delaney, the artistic director of the Union College Concert Series, which opens Sunday, has his fingers on the pulse of the best and the brightest of classical concert artists. Maybe that’s because he’s always on the search.
“All year I travel … mostly on the East Coast,” Delaney said recently, having just returned from a quick trip to a chamber music festival in Yorkshire, England, to scout around. “I pick and choose who I want to hear, but some come from recommendations, or I stumble on their YouTube, or I see a review in the New York Times.”
To that end, fans of the series will notice some old favorites returning, as well as several new faces on the season’s roster. And as always, Delaney will try to keep a mix among string quartets, pianists, singers and instrumentalists.
“What I look for is someone who moves me,” he said. “They could play kazoo. But they must be an artist, not a technical wizard, and have something to say musically. And most have an international scope — not be just from the United States.”’
Opening the season is the return of the Belcea string quartet, one of the three top quartets in the world, Delaney said, in a program of Haydn, Dvorak and Beethoven.
Violinist Alexi Kenney with pianist Renana Gutman make their debut Oct. 21.
“I first heard Alexi at Marlboro two years ago and was so taken with his playing I went to hear him at his recital at Lincoln Center,” Delaney said. “It was a stunning recital and I was blown away. I signed him up immediately, and now his career is taking off with performances at the Mostly Mozart Festival and Carnegie Hall.”
Hungarian pianist Zoltan Fejervari is another new face set for Wednesday, Nov. 7.
“I heard him three years ago at Marlboro and adored his playing,” Delaney said. “When he came on a Marlboro tour two years ago, I asked him to do a recital. I believed in him so much I helped him get management, then he won the 2017 Montreal competition and was asked to play at the Gilmore Festival.”
Four Musicians from Marlboro return, including with Fejervari on Nov. 16 in a program of Dvorak and Bartok.
The season’s highlight for Delaney, however, is the debut of English baritone Simon Keenlyside with pianist Malcolm Martineau on Dec. 9.
“He’s a big Metropolitan Opera star and a big recitalist. This is part of his U.S. tour,” Delaney said. “I’ve been wanting to get him for years.”
Keenlyside has an inspiring backstory, as he underwent thyroid surgery in 2014 and many questioned whether he’d ever be able to sing again. After months of recuperation, however, he’s back, with recent performances at Tanglewood and other recitals.
“He’s one of the world’s biggest,” Delaney said.
Closing out the fall season — there are nine concerts more in 2019 — is the return of pianist Jonathan Biss on Sunday, Dec. 9, in a program of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann.
Biss’ big news is that he recently was made co-artistic director with Mitsuko Uchida at Marlboro Music Festival, which is a very big deal, Delaney said.
Separate from these stars is a free concert from Curtis Institute cellist Oliver Herbert on Jan. 13. While these students usually come by teacher recommendation, Delaney proudly reported that 20-year-old pianist Eric Lu, who played on the 2017 series and was a student of Biss, recently won the Leeds International Piano Competition — the first American to win in 46 years.
If you go
WHAT: Union College Concert Series
WHERE: Union College’s Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: From $30; students, free
MORE INFO: 518-388-6080;
Oct. 14: Belcea Quartet, 3 p.m.
Oct. 21: Alexi Kenney, 3 p.m.
Nov. 7: Zoltan Fejervari, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 16: Musicians from Marlboro, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 5: Simon Keenlyside, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9: Jonathan Biss, 3 p.m.
Jan. 6: Wu Han/David Finckel, 3 p.m.
Jan. 13: Oliver Herbert, 3 p.m. (free)
Jan. 20: Mark Padmore/Paul Lewis, 3 p.m.
Feb. 10: Emerson Quartet, 3 p.m.
Feb. 17: Doric Quartet, 3 p.m.
March 17: Alexander Melnikov/Andreas Staier, 3 p.m.
March 31: Piotr Anderszewski, 3 p.m.
April 12: Artemis Quartet, 7:30 p.m.
April 27: Mitsuko Uchida, 3 p.m.