IN: News & Features

Symphony Announces 2018–19 Season


Because the Boston Symphony includes three “brands”—the BSO, the Boston Pops, and Tanglewood—for which tickets and subscriptions are sold in the spring, they traditionally space out the three announcements and ticket sales. This year they’re providing the full details a week earlier than usual. [HERE].

The orchestra begins the fall with a two-week tour of European cities and festivals (September 2–17), including Leipzig, whose orchestra shares Music Director Andris Nelsons with the BSO. The Boston season thus begins later than usual (October 11), and without an opening-night gala. Andris Nelsons will lead 13 of the standard 25 weeks of concerts, which is a larger number than he’s done in the past. Eleven conductors will preside over the remaining 12: only Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be here for two weeks.

No single theme shapes the season, but some anniversaries will be celebrated, including Boston composer John Harbison’s 80th birthday and the centennial of Latvian independence.

Symphony management received a letter this season from subscribers and members of the local musical community, urging greater diversity in programming and performers, and it appears that they have made some efforts in both areas. Since the BSO’s press release doesn’t brag about it, here is a brief list:

  • Shi-Yeon Sung was a BSO Assistant Conductor from 2007–10, and she has been invited back to lead the first concerts of 2019 including the only orchestral work by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Felix’s sister), the Overture in C. (This piece was performed here in 1999 under Keith Lockhart’s direction, in a set of concerts made up entirely of music by women composers.)
  • Andris Nelsons’s first program of the season will contain the Lux æterna for unaccompanied chorus by Latvian composer Maija Einfelde, along with Mahler’s Symphony #2, Resurrection.
  • John Storgårds, a Finnish violinist and conductor, will make his BSO debut with a largely Finnish program including Ciel d’hiver by Kaija Saariaho, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K.482 (Martin Helmchen), and the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies of Sibelius.
  • D’un Soir triste by Lili Boulanger (the brilliant, short-lived, younger sister of the famous pedagogue and conductor Nadia) will be heard on an Andris Nelsons program in February that also includes Debussy’s Nocturnes and Puccini’s opera Suor Angelica (with Kristine Opolais and Violeta Urmana in lead roles). Because opera singers don’t generally perform on consecutive days, the Friday concert that week will substitute a curiosity: Benjamin Britten’s Friday Afternoons for children’s chorus and orchestra, featuring the new Boston Symphony Children’s Choir.
  • On March 23, the orchestra’s Youth and Family Concerts conductor Thomas Wilkins will lead three works by African-American composers Adolphus Hailstork, Duke Ellington, and Florence Price, plus the Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra by Roberto Sierra with James Carter as soloist.
  • Gustavo Dudamel returns to the BSO for the first time since 2006 (at Tanglewood) in April for his subscription debut. The first of his programs is relatively conventional (Schumann’s Spring Symphony and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring), but the second contains music by composers from Argentina (Alberto Ginastera) and Venezuela (Paul Desenne and Antonio Estévez).

The total count of music by women composers (Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Maija Einfelde, Kaija Saariaho, Lili Boulanger, Grażyna Bacewicz, and Florence Price) is substantially higher than we’ve seen in recent BSO seasons. Four African-American composers will be represented (Adolphus Hailstork, Duke Ellington, Olly Wilson, and Florence Price), and three from South America (Alberto Ginastera, Paul Desenne, and Antonio Estévez). The roster of conductors will include one Korean woman (Shi-Yeon Sung), one African-American man (Thomas Wilkins), and one South American man (Gustavo Dudamel).

American orchestras and their Music Directors have taken a variety of approaches to Baroque music in recent decades. The BSO did a fair bit of Bach under Seiji Ozawa, with both large and small orchestras and choruses. James Levine did none, feeling that specialist ensembles now own the field, especially in Boston. Andris Nelsons has returned to conducting Bach himself, and this year he will lead the BSO’s first complete performances of the Christmas Oratorio at the end of November, just before the Holiday Pops break. In much of the world, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio takes the role that Handel’s Messiah holds here and in England, as the evergreen seasonal choral work. This will be the “Leipzig Week” program for 2018–19. (Charles Munch led five of the six cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio in December of 1950, with a chorus trained by Arthur Fiedler; only single orchestral or choral movements have been presented on other occasions.)

Sadly, there will be no visits from beloved “old master” maestros Christoph von Dohnányi (whose health problems have forced him to cancel his last several scheduled appearances) or Bernard Haitink in the coming season. Another of the old masters, 90-year-old Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt (born, surprisingly enough, in Springfield, Massachusetts), will lead the Haydn C-major Cello Concerto with Truls Mørk and the Brahms First Symphony in mid-January.

The BSO will mark John Harbison’s 80th birthday with performances of Remembering Gatsby under Ken-David Masur in October, the Second Symphony under Sir Andrew Davis in January, and four chamber pieces on a Chamber Players program in January.

BSO Artistic Partner Thomas Adès will conduct one program, in early March, which includes the world premiere of his (BSO-commissioned) Piano Concerto played by Kirill Gerstein, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. He will also join Gerstein in a two-piano recital in Jordan Hall, in which they will play music of Debussy, Stravinsky (Shostakovich’s arrangement of the Symphony of Psalms), Lutosławski, Debussy, Adès (Concert paraphrase on Powder Her Face), and Ravel. Thomas Adès’s appearances have been particular highlights of recent seasons, and these should be well worth attending.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus will take part in five programs during the season, all but one led by Andris Nelsons: Einfelde and Mahler 2 on October 25–30; Bach Christmas Oratorio on November 29–December 1; Puccini Suor Angelica on February 21 and 23; Dvořák Stabat Mater (last done by the BSO in 1980) on February 28–March 2; and Estévez Cantata Criolla on April 11–15 (conducted by Gustavo Dudamel). The new Boston Symphony Children’s Chorus will sing in Suor Angelica (February 21 and 23) and Britten’s Friday Afternoons (February 22). And the extraordinary women’s vocal group the Lorelei Ensemble will participate in Suor Angelica and Debussy’s Nocturnes.

Nelsons will bookend his ongoing Shostakovich symphonies cycle with the first and 15th. Mahler will be represented by the second and fifth symphonies, and Bruckner (which Andris Nelsons is recording in Leipzig) by the ninth, all led by the Music Director.

In my highlights of some of the interesting trends, I have necessarily skipped over many other interesting performers and compositions in what looks to be a fine season.

Ed. Note: We corrected the statistics in response to readers.

Stephen H. Owades is a musician, singer with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, typesetter, computer consultant, and MIT grad.


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

  1. Thanks for pointing out the improved representation of women and minorities in the 2018-2019 BSO season — I was curious what sort of response the BSO would make to the criticism of this season.

    Comment by Chris Loschen — March 22, 2018 at 9:00 pm

  2. from the article: “Guests will conduct the opening and closing weeks.”

    Well, no. The opening week concert will be conducted by Hannu Lintu followed by Ken-David Masur for week 2. However, the final two weeks of performances are both conducted by Andris Nelsons.

    Comment by jim — March 24, 2018 at 5:50 pm

  3. What, no Samuel Coleridge-Taylor? One of the best composers for male voices; I loved to sing his stuff. A Man of Color.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — March 25, 2018 at 12:54 pm

  4. How about “The Song of Hiawatha”?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 25, 2018 at 8:09 pm

  5. “Three African-American composers” – you forgot Olly Wilson!

    Comment by Eric — March 28, 2018 at 4:29 pm

  6. Sorry, I’m afraid I didn’t go through the new season schedule as thoroughly as I should. In addition to missing Olly Wilson’s Lumina on Andris Nelsons’s February 7–12 program, which brings the count of African-American composers represented up to four (thank you, Erik), I also missed Grażyna Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra on Andrew Manze’s April 18–20 program (thank you, Tony Fogg), so the number of women composers in the season is six. And Jim, you’re right that Andris Nelsons will be leading the last two weeks of concerts.

    Comment by Stephen Owades — March 29, 2018 at 2:23 am

  7. Sorry to note the absence of Roth, who has been a highlight of past seasons.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — March 29, 2018 at 8:58 pm

  8. And I imagine the conductor lineup is weakened by the absence for obvious reasons of Charles Dutoit, who was likely pencilled in for two weeks.

    Comment by Raymond — April 3, 2018 at 1:55 pm

  9. I used to harshly criticize Nelsons and his company’s cowardly shying away from Bruckner 5th (or 8th).

    But after hearing this season’s 4th, I tend to think there might be some wisdom in it. Nelsons’ 4th was much more bland than Dohnanyi’s performance a few years earlier. (I gave up my pleasure of writing after-concert-prose after that.)

    BSO owes a good Bruckner 5 concert to the handful Bruckner admirers here. Repeating 479 is not civilized enough.

    Comment by Thorsten — April 10, 2018 at 3:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.