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Lucubrations on the BSO 2022-2023 Season


Opening on September 22nd with Holst’s view of our solar system in orbit, Boston Symphony Orchestra inks a season of vibrancy and variety. Eighteen works by living composers, including seven world- and American premieres will share the stage with a Nelsons-led concert performance of Act III of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, the continuation of the Shostakovich cycle, and signature repertoire works by Bach, Beethoven, Bernstein, Brahms, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky. Click HERE for the complete calendar. Subscription renewals are open now, and general ticketing beings on August 8th.

Mark DeVoto opines: “The BSO’s 142nd season includes much to admire and anticipate with pleasure: A number of new works by young and promising composers, including even a few Americans; many young guest conductors; a relatively low quotient of tired warhorses (Sibelius 5, Strauss Alpensymphonie, Enescu Rumanian 1), and a few grand old long-neglected but beloved warhorses (Planets, Rachmaninoff 2 — good to see those fellows listed again). BSO last did Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, a piece I derided as bad-taste in my callow youth but now recognize as an inspired work of genius, at Symphony Hall in 2016 and Tanglewood in 2018 Over the years it trended toward status as a Pops staple. Some unexpected rarely-heard major items are planned as well: Mozart’s B-flat Major  Piano Concerto, K. 456, which I heard with delight 30 years ago in Symphony Hall (Orpheus with Radu Lupu); Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra, a much more valuable piece than the drab Chichester Psalms with which it shares the program; Mahler’s Sixth Symphony (an entire concert!), which back in 1966 the BSO actually recorded with Leinsdorf, and stunningly; Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite, of surpassing orchestral brilliance.  Stravinsky’s 1947 Petrushka (only a connoisseur recognizes it as orchestrally inferior to the original 1911 version) and Perséphone, which aesthetically is not to every Stravinskyan’s taste. We’re getting rather too much Shostakovich, as usual, but this is one of Andris Nelsons’s current fixations and we have to give in to him; at least we get both of the piano concertos on a single concert. If Rachmaninoff seems too heavily represented with three works, at least we will hear the Symphonic Dances, his last composition (and IMHO his best — remind me to tell you how it sums up his achievement). A whole evening of Wagner’s Tannhäuser! And a tribute to Lili Boulanger with her charming D’un Matin de printemps; though it should be no one else’s concern, this is gratifying to me also because I have been president, off and on for 40 years, of the struggling Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund, Inc., which has promoted her legacy. So what of the weak spots in the season? Well, Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto is pretty bad, and so is Górecki’s Symphony no. 3; and I wish management included more American classics, such as works by Copland or Piston who were performed all the time when they were alive. I suppose you can consider Bloch’s Schelomo an American classic; I remember when Samuel Mayes played it at Tanglewood in the summer of 1959 when Bloch died, so it will be good once more to hear the “voice crying in the wilderness,” like much else we hear every day. ”

The BSO believes that music can impart a deeper understanding of our common humanity. Voices of Loss, Reckoning, and Hope, a three-week festival, March 3–18, will explore stories of perseverance and justice in society with powerful works by American composers: Julia Wolfe’s Her Story, which broadly speaks to the continuing struggle for women’s rights; Anthony Davis’ haunting clarinet concerto, You Have the Right to Remain Silent, with soloist Anthony McGill, about the emotional consequences of experiences with law enforcement; and Uri Caine’s The Passion of Octavius Catto, which reflects on the life of the Philadelphia civil rights activist. The Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) will present programming featuring guest speakers, panel discussions, and chamber music concerts that encourage dialogue on social change by expanding on the subjects covered by the festival’s featured works. Complete details to be announced at a later date.

Musical perspectives on the tragedies of war and conflict, including Osvaldo Golijov’s Falling Out of Time, Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Ella Milch-Sheriff’s The Eternal Stranger, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, Babi Yar will constitute another intense thematic focus.

Andris Nelsons “… looks forward touching hearts and revealing the many stories and emotions that bring us together as a human family. We welcome an extraordinary spectrum of composers and artists who will share their unique musical perspectives with the orchestra and our audiences.” CEO Gail Samuel adds, “Music has a profound ability to bear witness.”

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.


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

  1. I am happy to see the BSO programming a piece by Lili Boulanger. The Nadia-Lili connection with Boston is important and deserves to be strengthened. Kudos as well to Mark Devoto for his perseverance!

    Comment by Joel Cohen — May 10, 2022 at 9:12 am

  2. this news seems to be breaking:
    “Masking Will Be Recommended But No Longer Required at Symphony Hall”
    from the BSO website:
    Face Mask Requirement
    Mask wearing is recommended, but optional, while in Symphony Hall. Anyone who wishes to wear a mask is welcome to do so. Higher efficiency masks such as N95s, KN94s, or KF94s are recommended.

    Comment by Cain — May 12, 2022 at 10:27 am

  3. One of the signs that WCRB was transitioning from a respectable classical music station to…what it is today was the airing of just single movements instead of complete symphonies. I may be over-reacting, but seeing the funeral march from the Eroica programed by itself brought back such memories. And while the “Festival: Voices of Loss, Reckoning, and Hope” in March may be an attempt to draw a younger and more diverse audience, something the BSO certainly needs, I hope it is not the beginning of a trend toward programming that is based upon content rather than upon the intrinsic beauty and merits of the music itself. Also, I’m disappointed to see what I, at least, regard as fewer truly great pieces of music. Instead, we have lots of Shostakovich (whom I like, but he’s not a composer of the first rank), and while I recognize that this mostly represents the accumulation of pieces connected to the DG recording project, the Fifth Symphony has already been recorded and was performed several years ago, so we didn’t need that on top of five other works by Shostakovich. There is, in fact, quite a preponderance of Russian music—also Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, and their neighbors in Poland (Lutoslawski, Gorecki, Szymanowski). Last year I think someone wondered whether the 2021-2022 programming represented Gail Samuel’s choices, to which another reader responded that she would have come on board too late to make those decisions. I am curious how much Nelsons dictated this year’s programs and how much Samuel or others did so.

    Comment by Rob — May 14, 2022 at 10:47 am

  4. – I listen to a dozen US classical stations’ streams across the country, from CRB to KUSC, and many do the same thing, single movements. (By now I guess my resigned attitude is ‘whatever it takes.’)

    – Gustibus department: “With every year that passes, it appears more likely that Shostakovich — the heir of Mahler and an artist of mordant, ironic, nervous character who became increasingly dark in later works as he contemplated death — will come to be seen as one of the iconic composers of the 20th century, alongside Stravinsky and Schoenberg. … It was his music, not theirs, which in its darkness and pain, its litany of hope crushed, its sense of the grotesque, the absurd, the paranoid and the vicious — above all in its grasp of suffering and sadness — revealed the essential truth of the time.” (Ted Libbey 2006)

    Comment by davidrmoran — May 14, 2022 at 2:05 pm

  5. WMHT-FM/89.1 in Albany/Schenectady/Troy is the same way, now, except for the 1 PM weekday time slot, in which they play a long, complete work. Their assemblages of individual movements is often bizarre, but they don’t fail to play 12-to-15 minutes of baroque and pre-baroque music in virtually every hour. If I hadn’t personally purchased a copy of the Brahms Symphony Cycle with Nelsons and the BSO and donated it to them they would not have played any of it. You can lead a horse to water but……

    Comment by Don Drewecki — May 15, 2022 at 1:33 pm

  6. I recently performed a rigorous analysis of WCRB’s programming choices over a statistically significant period of time. Here’s how it shook out:

    60% Baroque instrumental
    25% Eroica, B5, Pastorale and B7
    18% guitar music
    5% solo piano arrangements of Gershwin showtunes (recently supplemented by the occasional Joplin rag)
    2% miscellaneous
    0% anything performed on the organ (excluding the odd Saint Saens 3rd) or by the human voice

    Comment by Homeward — May 17, 2022 at 3:19 pm

  7. You may find this useful via Sonos then “stations” or try this listing

    Comment by Martin Snow — May 18, 2022 at 8:13 am

  8. To the 0% category you could of course add any music composed before 1700 or after approximately 1910, except for some Copland (Fanfare, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo – and I think I might have heard the clarinet concerto once, by accident).

    The most instructive piece on this topic is BMI’s own interview with Tony Rudel:

    Comment by Homeward — May 18, 2022 at 3:16 pm

  9. I appreciate the comments about Shostakovich and the current state of classical radio, but my purpose in leaving the comment that inspired those was to hear how others feel about next year’s BSO season. If I am the only subscriber who feels dissatisfied, that will be useful to know; it is the impression I currently have from the responses or lack thereof.

    Comment by Rob — May 18, 2022 at 4:52 pm

  10. Fair enough. I actually agree with your take on the programming choices, particularly the apparent leaning on a thematic as opposed to musically oriented approach. As to who makes the decisions, my understanding is that under Mark Volpe it was left more or less entirely to Tony Fogg, in consultation with Nelsons. I don’t know whether that has changed under Samuels; I doubt it, though there is of course more external pressure to introduce programming along the lines of the mid-season festival.

    Comment by Homeward — May 18, 2022 at 7:13 pm

  11. OK, my question is this: What’s the order for the middle movements of the Mahler Sixth that Nelsons is conducting? If it’s Scherzo/Andante, I’ll go; if it’s the other way around I’ll pass. But I WAS able to get to Carnegie Hall for the wonderful Wozzeck concert performance that I’ll never forget. To think that Dimitri Mitropoulos, the NY Phil and an all-star cast also did it there 71 years earlier…wow.

    As for the rest of the new season, it’s not all that great — certainly not to drive all the way out from Albany.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — May 20, 2022 at 12:59 pm

  12. In response to Rob, I might have commented, but you expressed my opinions so exactly that I didn’t feel I could add anything. I have been becoming ever more unsatisfied with the BSO’s programming. Like you, I like Shostakovich, but do not think his stature, or the general standard of his works, merits the proportion of the schedule that is dedicated to him. I am looking forward to Szymanowski and Lutoslawski, both worthy novelties on the schedule, but there is a great deal too much of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff on it for me.

    As for excerpting single movements, that is indeed an appalling practice. Perhaps it should be allowed in special cases, as for Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

    Comment by SamW — May 20, 2022 at 6:03 pm

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