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BSO Announces 136th Season


cartoucheThe most remarkable surprise in next year’s Boston Symphony season is the appointment of Thomas Adès, the young (born 1973) British composer, pianist, and conductor as the first “Boston Symphony Artistic Partner,” which I think means artist-in-residence with composing and performing responsibilities—it may be a novelty for the BSO, but I salute the idea wholeheartedly. [More on Adès comes at the end of the article]. Several other performers will make significant debut appearances, including pianists, conductors, and singers.

The 2016-2017 brochure may be downloaded here.

Next season comes complete with exciting prospects and no few surprises, as well some noticeable gaps—no Stravinsky, no Copland, no Second Viennese School.

Andris Nelsons kicks things off with a Russian program, including Shostakovitch’s Festive Overture, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto (probably the most popular of all 20th-century works in this genre), and Moussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. These are all pretty standard, but Nelsons will direct a more generous variety later, including Shostakovitch’s Seventh Symphony (the “Leningrad”) in February, Sixth Symphony in April, and King Lear music in May on the season’s closer. Perhaps my plea last year for a performance of Shostakovitch’s Eighth Symphony, a much better work than either the Sixth or Seventh, might finally come to fruition next year, because Nelsons genuinely seems to love Shostakovich. The February program will include a new Triple Concerto (violin, cello, and bayan) by Sofia Gubaidulina; the April program will be matched up with a curious title, Nostalghia (In Memory of Andrei Tarkovsky) by Toru Takemitsu, and the beloved Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter; the May program ends with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth (and least known) Piano Concerto (with Leif Ove Andsnes) and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Other Russians will be Moussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain in October, sharing a program with Smetana’s Šárka, Janáček’s Taras Bulba which rates as a Russian piece, and Bartók’s Violin Concerto no. 2. Another all-Russian program will be heard in January under the baton of Juanjo Mena: Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No. 1, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and, most interestingly, a Violin Concerto by Moisey Vaynberg (the many variant spellings include Mieczysław Weinberg, whose poignant Sixth Symphony I reported on here) with Gidon Kremer as soloist. As long as I’ve mentioned Bartók, there is one more item from him, and a great one: Bluebeard’s Castle, in concert performance directed by Charles Dutoit (October), who thus continues his predilection for concert opera with the BSO.

Andris Nelsons’s Richard Strauss cycle of concert performances — Salome last year, Elektra this year—continues with Der Rosenkavalier on September 29 and October 1 with Renée Fleming as the Marschallin. Perhaps by that time I will learn to appreciate an opera that everybody else all around the world loves so much, but that strikes me as an extravagance even for the BSO. It is hard to imagine an unstaged performance of this beloved work that is so crashingly undramatic and slow-moving—“the illusion of carnival, champagne, and feather-brained levity,” as Joseph Kerman described it. If the BSO wants to mount an extravagance, I would much rather hear Andris Nelsons tackle Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, which was unforgettably earth-shaking when James Levine conducted it a few years back, with hundreds of empty seats in the hall.

One extravagance all of us can look forward to eagerly in March is a real rarity, and an exciting one: the huge five-movement Piano Concerto by Ferruccio Busoni with Kirill Gerstein playing the solo, and a men’s chorus in the final movement. (There are several good recordings of this strange, rarely-heard but mighty work; I especially like the one by our own Marc-André Hamelin.) Sibelius’s Third Symphony opens the program, and that, plus Tapiola in November, seems to be the only Sibelius for the season.

There will be a fair abundance of new works, including some premieres and Boston Symphony commissions: in addition to Gubaidulina and several works by Thomas Adès (including his Totentanz which he will conduct in November), there will be new pieces by Julian Anderson, Eric Nathan, Timo Andres, George Benjamin, an organ concerto by Terry Riley called At the Royal Majestic, a Cello Concerto by Matthias Pintscher, and a Trauermarsch by Jörg Widmann. The late Gunther Schuller will be honored with his best-known orchestral work, Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (February).

We will hear just one work by Bach, but it is a big one: his B Minor Mass, directed by Nelsons in February. Johannes Brahms is amply represented by an entire cycle: all four symphonies and both piano concertos with Hélène Grimaud, in two series in November; and the Deutsches Requiem in October. Haydn seems to be represented by only his 60th Symphony, “Il distratto” (The Distraught); it’s a piece brimming over with jokes, including the violins re-tuning their instruments eighteen bars into the Prestissimo finale. There’s a good deal of Mozart: Symphony no. 39, four of his most beloved piano concertos (K. 466 with Uchida, April; K. 482 with Ax, February; K. 491 with Lupu; and K. 595 (November) with Menahem Pressler, who is 92 years old and going strong), and the Requiem (in April, with K. 491). Ax’s visit will also include Beethoven’s Second Concerto (really his first); the other Beethoven in the season are the Third, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. Schumann will be represented by his unforgettable Piano Concerto (Jean-Frédéric Neuburger) and his rarely-heard but delightful, indeed almost comical, Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra; the latter shares a program of BSO soloists, playing works by Vivaldi, Krommer, Jolivet, and Nino Rota (January). Yo-Yo Ma will play the Elgar Cello Concerto in October—a piece that always makes me wish there were better cello concertos than his. (I heard a pretty good one by Eugen d’Albert a while ago. Yo-Yo Ma premiered John Harbison’s Cello Concerto with the BSO some years ago; bring it back.)

There are a number of usual warhorses, but these include many of the best, indeed pieces that I never tire of hearing: Mendelssohn’s Hebrides and Dvořák’s New World Symphony (November), and Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony (January; this has been heard several times in Symphony Hall in recent years, but I wrote the book on it); Holst’s The Planets (October, Dutoit), which in all these decades I’ve never heard in live performance.

There’s not a lot of French music—we have had quite a bit in recent years in any case — but it is choice. Debussy’s Nocturnes, complete with women, is central on Haitink’s program in March that includes the Haydn 60th and Beethoven Seventh. The following week there will be an entire French program conducted by Alain Altinoglu (French, but is he also Turkish?) featuring Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole and Dutilleux’s Symphony no. 2, “Le Double,” whose world premiere I heard with the BSO 57 years ago, as well as Berlioz’s Carnaval romain and Roussel’s Second Suite from Bacchus et Ariane. The latter probably hasn’t been heard since the Munch days—it was a favorite of his—but it is a honey. Nelsons will conduct Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique in February along with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, which may be for the fourth time in five years, but the only Ravel in the coming season.

Thomas Ades leads the Boston Symphony (Stu Rosner photo)
Thomas Ades leads the Boston Symphony (Stu Rosner photo)

More on Thomas Adès

BMInt’s Laura Stanfield Prichard highly recommends a recent paper on the composer, Thinking Irrational: Thomas Adès and new Rhythms as well as BMInt’s review of his opera Powder Your Face, and a funny/serious LATimes story about him last season.

The Complete Official Word from the BSO Follows

The Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons have announced the appointment of English composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Adès as the orchestra’s first-ever Artistic Partner for a three-year period starting in the fall of 2016. As BSO Artistic Partner, Mr. Adès’s rich commitment to the BSO will span a wide range of activities reflecting his many gifts as one of the greatest musical minds of the 21st century; he will become an integral figure at the BSO—both in Symphony Hall and Tanglewood—as composer, conductor, performer, and teacher. This news is being released in conjunction with the 2016-17 BSO season announcement, with complete details available here.

One of the most respected and sought-after composers and performers in the field of classical music, Mr. Adès will assume his new position as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Deborah and Philip Edmundson Artistic Partner beginning with the BSO’s 2016-17 season, leading his monumental and critically acclaimed Totentanz, for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and orchestra with soloists Christianne Stotijn and Mark Stone, on a program with Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Sibelius’s Tapiola (11/3-5). In what is sure to be a highlight of the recital offerings in Boston in 2016-17, Mr. Adès will join frequent collaborator, English tenor Ian Bostridge, for a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, as part of a joint presentation by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Celebrity Series of Boston, to take place at Jordan Hall on Friday, October 28. On Sunday, October 30, Mr. Adès will also be featured as pianist with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in a program of Britten’s Sinfonietta, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, and a work by Mr. Adès.

In the 2018-19 season, the BSO will present the highly anticipated world premiere of Mr. Adès’s BSO-commissioned Piano Concerto, with Kirill Gerstein as soloist.

In addition to his work with the BSO at Symphony Hall, Mr. Adès will also play a prominent role at Tanglewood, where he will be the Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music in 2018 and 2019. His role at Tanglewood will also include working closely with the Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center—the BSO’s acclaimed summer music academy—in the roles of teacher, performer, and conductor. Further details on Mr. Adès’s activities at Tanglewood will be available as part of the 2017 Tanglewood season announcement in November 2016.


“It is incredibly exciting for me and my beloved BSO that the exceptional Thomas Adès will join us as Artistic Partner and work very closely with us to create fascinating programs for our devoted audiences here in Boston, at Tanglewood, and, through broadcasts and recordings, around the world,” said BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons.

“Universally regarded as one of the most creative souls in the world of classical music today, Thomas Adès and his accomplishments are extraordinary. As the BSO’s Artistic Partner, Thomas will be involved with the orchestra on every level of his outstanding talents as a composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher. There is no doubt that he will inspire all of us at the BSO to ever greater achievements, which we hope will become special gifts for all of those who so love listening to the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We truly look forward to welcoming Thomas as a treasured member of the BSO family.”


“I am delighted to be joining the BSO family of musicians and colleagues and to embark on this particular artistic adventure,” said Thomas Adès. “From my first rehearsal with this amazing orchestra—almost exactly five years ago—I knew that we shared a musical wavelength, and in our subsequent meetings I’ve been gratified to sense the relationship deepening each time. It seems natural now to broaden the experience beyond conducting and chamber music to include composing specifically for these gifted players and teaching alongside them—not to mention sharing the unique ‘total immersion’ experience of Tanglewood. I’m so grateful to Andris Nelsons, Mark Volpe, Tony Fogg, and the BSO musicians for this opportunity, and I very much look forward to contributing to—and partaking of—the cultural delights offered by the wonderful city of Boston.”


“With the appointment of Thomas Adès as BSO Artistic Partner, all of us at the BSO are filled with a great sense of anticipation over having one of the most brilliant minds of our field involved with the BSO and the Tanglewood Music Center as a conductor, composer, performer, and teacher,” said Managing Director Mark Volpe.

“From the first moment Thomas Adès worked directly with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2011, there was a palpable chemistry that resulted in incredibly memorable music-making. Almost immediately thereafter we started imagining the possibilities and how we might bring the brilliant Thomas Adès more closely into the musical orbit of the BSO. Following many discussions and a great deal of reflection by both parties over the last couple of years, we are thrilled to announce that Mr. Adès has agreed to become the first-ever BSO Artistic Partner and a prominent member of the BSO family. The absolutely unique creative synergies between Andris Nelsons, Thomas Adès, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra promise to bring extraordinary performances of great breadth and insight. This landmark collaboration with Thomas Adès will certainly be a major event for us here at the BSO and in the classical music world at large.”


9 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Oh no! I’m going to have to subscribe to ALL of the series this year!

    Comment by Mark Lutton — March 10, 2016 at 9:41 pm

  2. Alain Altinoglu was born in France, but is actually of ARMENIAN descent, not Turkish.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — March 10, 2016 at 11:07 pm

  3. I was intrigued by Altinoglu’s unusual name. Getting various disparate facts together [France, Armenia, & Turkey], possibly accurate, the Wikipedia stub on Altinoglu begins with the following sentences:

    “Alain Altinoglu (born 9 October 1975) is a French conductor of Armenian descent. Born in Paris, into an Armenian family who were originally from Istanbul, Altinoglu studied music at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. ”

    Comment by Joan Griscom — March 11, 2016 at 3:18 am

  4. You won’t have to wait much longer for that performance of the Shostakovich 8th by Maestro Nelsons and the BSO – just about 2 weeks.

    Comment by Gerry — March 11, 2016 at 6:45 am

  5. Regarding the early answer to M DeVoto’s plea for Shost 8, one shroud understand that the BSO press season announcement came to BMInt in embargoed form only 24 hours before the intended publication date. That gives very little time for reflection or error checking.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 11, 2016 at 8:05 am

  6. Lee is right, and I’m happy to be corrected about the Shostakovich Eighth; in my haste to appraise next season’s schedule I forgot about this year’s, and I will certainly try to hear the performance. The Eighth is a seldom-heard work of great power; as I wrote last year (but forgot this year), not to be missed.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — March 11, 2016 at 9:39 am

  7. No mentioning of Bruckner 6????????

    Mr. Nelsons might have read what I wrote. But I think he should have been more brave and included No. 5 in the same season.

    Can’t believe Rosenkavalier is going to happen. Thought he was going to perform Ariadne first, even though he might have great great difficulty finding a tenor that does not ruin a night.

    Comment by Thorsten — March 12, 2016 at 10:49 am

  8. I wonder why Mr. DeVoto seems so evidently proud of his not bothering to attend, or be aware of, BSO concerts over the years. He has lived here and been a part of the musical community for a long time, yet he says “Holst’s The Planets (October, Dutoit), which in all these decades I’ve never heard in live performance.” In recent decades, the BSO has performed this warhorse under William Steinberg (1970, including a fine DG recording); Andrew Davis (Tanglewood, 1977); Seiji Ozawa (1979, including a fine Philips recording); Bernard Haitink (1998); and Robert Spano (2007). There was also a performance and recording under John Williams with the Boston Pops (Tanglewood 1995). It’s not exactly scarce on the BSO’s concert schedule.

    Even odder is his assertion that “The latter [Roussel’s Second Suite from Bacchus et Ariane] probably hasn’t been heard since the Munch days—it was a favorite of his,” when a quick search of the BSO archives website ( shows that it has been performed since Munch’s death under Alain Lombard (Tanglewood 1970); Seiji Ozawa (1978); John Nelson (Tanglewood 1981); Pascan Verrot (1988); James Conlon (1993); and as recently as 2012 under Stéphane Denève. The “Henry” archive search tool means that there’s little reason to speculate on whether a particular piece “probably” has or hasn’t been heard recently, since it takes only a few moments to find out the facts.

    I appreciate Mr. DeVoto’s perspective on the history of the BSO, but if he’s going to write about the upcoming season it would be appropriate for him to be aware of its recent past and present too.

    Comment by Stephen H. Owades — March 21, 2016 at 3:42 pm

  9. On the subject of the Shostakovich 8th, it’s also worth mentioning that the Boston Symphony has a contract with Deutsche Grammophon, announced about a year ago, to record a series of Shostakovich Symphonies, 5 through 10, under the general title “Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow.” There’s every likelihood that this will be extended to cover all the Shostakovich Symphonies, assuming reasonable sales for the first installments. Here’s what the BSO press release said a year ago:

    Symphony Nos. 5, 8, and 9, as well as incidental music to Hamlet will be released in a 2-album set in May 2016; these works will be recorded during the BSO’s 2015-16 season, details of which are available at In summer 2017, a second 2-album set will include Symphony Nos. 6 and 7, and incidental music from the Suite from King Lear. Further details about the May 2016 and summer 2017 releases will be available at a later date.

    Comment by Stephen H. Owades — March 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm

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