Great Performers' season is always filled with countless high points, but nothing quite beats the winter 2009 re-opening of a completely renovated Alice Tully Hall. "We're essentially launching a new concert hall," says Jane Moss, Lincoln Center's Vice President of Programming. "It's going to be a preeminent music destination in New York." Even so, Great Performers has no shortage of other groundbreaking offerings you won't see anywhere else.
Take, for example, Russian Dreams: The Music of Sergei Prokofiev, a nine-part series that offers a compelling look at the composer's works. The series opens the season in fall 2008 with Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra in a four-concert survey of Prokofiev's music for stage and film. "Prokofiev is one of those composers where you think you know more than you actually do," says Moss. "But most people think only of Peter and the Wolf." Inspired by the success of the Kirov Orchestra's complete Shostakovich symphonies presented at Lincoln Center in 2005, Moss and Kirov Orchestra artistic director Valery Gergiev, known for his strong support of Russian repertoire, decided to explore Prokofiev. "It's important that the artists we work with also be strong advocates for whatever is being performed," adds Moss. In spring, Gergiev returns with the London Symphony Orchestra to perform all of Prokofiev's symphonies.
While Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet is already well known, next year's production is based on a heretofore undiscovered version of the score more sparse in its orchestration and featuring over 40 minutes of new music as well as a happy ending. Choreographer Mark Morris, who has a long relationship with Lincoln Center thanks to his annual productions for Mostly Mozart, will be creating the staged version of Romeo & Juliet, On Motifs of Shakespeare.
"I've never seen a production of Romeo and Juliet that wasn't overblown and cinematic," says Morris of the big ballet versions we're used to seeing. "Prokofiev's tempi are so bent out of shape fast and slow and you have these huge, swelling Stalinist strings, but how can little Juliet take poison by herself with a 75-piece orchestra behind her?" Morris's version will be cozier, featuring instead a 45-person orchestra and a dance ensemble of 24. "It's enormous for me," laughs Morris. Think of it as a director's cut of the ballet, since this version, previously hidden deep inside Soviet archives until it was uncovered recently by musicologist Simon Morrison, contains Prokofiev's original orchestrations and music. The original, however, was rejected by both the Kirov (for its happy ending) and the Bolshoi (for the difficulty of its choreography), which prompted the composer to revise the work into the 1938 version of Romeo and Juliet we are familiar with today.
Moving away from modern Russia to 17th-century Spain, next season's Great Performers marks the return of the New Visions series, which this year introduces The Literary Muse, a new initiative exploring the connections between literature and music. "I've been looking at the New York literary world for a long time and have been trying to find a way in for us," says Moss. "We're taking the idea of bringing a theatrical element in the presentation of music and decided to look at literature the same way."
Jordi Savall and his period-instrument ensemble Hesprion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya chorus, and soprano Montserrat Figueras will perform the New York premiere of Don Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y M‹sicas, a program featuring music inspired by Cervantes's work, interspersed with readings from the novel. Director Peter Sellars's 2005 staging of Hungarian composer Gy‹rgy Kurtšg's Kafka Fragments comes to Lincoln Center featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and violinist Geoff Nuttall engaged in a dialogue culled from Franz Kafka's own diaries, letters and notebooks.
Finally, The Literary Music offers the U.S. premiere of Waves, a multimedia theater adaptation of Virginia Woolf's eponymous 1931 novel by the National Theatre of Great Britain, directed by Katie Mitchell. Bringing a pure theater piece to the Great Performers stage is a first, but Moss hopes it will help highlight the connection between music, literature and the performing arts. "First and foremost," Moss reminds us, "it's about crafting experiences for audiences that are deeply engaging and moving."
A number of new works will receive their U.S. premieres in the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall, which reopens next season. Great Performers has scheduled 19 different concerts in the transformed concert hall, five of which take place in spring 2009 as part of a special series, New Music for a New Hall. Highlights include Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic in the U.S. premiere of contemporary Russian composer's opera Vita Nuova. Austrian music ensemble Klangforum Wien brings the U.S. premiere of Free Radicals, a mind-blowing mix of musical and filmmaking pioneers of the 20th century. New music commissioned by composers Theo Verbey, Misato Mochizuki and James Clarke will be performed simultaneously with Dadaist Man Ray's surrealist movie classic La retour _ la raison. Morton Feldman and Beat Furrer's music will be the live soundtracks to two shorts by filmmaker Bady Minck. In addition, ten other short films and live music by Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, and Emilio Pomarico will also be presented.
Speaking of film, Leonard Bernstein on Film: The Joy of Music is another remarkable season highlight. This series will have fans clamoring for seats in the Walter Reade Theater, where eleven different programs featuring archival footage of the great conductor, educator, and composer will be presented.
Some familiar faces return to Great Performers, too. Rob Kapilow brings back the Family Music series with the NY premiere of his music and dance work Jabberwocky, based on Lewis Carroll's famous poem. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brings his Silk Road Ensemble to its first Great Performers series, performing traditional works and new commissions. And the Ensemble intercontemporain will perform music by Gy‹rgy Ligeti and other contemporary composers with its new music director Susanna M‹lkki, who will be conducting the Ensemble for the first time in New York. There will also be virtuoso recitals by Murray Perahia, Vadim Repin, and Joshua Bell, as well as a three-concert series of the complete Bart‹k String Quartets by the Takšcs Quartet. Additional spotlights point to pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard with the Bamberger Symphoniker, Leon Fleisher with the London Philharmonic, and vocal recitals by Magdalena Kozenš and Christoph Pr_gardien.
Between the exciting and innovative new fusions of music, literature, theater, dance, and film, and the dramatic transformation of Alice Tully Hall, the 2008/2009 season of Lincoln Center's Great Performers season is one you won't want to miss!
Tom Samiljan writes frequently about the arts.