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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Superconductor Preview: A Season You Can't Refuse

The New York Philharmonic unveils an ambitious slate for 2015-2016.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Original gangsters: Olive oil importer Vito Corleone (second from left)and his three sons 
Michael (l.) Santino (c.) and Fredo (r.) pose with adopted consigliere Alan Gilbert. 
The New York Philharmonic will play the complete score of The Godfather next September. 
Original film image © Paramount Pictures.
Photo of Alan Gilbert by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
Photo alteration by the author. 
The New York Philharmonic's 2015-16 season marks the start of a key transitional period for America's longest-lived orchestra: the wane of Alan Gilbert, who announced earlier this year that he is planning to step down as the ensemble's music director in 2017.

That change hangs over this entire season, which also features the arrival of composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as the orchestra's third Composer-in-Residence. Mr. Salonen has made his reputation as a fearless conductor of romantic and modern repertory and as an equally fearless creator of music that remains eminently listenable while pushing forward in bold new directions. In addition to a conducting commitment, the Finnish composer will premiere new works under the aegis of the New York Philharmonic.

This is Mr. Salonen's first appointment with an orchestra in a composing capacity, following the career path he chose since leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic. "It's a new departure for me," he said in a pre-taped film shown on the Atrium wall. "I can ask (the Philharmonic) for almost impossible things and they deliver."

In addition to the New York premieres of his L.A. Variations and Karawane, Mr. Salonen will also compose a new work for the second NY Phil Biennial, scheduled to start in May of 2016. "I'm a little superstitious about talking about new pieces before they're written," he said. The full Biennial schedule remains unannounced, but the festival will include the New York premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, a new opera by Gerald Barry. Earnest  the first fruit of a new collaboration with Lincoln Center.

Mr. Salonen's 2016 conducting commitments include Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila-symphonie, a massive work that incorporates solo piano and ondes Martinot. This is the featured concert of Messiaen Week, dedicated to the music of the 20th century French mystic. The schedule also features Messiaen's epic Quartet for the End of Time, performed at the Temple of Dendur with an all-star cast including Mr. Gilbert on the violin and pianist Inon Barnatan, the orchestra's current Artist in Association.

This year, the orchestra bucked the usual trend of hiring a violinist or pianist as the orchestra's Artist in Residence. Next year, it will be a singer: the American bass-baritone Eric Owens. Acclaimed for his interpretation of Alberich in Wagner's Ring, Mr. Owens will sing the role of Wotan in a January 2016  concert featuring the final scene of that composer's Die Walküre. "I don't know of any other opera that has this kind of cult following," Mr. Owens said. "It's like Star Trek."

Some other schedule highlights:

  • Mr. Gilbert will lead two major Mahler works (the Symphony No. 5 and Das Lied von der Erde and  explore the music of Sibelius in honor of the latter composer's 150th birthday.
  • The orchestra schedule features the Mahler Sixth (with Semyon Bychkov)  and Ninth under Bernard Haitink in April of 2016.
  • A three week festival focusing on the piano concertos of Rachmaninoff with Russian pianist Danil Trifonov completing a concerto cycle started earlier this season.
  • In a new holiday offering, Eric Owens will feature in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • Finally, the season opens with a double bill of film scores, performed live with the movies behind the Philharmonic players. On the slate, late music director Leonard Bernstein's score for On the Waterfront and Nino Rota's score for The Godfather. Truly this is a concert you can't refuse.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.