By Jonathan Blumhofer.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) search for a new music director isn’t over yet. At least that’s one of the biggest news items coming from today’s announcement of the 2013–14 Symphony Hall season. The other is that, after a seven-year hiatus, the orchestra’s returning to the international stage, with a 10-day-long visit to China in May 2014.
Before then, there are some intriguing programs to look forward to: Thomas Adés’s return in October (leading music by Mendelssohn, Charles Ives, Franck, and his own Polaris), Charles Dutoit directing Benjamin Britten’s monumental War Requiem to celebrate that composer’s centenary in November, Susan Graham joining Bernard Haitink in an all-Ravel series in January, and Andris Nelsons conducting a one-night-only concert performance of Strauss’s Salome on March 6th.
Happily, there also seems to be a little uptick in the programming of twentieth- and twenty-first-century repertoire (though this year’s other centenarian, Witold Lutoslawski, is conspicuously absent). Four premieres are peppered throughout the season, three of them concerti: Mark Neikrug’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra and piano concertos from Justin Dello Joio and Bernard Rands (Mark-Anthony Turnage, who’s written his share of turgid stuff in the past, contributes the fourth new piece, Speranza, in October. One can always hope, right?). Music by Steven Stucky, Leonard Bernstein, Krzysztof Penderecki, Manuel de Falla, and Osvaldo Golijov also figures prominently.
Unhappily, the programming choices from the standard repertoire are uninspiring. In fairness, very few orchestras manage to present the core repertory excitingly, but, considering the number of pieces being recycled from the past two BSO seasons alone, this is an especially depressing calendar. The evergreen Beethoven piano concerti (four of which are to be featured on the upcoming Tanglewood season) are the focus of Christoph von Dohnányi’s March concerts; three of the four Brahms symphonies (plus the Double Concerto and Piano Concerto no. 2) reappear; Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth (which the BSO seems unable to live without of late), and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini headline the parade of musical chestnuts. At least there’s a Sixth Symphony by someone not named Tchaikovsky (though heaven forbid there be a calendar year without Beethoven’s—his turns up again in November): Ralph Vaughn Williams’s makes a rare Symphony Hall appearance in April.
Part of the reason for this stale programming certainly derives from the BSO’s lack of a music director guiding and shaping the overall course of the season. But it’s also an unfortunate reflection on the orchestra’s administration, especially considering the invigorating series of concerts they organized in the autumn of 2012 that showcased unfamiliar music from plenty of well-known composers (such as the terrific Stravinsky-Ravel double bill of Le Rossignol and L’Enfant et les sortileges). It seems those programs were only a tease—but, again, one can hope.
Still, there’s plenty of star power coming to town next year: violinists Augustin Hadelich, Guy Braunstein, and Anne-Sophie Mutter; cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Yo-Yo Ma (among others); and a plethora of pianists, including Yefim Bronfman, Peter Serkin, and Paul Lewis. The inestimable Menahem Pressler, who, by his March 8th concert, will be well into his 10th decade, is also slated to appear, playing Mozart. Conductors leading the orchestra (in addition to those already mentioned) include Stéphane Denève, Daniel Harding, Andrew Davis, Daniele Gatti, and Lorin Maazel (who also leads the Asian tour).
Between them, they should make the upcoming season rise above the pedestrian level much of it, on paper at least, appears to rest at. However, if nothing else, the upcoming season reminds that the days when the BSO was the leading American orchestra—or one of the most exciting—are behind it.