Music Commentary/Preview: 2016 Fall Orchestral Season Overview

In the six years I’ve now been reviewing for the Fuse, I can honestly say that the 2016-17 season looks, in many regards, to be – across the boards – one of the liveliest in recent memory.

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Some years the summer months seem to go by faster than others; 2016’s were a pretty quick blink of the eye, indeed. One thing that the start of fall means, though, is that the area’s vibrant orchestral scene starts shifting into high gear and this year that’s very good (and exciting) news. In fact, in the six years I’ve now been reviewing for the Fuse, I can honestly say that the 2016-17 season looks, in many regards, to be – across the boards – one of the liveliest in recent memory: there’s simply something for just about everyone and some of it from some surprising places. So, without further ado, here is my overview of the high points we have to anticipate from the area’s leading orchestral ensembles and presenters over the closing months of the year.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons and the BSO are joined by Nikolai Lugansky. Photo: Michael Blanchard

Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Nikolai Lugansky. Photo: Michael Blanchard.

Andris Nelsons’ third full season as BSO music director offers plenty to feast upon, even counting the orchestra’s wholly unnecessary Brahms festival in November. Those concerts (November 8-19) at least offer premieres of short pieces by, respectively, Eric Nathan and Timo Andres, plus the chance to hear Helene Grimaud in the piano concertos. One hopes that, given the staggering frequency with which we encounter these symphonies and concerti annually, the BSO might in subsequent seasons take an extended hiatus from them to focus on other deserving symphonists (Vaughan Williams, anyone? Saint-Saëns? Nielsen? Hartmann? Elgar? Prokofiev? Beach? Chadwick? Schmidt? Zwilich?). I’m not holding my breath – but it would be a nice change of pace.

Of the rest, which Nelsons event might you want to choose from? For many, his next Strauss opera installment (on September 29 and October 1) – the lush, magnificent Der Rosenkavalier headlined by the unbeatable duo of Renee Fleming and Susan Graham – will surely be one. Personally, I’m intrigued by the combination of the Brahms German Requiem and a new piece for Yefim Bronfman by the excellent German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann (October 6-8). The meat of the BSO’s acclaimed Shostakovich series won’t be served until after New Year’s, but the season opens (September 24) with the Festive Overture and Lang Lang playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3.

As for the rest of the fall season, one big draw will surely be Thomas Adès’ inaugural week as BSO “artistic partner” (October 28-November 6). During it, Adès will pair with Ian Bostridge for a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise (October 28); appear as pianist with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in Schubert’s Trout Quintet and excerpts from his opera The Tempest (October 30); and he’ll lead the BSO in the local premiere of his Totentanz, as well as pieces by Britten and Sibelius (November 3-5).

Charles Dutoit’s two weeks with the orchestra also promise good things. The first (October 20-25) is an all-English affair, with Yo-Yo Ma playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle is paired somewhat bizarrely with Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 for Dutoit’s second subscription series (October 27-29), but at least it offers the chance to hear Matthias Goerne in the title role.

Among the fall’s other offerings, Jakub Hrůša makes his BSO debut with an enticing, all-Slavic program (October 13-15) and the timeless Menahem Pressler plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 the week of Thanksgiving (November 22-26).

Boston Philharmonic

Benjamin Zander’s BPO offers two fall concerts, the first of which features a pair of well-worn favorites, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6. Leading off that program, though, is a welcome (and, for the BPO, rather rare) local premiere, that of Lera Auerbach’s Icarus (October 20-23). In November, the ensemble returns with slightly more exotic fare in the form of Henri Dutilleux’s cello concerto, Tout un monde lointain…, and William Walton’s brilliant Scapino Overture. Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Elgar’s Enigma Variations round out the evening (November 17-20).

Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Photo: Kathy Wittman.

Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Photo: Kathy Wittman.

Boston Modern Orchestra Project

BMOP’s twenty-first season takes the ensemble all across the state, but it starts the fall at Jordan Hall with a tribute concert for Steven Stucky, who died after a short illness in February. In fact, American Masters celebrates not just Stucky, via his Chamber Concerto, but several other important voices of the last half-century or so – just the type of composers and music Stucky himself championed: Michael Colgrass’s The Schubert Birds, a piece that channels Schubert and Charlie Parker, Gail Kubik’s Symphony Concertante, and Harold Shapero’s Partita in C are all on the docket (October 8). In November, BMOP returns with its annual co-production with Odyssey Opera, this time Lowell Lieberman’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (November 18).

Handel and Haydn Society

H&H shows no signs of slowing down as it starts moving earnestly into its third century. The season opens with an all-Bach extravaganza, culminating in the Magnificat (September 23 and 25). Next comes Richard Egarr conducting the orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroica (October 28 and 30). Following the annual <em>Messiah performances (November 25-27), the fall season wraps up with Ian Watson directing the yearly “Bach Christmas” installment (December 15 and 18). This year includes two cantatas (BWV 10 and 61), the fifth cantata from the Christmas Oratorio, and pieces by Graupner and Telemann.

Boston Baroque

BB kicks off its year with Bach’s great B-minor Mass (October 21 and 23), featuring countertenor David Daniels. A pair of Messiahs (December 9 and 10) with the superb Amanda Forsythe as the soprano soloist leads up to the group’s annual New Year’s Eve/Day concerts (December 31 & January 1), which this time around features Christina Day Martinson playing Bach’s A-minor Violin Concerto alongside pieces by Handel and Corelli.

Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. A must-hear concert this season presented by Celebrity Series.

Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. A must-hear concert this season presented by Celebrity Series.

Celebrity Series

The Celebrity Series brings just one orchestra to town this fall, but it’s a doozy: the Berlin Philharmonic. Chief Conductor Sir Simon Rattle steps down from the Orchestra’s helm in 2018, so this concert (on November 11) will be the last chance Boston audiences have to hear him in the post. The program for the night is quintessential Rattle/Berlin: Pierre Boulez’s Éclat and Mahler’s Symphony no. 7. Don’t even think about missing it.

New England Philharmonic

Richard Pittman’s vital, semi-professional band turns forty this year and they celebrate in grand fashion. Which is to say, they’re playing lots of premieres and just the sort of stuff you wouldn’t mind seeing the BSO trot out with much more frequency. Their first program (on October 29) offers the world premiere of Andy Vores’ Xylophonic alongside Yehudi Wyner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Piano Concerto Chiavi in mano. Also on tap is Carl Ruggles’ Evocations and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. In December (on the 11th), the NEP gives its annual Family Concert which this year includes the premiere of Bernard Hoffer’s Nocturne: The Timber Wolf, plus wolf-themed pieces by Andy Vores and Paul Patterson, as well as William Schuman’s Newsreel in 5 Shots.

Lexington Symphony

The LSO continues its exploration of The Ring of the Nibelungen with “The Essential Ring, Part II” (October 10), which distills the highlights from Siegfried and Götterdämmerung into a single evening. In December comes the orchestra’s Holiday POPS! program (two performances on December 10), this year with featured guests, the New England Tenors.

Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms Society Orchestra

Steven Lipsitt and his new ensemble continue their fall season with the peerless Elizabeth Rowe as the soloist in Bach’s B-minor Orchestral Suite (October 2). Also on that program is music by Ginastera and Mozart. The next month, Tamara Smirnova plays Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in between works by Stravinsky and Haydn (November 20). The group’s A Bohemian Christmas, featuring serenades by Mozart and Dvorak, plus a carol sing-along, closes the year (December 19).

A Far Cry at the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, MA . Photo: Yoon S. Byun.

A Far Cry at the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, MA. Photo: Yoon S. Byun.

A Far Cry

Current and former members of the Criers’ offers Memory, one of the group’s tenth anniversary season highlights, with Arvo Pärt’s elegiac Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro bracketing Mozart’s Serenata Notturna and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the last played by heart (September 23). Pablo Casals’ San Marti del Canigo is a focal point of their next concert, a celebration of Pablo Casals’ wide-ranging legacy, which also includes music by Bach, Schumann, and Ginastera (November 11). And an afternoon of music by Dutilleux, Webern, Muffat, and Mark O’Connor promises to be one of the fall’s most intriguing programs (December 10).

Grand Harmonie

Grand Harmonie’s fifth season opens with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a program of Bohemian folk- and gypsy-inspired pieces by Hummel, Dvorak, and Smetana (September 17 and 18). In November comes “Gods and Mortals,” an all-Mozart concert led by guest artist Cynthia Roberts in which she is the featured soloist in the A-major Violin Concerto, K. 219 (November 6).

Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra

Pro Arte’s thirty-ninth season commences with a Gala concert featuring the Boston Cello Quartet playing selections from their acclaimed album, The Latin Project. Soprano Barbara Quintiliani also sings Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 (October 21).

Cantata Singers

Cantata Singers opens their fifty-third season with music by Bach and Zelenka (October 15) and continues with a Christmas-themed program of pieces by Monteverdi, Distler, Schütz, and Schoenberg (December 16 and 17). The ensemble’s chamber music series also presents a very engaging-looking evening of so-called Entartente Musik at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that provides the opportunity to hear some under-represented pieces by Egon Wellesz, Hans Eisler, Berthold Goldschmidt, and others (November 18).

Longwood Symphony

Jeremiah Kissel is the narrator in Keven Kaska’s The Wizard of Menlo Park, part of the LSO’s season-opener that also includes pieces by Mozart and Dvorak (October 1). Then Hsin-yun Huang plays Bartók’s Viola Concerto on a program that begins with Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra and closes with Tchaikovsky’s exuberant Symphony no. 1 (December 3).

The New England Conservatory Orchestra in action. Photo: NEC Facebook page.

The New England Conservatory Orchestra in action. Photo: NEC Facebook page.

New England Conservatory

NEC’s free orchestral concerts are among the city’s hidden gems. Highlights this fall include Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry and Mahler’s First Symphony (September 28), Mozart’s glorious Linz Symphony sharing a bill with excerpts from Porgy and Bess (October 19), Ken-David Masur conducting Reger and Franck (October 26), and Andrew Litton conducting Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony (December 7). And there’s also a semi-staged performance of Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve (October 5).

Boston Youth Symphony

The BYS opens its season with a meaty program made up of music by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bartók (October 16). Two weeks later, it participates in the BSO’s fall Family Concert, playing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at Symphony Hall (October 29).

Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

My favorite orchestral discovery from last year offers one fall concert at Symphony Hall that, for quality of playing and program, mustn’t be missed. In Mo Yang is the soloist in Sibelius’ haunting Violin Concerto; Finlandia and Prokofiev’s great Fifth Symphony round out the evening (November 7).

Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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