For 44 years, Lincoln Center's Great Performers has been at the epicenter of what makes this cultural institution so world-renowned: it serves as a home for visiting artists from the world over to bring exciting and provocative programming to New York.
The series' creators and staff, however, are not ones to be lulled into middle-age complacency. If anything, Great Performers is becoming even more ambitious in both its reach and focus in its 2010 _11 season, with an excitingly curated lineup of concerts and special events that draw focus on Mahler, Schubert, and Chopin.
This season, Great Performers pays particular homage to the work of Gustav Mahler: who, like his musical progeny Leonard Bernstein, made a life for himself in New York City both as a composer and as a conductor. Under Valery Gergiev's baton, the London Symphony Orchestra plays Mahler's Third, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies and the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony (February 23 _27) at Lincoln Center. The culmination of a season-long project by the maestro to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, Gergiev will be conducting Mahler's other symphonies with the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in October 2010, making for a Mahler-filled season for fans.
"Mahler is a real passion for Gergiev right now," observes Jane Moss, Lincoln Center's vice president for programming. "And he brings a very different: very Russian, very Gergiev-ian: energy to this music."
Immersion in Mahler at Lincoln Center will be a multimedia experience, as audiences will also have the delight of seeing Mahler's legacy come alive on film in rare interview footage made with his wife, Alma and his daughter, Anna, (February 26). Other screenings will include excerpts of performances by such legendary Mahler interpreters as Bruno Walter, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein (also on February 26) as well as those of great singers like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Irmgard Seefried, and Rene Kollo (March 2).
Collaborations with other organizations is also the order of the day for a partnership between Great Performers and The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, who are jointly hosting the superb pianist Emanuel Ax playing Schubert in three very distinct and demanding roles: as a chamber music partner with such colleagues as violinist Cho-Liang Lin, bassist Edgar Meyer, and other partners from the Chamber Music Society in a program that also includes works by John Harbison, Steven Stucky, and Edgar Meyer (January 21). Two more concerts reveal different facets of Ax's artistry: as a solo recitalist performing Schubert's Four Impromptus, D. 935, as well as the A major Sonata, D. 664 and the Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960 (February 26), and as a collaborator in a program featuring Lieder with baritone Simon Keenlyside as well as the solo Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845 (March 13).
With its recent renovation, the warmth and beauty of the restored Alice Tully Hall also proves to be the perfect, intimate setting for artists who are either crafting painstakingly realized performances of early music or attuning our ears to the bracingly new.
"In Alice Tully," says Moss, "we have the absolutely perfect real estate for chamber orchestras." To prove that point, this season's artists offer superstar groups including the Collegium Vocale Ghent, led by Philippe Herreweghe (November 2); violinist Gidon Kremer's Kremerata Baltica (November 11); Les Arts Florissants, helmed by William Christie (March 11); and Sir Roger Norrington and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (March 16).
"We are focused on developing Alice Tully as the city's premier destination as a recital hall," says Moss. "Especially after the renovation, this venue is a place where major artists: the world's very top performers: come to perform." There is no question of their caliber: the virtuoso soloists for the 2010 _11 season include violinist Joshua Bell (January 30), as well as pianist Emanuel Ax's Schubert performances. Such a stellar setting is the perfect venue for three powerhouse singers: soprano Diana Damrau (February 20) singing Liszt, Strauss, and Rachmaninoff; baritone Simon Keenlyside in his Schubert program with Emanuel Ax (March 13); and tenor Matthew Polenzani singing Berlioz, Bellini, Schumann, Strauss, and Barber (April 3).
However, Great Performers takes advantage of the greater expanse that Avery Fisher Hall offers as well. The inspiring orchestras who will be playing this season include the Dresden Staatskapelle in a performance of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem with the Westminster Choir (October 31), and joined by soprano Deborah Voigt and pianist Rudolf Buchbinder in an all-Beethoven program (November 1); the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Ivšn Fischer with guest artists pianist Alexei Lubimov (January 25) and cellist Mikl‹s Per_nyi, in programs exploring Haydn and Stravinsky (January 26); and the Orchestre National de France led by Daniele Gatti, with the young pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in a performance of Beethoven, Strauss, and Ravel (April 17).
In honor of the 200th anniversary of Frederic Chopin's birth, pianist Garrick Ohlsson continues his traversal through some of Chopin's solo piano works (November 10 and December 8) after two other such concerts held in the spring of 2009. Throughout a career that has brought Ohlsson accolades for his performances of such masters as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, he remains especially closely tied to Chopin: a fitting tribute to an artist who was the very first American to earn the top prize at Warsaw's hallowed International Chopin Competition. In his sensitive handling, Ohlsson brings alive once again novelist George Sand's remarks about her lover Chopin's work, in which she called two of his mazurkas "worth more than forty novels and more eloquent than the entire century's literature."
Great Performers is also continuing its longstanding commitment to creating warm and more casual encounters with great composers and superb rising musicians that allow audiences to deepen their relationship with classical music. Returning favorites include Rob Kapilow's entertaining and engaging What Makes It Great? series, with explorations of the music of Ellington, Dvorak, Mahler, and Beethoven, and the popular hour-long Sunday Morning Coffee Concerts.
Later on this year, Great Performers will also be announcing two major festivals for the 2010-11 season that will bring innovative, multimedia performances to New York audiences. "In a time when so much of the Lincoln Center campus is in the midst of so many changes," says Moss, "I feel as if we're a butterfly just emerging from a cocoon. We can't wait to show off our colors."
Anastasia Tsioulcas writes frequently about classical and world music for a variety of publications and websites; you can find more of her work at www.anastasiat.com.