The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 133rd season promises variety and no little excitement. The BSO management has done a fine job of choosing repertoire and assembling a cast of characters that should not disappoint even the most demanding of listeners. We can also still hope that before too much longer, the announcement for which we are all waiting will come to us. Subscriptions sales have begun, and the entire list of concerts may be viewed here.
BMInt has invited several of its writers to offer their responses. Mark DeVoto’s is the latest:
As the search for a permanent director continues, the Boston Symphony Orchestra belatedly announces its programs for the coming year, a collection of safe-choice masterpieces, overplayed warhorses, and some interesting premieres, along with a general avoidance of less-often-heard works. Most of the conductors in the guest roster are familiar already and we will surely welcome their return visits. So here are my grumpy off-the-cuff observations.
Among the conductors, Stéphane Denève appears for a third year, Christoph Eschenbach, Charles Dutoit, Daniele Gatti and Thomas Adès for the second year in a row, Robert Spano will come for two weeks, and we will have a good stretch of elder statesmen: Christoph von Dohnányi for no less than five weeks, and Lorin Maazel, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, and Bernard Haitink for two weeks each. One wonders whether Dohnányi, one of the best in the world, were being considered for the permanent position, but we wouldn’t urge him to go for it unless, at his age (83), he wants it; better he should join Haitink, six months older than he, in the emeritus category. Taking the long look ahead, most of us who watch over these matters would think that the BSO should put its money on a middle-aged master (Koussevitzky was 50 when he came to Boston; Munch was 58) who would be in a position to invest not only his maturity and experience but also his vision for the future in Boston; give him or her a five-year contract, and if necessary, don’t renew it (Ozawa, a peerless technician but an often uninspired interpreter and a drab programmer, certainly stayed too long). Thomas Adès is brilliantly accomplished and equally promising but still young at 40 (Bernstein was considered too young at 31 in 1949, but the real reason he wasn’t selected as Koussevitzky’s successor was that he wasn’t European). Denève and Gatti are both good technicians; Dutoit and Andrew Davis are much more experienced; I don’t know anything about Daniel Harding (age 37, assistant conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra) but his program sounds exciting: a new work by Mark-Anthony Turnage called Speranza, and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Assistant BSO conductor Andris Poga, 33, will conduct one program, including a new piano concerto by Justin Dello Joio (Garrick Ohlsson, soloist), but I am especially curious to hear the two weeks of another Latvian, Andris Nelsons, two years older, whose new recording of Dvořák’s “New World” is one of the finest I’ve heard.
Among the composers, we will get a generous dose of Brahms (Symphonies 2, 3, and 4; Piano Concerto no. 2; Double Concerto; maybe this is because of the 180th anniversary of his birth) and perhaps a too-generous dose of Beethoven, if such a heretical notion were thinkable (Symphonies 3, 4, and 6, and three all-Beethoven programs with all five piano concerti, the Triple Concerto, and all three Leonore Overtures; also the Elegischer Gesang, op. 118, from 1814, for four solo voices and strings, a curious choice, hardly an orchestral piece). Of Wagner we will get the Siegfried Idyll and the overture to Rienzi, and no Verdi at all; we’ve had enough of them in their bicentennial year. (The inclusion of the Rienzi overture reminds me of what Roger Sessions used to say: that every composer, or perhaps every professional musician, ought to be forced once in a lifetime to do penance, by hearing Rienzi, at least in its five-hour-long shorter version.) Meanwhile, everybody knows that this year, 2013, is also the bicentennial year of Charles-Valentin Alkan, and the centennial year of the premiere of The Rite of Spring, but it is also Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday year as well, and Charles Dutoit promises us a good War Requiem.
We will hear some good Mozart: Piano Concerto K. 503 with the excellent Paul Lewis (we heard it last year with the excellent Richard Goode), Piano Concerto K. 414 with Eschenbach solo and conductor (the rest of the program is Bruckner’s 9th), the “Prague” Symphony, K. 504, under Maazel (the rest of the program is Mahler’s 5th), and an evening of small-ensemble music, including the Serenata notturna and the big Serenade for winds, K. 361. I’m not delighted about Andrew Davis’s program: Vaughan Williams’s 6th, which is to my mind a terribly dull work, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 2, massive but very diffuse; but Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol will send everybody home in good spirits. Robert Spano will conduct Osvaldo Golijov’s Pasión segun San Marcos, which made a big hit here some years back, but his second program is equally exciting: Debussy’s Nuages and Fêtes (oh, how I wish we could hear Gigues and Rondes de printemps sometime), a new piano concerto by Bernard Rands (Jonathan Biss, soloist), and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last work and, in the opinion of many, including me, his greatest. (On another program Rachmaninoff will be represented by his Paganini Rhapsody, which the BSO will have programmed for the third time in five years.) Dohnányi will conduct Mahler’s Second Symphony in September, and then, I hope, that work can be retired for a few years in favor of other Mahler. Maazel insists on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth in April; this is another work we ought to be able to do without for a long while. (Two nights later Maazel replaces that warhorse with another incomparably greater warhorse, the Symphonie fantastique, the only Berlioz we will get this year.) Of Schumann we will hear the Piano Concerto (with Perahia) and the Second Symphony, his greatest orchestral work; of Dvořák, the Violin Concerto and the Romance (once again let me sound the trumpet for Dvořák’s late symphonic poems, especially Polednice (The Noon Witch), never performed by the BSO in 150 years); of Shostakovich, the first Cello Concerto and Symphony no. 15. Oh, yes, Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, and on another program, Salome complete, in concert, conducted by Nelsons. Thomas Adès’s program is particularly well chosen: in addition to his own Polaris, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, the Orchestral Set no. 2 by Charles Ives, and Franck’s Symphony (the last time I heard the Franck with the BSO was in the spring of 1957; it was a favorite of Munch and of many others, and half a century later it is surely time for it to fall back into fashion). We will even be able to cherish an all-Ravel program with Haitink (Alborada del gracioso, Shéhérazade, Daphnis et Chloé complete), but Charles Dutoit will also do Le tombeau de Couperin, which I think we had last year; Dutoit is also including a rarity, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto Grosso no. 1 for three cellos and orchestra, plus another warhorse, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Stravinsky is represented this season only by the Symphony of Psalms; Manuel de Falla, by The Three-cornered Hat, Suites 1 and 2 (why not the entire ballet, which is only a little longer than the suites?); and we have a seasoning of Musorgsky (Night on Bald Mountain) and Glinka (Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila; Stravinsky often conducted this and other works by Glinka, of whom he wrote, “His music is unimportant, but he is not; all music in Russia stems from him”).
I’ve already mentioned several premieres that will be featured during the coming season, but there are other new or recent works that we should look forward to as well: a Bassoon Concerto by Marc Neikrug, and Steven Stucky’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, after Purcell. It is heart-warming to see such attention paid to living composers, especially those getting on in years; it would be better to see even more.
Leon Golub opines below:
The upcoming BSO season will feature a mix of old and new, in many ways like the past season. Many familiar faces will be returning to lead subscription concerts, starting with Christoph von Dohnányi leading an all Brahms program and the Mahler Symphony No. 2 the following week, with soloists Camilla Tilling and Sarah Connolly. Stéphane Denève, Thomas Adès and Andris Nelsons will lead varied programs ranging from Mozart to Ives to Adès, all in the first month of concerts. There will also be several subscription concert conducting debuts: Daniel Harding, Andris Poga and David Newman, and return appearances by, among others, Charles Dutoit, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Daniele Gatti and Bernard Haitink. Lorin Maazel will close the season with several programs before taking the orchestra on a tour of China and Japan May 1-11.
For the piano lovers, Yefim Bronfman will appear in a 3-concert mini-festival from March 13th through March 22nd performing all five Beethoven piano concertos with von Dohnányi conducting, Yuja Wang will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Peter Serkin performs the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, Murray Perahia performs the Schumann Concerto, Jonathan Biss will premiere a concerto by Bernard Rands and Garrick Ohlsson will premiere a piano concerto by Justin Dello Joio. Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will perform Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and cellist Yo-Yo Ma will appear for the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1, while vocal music lovers will hear Britten’s War Requiem, Strauss’ Salome and Golijov’s La Pasión Según San Marcos. We also look forward to hearing a concert performance of Strauss’s Salome and Bernstein’s West Side Story with live accompaniment to the showing of a remastered print.
A new “Insights” series of free public events will take place in conjunction with the War Requiem (7-10 November) and the Beethoven piano concerto concerts (March 9-22). Events will include chamber music concerts and discussions at a variety of locations, including the Kennedy Library, New England Conservatory, Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University.
The Boston Symphony Chamber Players will celebrate their 50th anniversary with newly-commissioned works by Kati Agócs, Hannah Lash, Gunther Schuller and Yehudi Wyner and the Boston première of a new work for flute and string quartet by Sebastian Currier. Gilbert Kalish will join the Players to duplicate a program from their 1st season.
Cashman Kerr Prince adds his thoughts:
Principal bassoonist Richard Svoboda will solo in the world premiere of Neikrug’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra on November 21st. I am excited for Svoboda’s artistry to be showcased in this work. I’m also struck by the programmed pairings for some of these works. Turnage’s Speranza shares an evening with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (with mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn and tenor Michael Schade); Rands’s concerto appears between Debussy, movements from Nocturnes, and Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances; Dello Joio’s piano concerto is on a program with Wagner, Rienzi overture, and Shostakovich, Symphony no. 15. I wonder what these combinations say about these works—especially the Turnage and Mahler (a study in contrasts perhaps, both thematic and in the use of folk music as source material)?
Charles Dutoit will lead the orchestra in Britten’s War Requiem (November 7-9), celebrating the composer’s centenary. Soloists include soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, tenor John Mark Ainsley, baritone Matthias Goerne, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and The American Boychoir. I’ve long loved this work so am pleased to see this on the program and have high hopes for the concert.
Dutoit also conducts what is, to me, the most exciting concert of the season: from October 31-November 3 he will lead the BSO in a concert of music by Penderecki, Ravel, and Elgar. I like Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin and Elgar, Enigma Variations, but the excitement for me is the inclusion of the Krzysztof Penderecki to mark the composer’s 80th birthday. Originally premiered by and dedicated to Dutoit, this piece brings to the stage of Symphony Hall the cellists Gautier Capuçon, Daniel Müller-Schott, and Arto Noras. I first heard Penderecki’s music in high school and it was an utter revelation; I am also a cello-nerd.
Next season the BSO is offering “Insights” series events surrounding their performance of Britten’s War Requiem and the Beethoven piano concerti. These are free, public events in collaboration with other local institutions. The Kennedy Library and NEC will host discussions and concerts on the twin themes of music and pacifism in conjunction with the Britten. NEC, the MFA, and Harvard join with the BSO to explore “Beethoven and the Piano,” in a series of “lectures, demonstrations, curated film screenings, and ancillary performances” and video podcasts. I’ll be curious to see how these Insights events compare to the short-lived BSO Online Conservatory about Beethoven and Schoenberg in 2006 – 2007.
The survey of all five Beethoven piano concertos with Yefim Bronfman, piano, and Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor, in late March brought to my mind the Levine traversal of the Beethoven symphonies between 2005 and 2007. Programming the Beethoven Triple Concerto (this time with Guy Braunstein, violin, and Alisa Weilerstein, cello, joining Bronfman and von Dohnányi) and a couple of the Leonore overtures makes the comparison that much more inevitable. Still, von Dohnányi has drawn the best out of the BSO in recent appearances.
Andris Nelsons will lead a concert performance of Strauss’s Salome on March 6th, with soprano Gun-Brit Barkman, mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel, tenor Gerhard Siegel, and bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin. David Newman will conduct the BSO in Bernstein’s West Side Story, accompanying the newly re-mastered film. Both evenings proffer promise and pitfalls. I’m of two minds about a concert presentation of Salome (and any opera); I miss the Good Friday oratorios of years past (Mendelssohn’s Elijah has stayed with me). I am excited for an orchestral play-along of Bernstein’s film at Tanglewood (Saturday, July 13, 2013), but Symphony Hall as a venue for this program excites me less.
Finally, mention should be made of the BSO trip to China and Japan in early May, 2014, under the baton of Lorin Maazel. While Boston-area audiences will not hear these concerts, this exercise in the soft power of cultural diplomacy is increasingly important in our fractious world; I am happy to see the BSO resuming their work in this domain.