One could argue that there has rarely been a less favorable time to plan for a concert season, given the current economic climate. On the other hand, in challenging times, the performing arts can provide a vital sense of meaning, nourishment and diversion in people's lives. The 2009 _10 season of Great Performers at Lincoln Center gives plenty of evidence to support that theory, with a wealth of orchestral concerts, recitals and theatrical productions.
Consider, for instance, Jerusalem, an ambitious concert presentation created by the Spanish early-music virtuoso Jordi Savall (May 2 and 3). The concerts trace some of the key moments in the history and music of Jerusalem, from biblical times up to the 20th century, and in doing so, shows how the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam: are interconnected. Savall, a noted performer on the viola da gamba, will lead his own ensembles, Hesprion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya, along with a complement of Palestinian, Israeli, Iraqi, Moroccan, Armenian, and Greek musicians.
Along with this centuries-spanning mixture of chants, ballads, laments, and incantations, there will be ancillary talks and other events that will explore the intersection of music, war, and peace. As Savall explains in his introductory notes, "the most extreme wars and conflicts go hand in hand with some of the most sublime and spiritual deeds in the history of mankind."
Beethoven's music often thrives in extraordinary times. Think of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Emerson String Quartet's memorial concert after September 11. But not everyone agrees on just how modern these mighty works should sound. In the last two decades, the early-music movement has increasingly moved from Renaissance and Baroque toward the music of the 19th century. As a result, entrenched ideas on how to perform Beethoven's symphonies: on period or modern instruments, using "authentic" or modern stylistic practices: have become a source of heated debate.
The debate continues. From March 25 _28, the Hungarian conductor Ivšn Fischer will allow audiences to hear Beethoven's complete symphonies both ways. He will lead side-by-side period-instrument and modern interpretations by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Budapest Festival Orchestra, performed on four consecutive evenings.
Jane Moss, Lincoln Center's vice president of programming, says "I hope the series will provoke new discussion and evaluation. We would also be thrilled if people found that each approach complemented the other or illuminated the issue of style and interpretation in general for audiences."
As generational change was a focal issue during the 2008 presidential campaigns, it's also a hot topic in the conducting world. For years, arts professionals have bemoaned the lack of fresh talent on major podiums, but that is changing: next season, two dynamic young conductors will bring their respective orchestras to Avery Fisher Hall for the first time.
On February 17 and 19, the 32-year-old Canadian conductor Yannick N_zet-S_guin will lead the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, where he took up the music directorship this season, succeeding Valery Gergiev. Both concerts will feature an intriguing blend of 19th-century favorites by Brahms and Liszt with 20th-century works by Strauss, Messiaen, Bart‹k and Theo Verbey. And hot off a media blaze that includes a profile on CBS' 60 Minutes, the flamboyant, 28-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel will give his first New York appearances as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on May 20 and 22. The programs will include the New York premiere of John Adams' City Noir along with works by Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein.
"It's a very interesting phenomenon in the conducting world right now," says Moss of the youth movement. "I would say that most conductors now being discussed among presenters and orchestras are under the age of 40."
Young provocateurs also form a cornerstone of next season's New Visions series, which focuses on multidisciplinary stage productions. The South African video and performance artist Robin Rhode: who is conceptually a cross between Marcel Duchamp and the rap group Wu-Tang Clan: will join forces with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for a staging of Musorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (November 13 and 14).
The following month, the iconoclastic British stage director Katie Mitchell will collaborate with tenor Mark Padmore on One Evening, a staging of Schubert's Winterreise (December 9 _11). Sung in a new English translation, Schubert's masterpiece will be interspersed with the poetry and prose of Samuel Beckett, who was a life-long admirer of the composer's work.
Hardest to categorize may be Stifter's Dinge ("Stifter's Things"), a theater piece by German multimedia maverick Heiner Goebbels (December 16 _20). Inspired by the nature writings of the 19th-century Austrian romantic writer Adalbert Stifter, it features no live musicians: just five up-turned pianos, a small lagoon, video projections, the voices of Malcolm X and Claude L_vi-Strauss, original music by Goebbels, and songs from Papua New Guinea. This fantastical piece, which received glowing reviews after its London premiere last season, will be staged inside the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory.
If Stifter's Dinge reflects the outer edge of experimentation, a number of chamber concerts will demonstrate the strength of classical masterworks. Starting in February and March 2009 and continuing in fall 2010, pianist Garrick Ohlsson will perform The Chopin Project, a series of all _Chopin recitals to celebrate the composer's 200th birthday. The concerts are a chance to hear one of the world's most eloquent Chopin interpreters, whose career took off after winning the 1970 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. A complementary film series, Chopin on Film, will showcase keyboard greats such as Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Martha Argerich, and others.
Another New York favorite, the Emerson String Quartet, will present the chamber works of Dvoršk, including the late quartets, as well as works by Czech compatriots Janšcek and MartinuÔ (May 9, 16 and 19).
Together these and other recitals next season reflect the enduring vitality of history's great composers, says Moss. "What's so amazing about all these composers is that they exist outside of time. There is always something new to discover. You are constantly looking at them through new eyes," which means all music is new music.