Next year’s Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-2018 Season contains a few real surprises. Once again there is a tendency toward the theater, the most radical choice being the complete Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Definitely a good choice, and preceded by the lovely Siegfried Idyll for chamber ensemble. Grieg’s familiar Peer Gynt music shares a program with Beethoven’s unfamiliar but excellent Egmont music in what is perhaps billed as a staged performance; these should be interesting. And Berlioz’s complete Damnation of Faust conducted by Charles Dutoit (I still remember the performance at Tanglewood in 1960 with Martial Singher as Mephistopheles; at one point Munch gave such a sweeping sidewise beat that Singher had to jump out of the way, to the laughter of the audience).
Leonard Bernstein’s centenary is being celebrated with four works on opening night (September 22, including the very fine Serenade) and two series in March, with Symphony No. 2 (Age of Anxiety), a fine, exciting work, and No. 3 (Kaddish), another theatrical piece which I remember only as pretentious and rather uninteresting.
Much of the remaining repertory is standard, even conventional, with a handful of always welcome new works. Mahler is represented by Symphonies 1 and 3 (maybe, just maybe, Andris Nelsons will choose the 1893 version of Mahler’s First, the five-movement version for a Brahms-sized orchestra; very worthy and very rarely heard, although the Tufts Orchestra did it last November). Stravinsky is present with the complete Firebird (welcome in any year even though we heard it two years ago; much better than any suite) and the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss, another good choice, seldom heard. Bruckner: the Fourth Symphony, and that’s enough of him for one year.
Second Viennese School: no Schoenberg or Berg, only Webern’s Passacaglia, Op. 1, and his fascinating orchestration of the 6-part Ricercar from Bach’s Musical Offering. Prokofiev: Violin Concerto no. 2 (we heard it too a few years ago) and Symphony No. 5, a 1940s Koussevitzky monument. Shostakovich: three symphonies (4, 11, 14), part of Nelsons’s ongoing BSO cycle; the Fourth occupies an entire program. Janáček: Sinfonietta (a nice surprise—is there any other work in the entire repertory that calls for two bass trumpets?). Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, which sounds better and better every year. Benjamin Britten (Simple Symphony, too easy), Richard Strauss (Alpine Symphony, noisy and boring; Don Quixote ditto); a few pieces I don’t know at all: Sibelius En saga, Bartók Portraits, Ligeti Concert Românesc.
Besides the Egmont music, Beethoven is well-represented throughout the season: Piano Concertos 1, 3 and 4 (Rudolf Buchbinder, Martin Helmchen, Paul Lewis), and Symphonies 5 and 8. So is Mozart: Piano Concerto 21, an eternal favorite (Benjamin Grosvenor), and five symphonies. There’s a generous nod to the early Romantic symphony as well: Schumann 1, Mendelssohn 3 and 4.
Violin concertos are in abundance, with four outstanding soloists: Tchaikovsky (Shaham), Dvořák (Hahn), John Adams Scheherazade.2 (Josefowicz)
Prokofiev 2 (Kavakos), Ligeti (Augustin Hadelich), Brahms (Vadim Gluzman). There is a generous helping of piano as well: Bartók 1 (Pierre-Laurent Aimard), Chopin 1 (Jan Lisiecki), Brahms 2 (Ax), plus the Mozart and Beethoven, not to overlook the rare and delightful Bach Concerto for Three Keyboards in D minor, with Thomas Adès, Kirill Gerstein, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (I heard it at Tanglewood in 1959 with Lukas Foss, Seymour Lipkin, and Ralph Berkowitz).
One true surprise is slated for early January: Étienne Méhul’s Overture to The Amazons, or the Founding of Thebes (composed 1811), so unusual that I don’t know it at all even though I have heard and admired two other overtures and four symphonies by Méhul, who influenced Beethoven (who influenced him right back).
On May 4, the last week of the season, is a single concert with odd program of Gabrieli, Marcello, Rossini, and the Mozart 40th, conducted by Moritz Gnann. The other programs that week are the Dvořák 7th and the Brahms Second Piano Concerto, conducted by Haitink in his only appearances of the season.
New works include a couple of premieres and co-commissions, from John Adams (Scheherazade.2), Arlene Sierra: Moler (about bruxism), Derek Bermel (Elixir), Sean Shepherd, Jörg Widmann, and resident composer Adès (Suite from Powder Her Face).
Twelve guest conductors are slated, including familiar masters (Dohnányi, Blomstedt, Dutoit, Haitink), newish faces (Thomas Adès, François-Xavier Roth, Giancarlo Guerrero, Alan Gilbert), and some newest (Gustavo Gimeno, Tugan Sokhiev).
Click HERE for a PDF of the complete program listing.
Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, harmony.