The Philadelphia Orchestra's 2009 _10 season sails into the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall this September with world- class conductors; peerless soloists, including an adventurous selection of new faces; durable classics and fresh-off-the- page music by leading international composers; a new series of Access Concerts called Beyond the Score; and birth-anniversary commemorations for Samuel Barber (b. 1910), Felix Mendelssohn (b. 1809), and Robert Schumann (b. 1810).
Maestro Charles Dutoit, in his second season as chief conductor and artistic adviser, continues to place his artistic stamp on the Orchestra's programming with continuations of his multi-season cycles of the music of Hector Berlioz and of works composed for the Ballets Russes. Former Music Director Christoph Eschenbach concludes his traversal of all the Mahler symphonies with performances of the kaleidoscopic Seventh. The season covers a broad cross-section of the orchestral repertoire, from Baroque to contemporary, and includes three concerts in Carnegie Hall and one on the Kennedy Center's Washington Performing Arts Society series.
Highlighting the season's new music is the world premiere in December of a Violin Concerto by George Walker, a composer with longstanding ties to Philadelphia, performed by the composer's son, Gregory. Born in 1922 and living in New Jersey, Walker studied composition at the Curtis Institute with Barber's teacher, Rosario Scalero, and in 1996 became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in music (for his Lilacs).
In February 2010 soprano Angela Brown joins Philadelphia Orchestra Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov for performances of a co-commissioned song cycle, A Woman's Life, by American composer Richard Danielpour, which will have its world premiere by the Pittsburgh Symphony before coming to Philadelphia. Poet Maya Angelou has based her libretto for the piece on Brown's own life, as gleaned during meetings between the two at Angelou's home in North Carolina in 2008. "We'll see how close it will be to my life," Brown told an Indianapolis reporter with a laugh, adding that her chief goal in life is "just finding my own way and no longer leaning on what someone else thinks I should sound like, or look like."
Other works by living composers are the poignant Morning Prayers for chamber orchestra and tape by the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, Bright Sheng's The Phoenix for soprano (based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen), and the 2008 Minea by the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho. Notable among first Philadelphia Orchestra performances this season are 20th-century Canadian composer Claude Vivier's Orion and neglected classics including Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fourth Symphony, Bohuslav Martinu ̊ 's Third Symphony, the Incidental Music from Mozart's Thamos, King of Egypt, and Henk de Vlieger's celebrated 1991 Wagner arrangement The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure.
Maestro Dutoit will continue his multi-season focus on the music of Hector Berlioz with performances of the rarely heard Resurrexit and the Te Deum, the Roman Carnival Overture, and the Symphonie fantastique. His ongoing examination of music composed for Sergei Diaghilev's path-forging Ballets Russes, which dominated European contemporary dance from 1909 to 1929, this season will feature Stravinsky's Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.
Three big composer birth-anniversaries are celebrated in 2009 _10: Samuel Barber's 100th is commemorated with performances of his Adagio for Strings, Violin Concerto, Night Flight (the first Philadelphia Orchestra performances ever), and the School for Scandal Overture. The West Chester native's powerful ties to Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute, and The Philadelphia Orchestra: which performed world premieres of six of his works including the Violin Concerto and the School for Scandal Overture: make this an especially significant commemoration for local audiences.
Felix Mendelssohn's birth-bicentennial is noted by performances of the "Italian" Symphony and the Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Robert Schumann's 200th birthday is celebrated with his Piano Concerto (featuring 1989 Van Cliburn Competition Bronze Medalist Benedetto Lupo at the keyboard) and with a whole program in March 2010 dedicated to his works, conducted by Maestro Eschenbach.
Artists making their Philadelphia Orchestra debuts include recently appointed Dallas Symphony Music Director Jaap van Zweden; pianists Robert Levin, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Nicholas Angelich, and Benedetto Lupo; violinist Stephan Jackiw; and soprano Karita Mattila (in Strauss's Four Last Songs).
This season also presents a unique opportunity to hear some of The Philadelphia Orchestra's talented principal players step forward for solo appearances: In October Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa plays Mozart's Bassoon Concerto, the first time the work has been heard in subscription concerts in over 30 years; in January 2010 Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales plays the Clarinet Concerto by Mozart; also in January Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen performs Turina's Theme and Variations for Harp and Strings and Principal Cello Hai-Ye Ni plays the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1; and in June Principal Viola Choong-Jin Chang joins guest cellist Arto Noras for performances of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote.
Foremost among the innovative steps forward in 2009-10 is the series of full-length Access: Beyond the Score concerts, an extension of the Orchestra's Access concept, which has seen wild success at the Chicago Symphony, where it had its inception. During each Beyond the Score concert's first half, host Gerard McBurney and actors explore a single composition, placing it in its social, historical, and political context using dramatic reenactments and live musical illustrations by the Orchestra. In the second half, the work is performed in its entirety. This season's Beyond the Score concerts will examine Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, and Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Other featured conductors for 2009 _10 include Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (who leads a suite from Falla's El amor brujo), Vladimir Jurowski, and Rossen Milanov. Returning conductors are Roger Norrington, Daniele Gatti (in his first appearance here since 1993), Neeme Järvi, Jir‹ Belohlšvek, Nicholas McGegan (in an all-Mozart program), Andrew Davis, Andrey Boreyko, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Osmo Vänskä. Among the returning soloists are pianists Yefim Bronfman, Horacio Gutiérrez, Louis Lortie, Piotr Anderszewski, and Emanuel Ax; violinists Julia Fischer and Janine Jansen; and cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Arto Noras.
Rounding out the season are favorite symphonic milestones by Haydn, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky- Korsakov, Bruckner, Strauss, Elgar, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Nielsen, and Shostakovich.
The season closes with a bang that is as big as they come: Mahler's massive Third Symphony, with mezzo-soprano, women's chorus, boys choir, and an immense orchestra. It is Maestro Dutoit's first time to lead the 100-minute piece with the Orchestra in subscription concerts and promises to be a memorable moment in his long tenure with the Fabulous Philadelphians.
From Berlioz to music of the Ballets Russes, works by Classical masters and new and exciting compositions, Charles Dutoit's second season as chief conductor and artistic adviser of The Philadelphia Orchestra offers the kind of broad repertoire and exciting artistic collaborations for which he is renowned.
Paul J. Horsley is a freelance author and former classical music and dance critic for the Kansas City Star. From 1992 to 2000 he was program annotator and musicologist of The Philadelphia Orchestra. He has written for the New York Times, Symphony magazine, Chamber Music, and other publications.