The season's formal Opening Night Gala comes on Saturday, September 29: Eschenbach will conduct an all-Brahms program featuring the legendarily lovely and glamorous Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Violin Concerto.
The news came last October that the German maestro would step down from his post when his contract expires next summer — though he will maintain a relationship with the Orchestra for at least the next two seasons. With Eschenbach's impending departure, the Philadelphia musicians and management alike will be paying close attention to the Orchestra's roster of guest conductors as the search for the next music director proceeds.
One rising young maestro regularly mentioned as a potential candidate by some local observers is Vladimir Jurowski, who made a very successful Philadelphia Orchestra debut in 2005. The 35-year-old Russian — who is music director of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, principal conductor of the London Philharmonic, and a principal guest conductor of the Russian National Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment — returns to Verizon Hall in April 2008 to conduct Ligeti's Atmosphres and Lux aeterna, Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra and the Brahms Violin Concerto with Nikolaj Znaider.
Two more youthful conductors coming to the Philadelphia podium this season are Robert Spano, who leads Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Capriccio for piano and orchestra with pianist Peter Serkin in February; and Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who performs Revueltas's La Noche de los mayas in November.
Antonio Pappano, music director of London's Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), makes his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in December with Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff; also making first appearances with the Orchestra are Royal Scottish National Orchestra chief conductor St_phane Denve and Eschenbach prot_g_ John Axelrod.
Other prominent guest conductors on the 2007-08 roster include Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo V‹nsk‹, who conducts Sibelius in October; BBC Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Jir‹ Belohlšvek, who brings Martinu in November; Los Angeles Opera music director James Conlon, who leads Varse's Am_riques and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") with H_lne Grimaud in December; the New York Philharmonic's new music director designate, Alan Gilbert; Toronto Symphony music director Peter Oundjian; outgoing National Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin; and Philharmonia Baroque music director Nicholas McGegan.
Simon Rattle, whom Philadelphia audiences adore and whom some will always see as The-One-Who-Got-Away (the Orchestra was reportedly courting him for the music director job around 1999, but he took the Berlin Philharmonic instead), comes back for one week in November to lead the orchestra's first performance of Schumann's seldom-performed oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri. The grand old Spanish conductor Rafael Fr‹hbeck de Burgos, who made his debut with the orchestra in 1969 and has returned dozens of times, will conduct Brahms's Symphony No. 3 and excerpts from Wagner's G‹tterd‹mmerung next April.
Not to forget, of course, Charles Dutoit, one of the orchestra's longest-standing and closest collaborators — and the maestro who takes over from Eschenbach next season with the title of chief conductor. He leads two programs in February which include Debussy's Jeux and Strauss's Alpine Symphony.
The lineup of guest pianists with the Philadelphia Orchestra this season includes Grimaud, Radu Lupu, Peter Serkin, Rudolf Buchbinder, Leif Ove Andsnes, Horacio Guti_rrez, Stephen Hough and Simon Trpceski. Guest violinists include Mutter, Znaider, Vadim Repin, Sarah Chang and Joshua Bell.
The Orchestra and Eschenbach finish their Mahler cycle, which began in the 2003-04 season, with the Symphony No. 8 (the "Symphony of a Thousand") in late April and May. The cast of singers includes sopranos Christine Brewer, Michaela Kaune and Marisol Montalvo, mezzos Charlotte Hellekant and Stephanie Blythe, tenor Paul Groves and bass James Morris, along with the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and the Westminster Symphonic Choir. Except for a performance under James Levine at the Mann Center in 1977, it will be the first time the piece has been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra since Leopold Stokowski gave the work its U.S. premiere in 1916.
Speaking of U.S. premieres, Eschenbach will introduce to this country two works by French composer Marc-Andr_ Dalbavie: his Ciaconna in March, and in May, La Source d'un regard, a score co-commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Messiaen's birth. On the same program as the new Dalbavie score will be an Organ Concerto by Thierry Escaich, with the composer himself playing the magnificent new Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall.
Other recent compositions by living composers on the Philadelphia program this season include Wolfgang Rihm's Verwandlung 2 (Sept. 27-28); Anders Hillborg's Exquisite Corpse (Feb. 7-9); and the trumpet concerto Eirene by Herbert Willi, featuring principal trumpet David Bilger (another U.S. premiere, March 6-8).
In January and February, Eschenbach will lead a Leonard Bernstein festival to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the composer's birth. For the occasion, the orchestra has commissioned two works from Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon to be premiered during the festival: Concerto 4-3 (Jan. 10-15), for the Orchestra and the string trio Time for Three; and The Singing Rooms, a score for solo violin, chorus and orchestra, featuring violinist Jennifer Koh making her Philadelphia Orchestra debut. And Nov. 8-10, the Orchestra will play Higdon's most famous work, blue cathedral.
Eschenbach closes the 2007-08 season, and his tenure as Philadelphia Orchestra music director, on May 17 with two symphonies by Schubert: No. 8 in B minor ("Unfinished") and No. 9 in C major ("the Great").