Music director Andreas Delfs returns to the MSO full-time next season, conducting a total of 10 concerts. He is on a semi-sabbatical this season, conducting only six concerts.
The season opens with Delfs conducting Richard Strauss's Don Jouan, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and the world premiere of a new work, commissioned by the MSO, by Roberto Sierra.
Delfs denied that the schedule was an overt attempt to fill seats. "With Carmina Burana and Beethoven's Ninth in the same season, maybe it does look as if we're fishing for box office," he said. "But it's the 30th anniversary of the Symphony Chorus, and Carmina is one of their favorites. And the Ninth is good enough to do more than once every four years."
Of the relative dearth of more challenging works, Delfs told the Journal Sentinel, "I'm at a point, now, that I don't have sleepless nights if I don't do Webern for a year. If I can't do thorny works this year, well, I'll do some next year."
John Hancock, the symphony's vice president and COO, admitted that "we might have a few more chestnuts than we had in the past. We're also bringing back some soloists—Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Elmar Oliveira—who are favorites with our audience."
Other guest soloists next year include pianists Emanuel Ax and Vladimir Feltsman, bassist Edgar Meyer, and baritone Nathan Gunn.
According to the paper, the MSO is trying to turn its fortunes around after years of declining box-office sales. The symphony is considering other tactics aimed at bringing in audiences, such as adding light effects and perhaps video projections.
Delfs is uncertain about the use of video in regular classical concerts (the orchestra has used video in the past in its Classical Connections series). "I'm in conflict with myself on this," he said. "Much about the concert formula needs revision, but certain parts of it are there for good reason. Many of us go to concerts for spiritual reasons—it's almost like church—and a certain ritual helps the mind enter into that state.
Vice president and chief marketing officer Sean McBryde has also decided to cut ticket prices for both single tickets and subscriptions.