Hang paintings by Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Francis Bacon side by side. Publish a book of poetry by Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, and Rainer Maria Rilke in their original languages. Do these things, and you may get some idea of how eclectic a typical season is at the New York Philharmonic.
Despite a widespread tendency to lump together all the music played by symphony orchestras under the heading "classical," the symphonic repertoire's range is so vast that even a single concert can be a kaleidoscope of styles.
"We are doing a program this season of music by Schubert, Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel, music which is totally‹on paper‹incompatible," says Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel. His job and that of the Orchestra's musicians is somehow to make Schubert et al. compatible; the audience's job is simply to bask in the diversity of Western art music.
The New York Philharmonic's 2005-06 season will observe the anniversary of Mozart's birth, celebrate the legacy of living American legend Elliott Carter, introduce the world to three brand-new works, and play music by several dozen of the many hundreds of composers who have contributed masterpieces to the canon, including Shostakovich, whose one-hundredth birthday will be marked in 2006 on a program conducted by his close associate Mstislav Rostropovich.
The season opens twice‹once for New York audiences, a second time for the nation. An Opening Night Gala on September 21 features pianist Evgeny Kissin and Mr. Maazel performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," followed by Don Juan and the Rosenkavalier Suite, both by Richard Strauss. The subscription season opens the following night, when superstar pianist Lang Lang joins Mr. Maazel for the opening of the subscription season ‹ a stellar night the nation can share via a Live From Lincoln Center broadcast. The program comprises two early works by great masters: Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Mahler's Symphony No. 1.
Things swing quickly from established masterworks to the contemporary with Focus: Elliott Carter, four programs over the course of the season spotlighting some compositions by this American master who turns 97 in December (see The GreenRoom, page 12). The first, September 29-October 1, presents his Holiday Overture. The other programs in the series include the Variations for Orchestra (February 16-18), and the New York Philharmonic premieres of his Allegro scorrevole (March 2-4 and 7) and Dialogues (June 1 and 3).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born 250 years ago this February, warrants an expanded celebration. As Lorin Maazel says: "How can we have a season with the New York Philharmonic without celebrating the great master of his time, and probably still of our time? There may be no composer who has surpassed Mozart in the quality of work and depth of musical expression." While Mozart's works appear throughout the season, the centerpiece, The Magic of Mozart Festival, comprises three programs, culminating February 9-14 in a Maazel-led program of Mozart's final three symphonies (Nos. 39-41) performed back to back, a grouping, says Mr. Maazel, that "adds up to a glorious personal and musical experience, probably unique in its intensity."
Many major artists return to the Philharmonic in 2005-06. October alone boasts violinists Sarah Chang, Midori, and Itzhak Perlman (who will also conduct). But there are also no fewer than 26 debuts, including that of stellar soprano Angela Gheorgiu. She sings Italian opera arias on New Year's Eve, to be broadcast on Live From Lincoln Center.
There are also three world premieres: Berceuse for Dresden, by the British composer Colin Matthews, will be given its first performance in Dresden, as part of the rededication of that city's Frauenkirche (Church of Our Blessed Lady). The U.S. premiere at Avery Fisher Hall will follow on November 25-26. February 23-25 brings Robert Spano to the podium to conduct John Harbison's MiÔ‘osz Songs, a World Premiere-New York Philharmonic Commission with soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom it was composed. The season's second New York Philharmonic Commission, Peter Lieberson's The World in Flower, for soloists (who include his wife, the eminent mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson), chorus, and orchestra, makes its bow, conducted by Lorin Maazel, May 24-27.
Given this abundance, many might find a guide to be of value. In fact, the season offers several opportunities to learn more about the music: every concert will be preceded by a discussion of the program‹most hosted by the new Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, Charles Zachary Bornstein (see In the Spotlight, page 14). In addition there are two new, three-concert hosted series: Each of the Hear and Now concerts, hosted by composer Steven Stucky, will give audiences a walk through one of the season's new works, with the composer present. Radio personality and wit Peter Schickele hosts Inside the Music with Peter Schickele, guided tours of three of the season's masterworks.
The famed Young People's Concerts (four per season) will be joined by a new series, designed to introduce pre-schoolers, ages 3-5, to great music and presented in the intimate surroundings of Merkin Concert Hall.
So whether you're devoted to the classical standards, crave something new, or look to deepen your understanding of a new work or an old favorite, the Philharmonic has your ticket to excitement: "The concert hall," Lorin Maazel observes, "is a place for controversy, for people who will stand up and scream 'We hate it!' and people who will stand up and scream 'We love it!' A major orchestra has to put forth the great masterpieces that have stirred, and continue to stir, assent and dissent."
Welcome to the 2005-06 season!
Kenneth LaFave is a composer and writer whose credits include Opera News, Dance Magazine, Playbill, and 15 years with The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix.