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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Season Preview: It's a Bellwether Season!

The New York Philharmonic turns 175.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
No there really aren't giant bells hanging from the concert ceiling of David Geffen Hall.
That's photo alteration by the author.
Ring out the bells, real or imaginary: this is an important year for the New York Philharmonic. America's oldest orchestra celebrates 175 years of making music this year, even as it looks ahead to the coming renovations of David Geffen Hall and the end of an era as Alan Gilbert prepares to step down as music director.. The season opens tonight, so here's an overview of this exciting year to come.

To commemorate the orchestra's long ties to its hometown, the orchestra has themed this season around Antonín Dvorak's New World Symphony, a work commissioned by the Philharmonic in 1893 and premiered with the composer present in a concert at Carnegie Hall. The piece kicks off the season tonight at the orchestra's redubbed home David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.

2016-17 marks the swan song for current music director Alan Gilbert, whose tenure has been marked by an interest in programming new music and an attempt to make America's oldest orchestra reach a contemporary audience. Programming this year focuses on a wide spectrum of Mr. Gilbert's musical inerests, with complete performances of Handel's Messiah, Wagner's Das Rheingold and contemporary compositions by important modern voices like John Adams.

The new music event of the season is in October: concerts featuring three works by Kaija Saariaho including Circle Map, D'OM LE VRAI SENS and Lumière et Pesanteur all to be played in a special performance in the vast Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory. Ms. Saariaho's unique take on spectral music will haunt these enormous spaces, marking the orchestra's first return there since the acclaimed Philharmonic 360˚ concerts.

The 2016-17 season features a slew of fresh commissions and new works, including two from composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen. One is a new Cello Concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma, and the other is the first New York performances of the composer's Wing On Wing. Also slated: a new Viola Concerto from Julia Adolphe and a new Violin Concerto from Lera Auerbach. HK Gruber will offer up his new Piano Concerto and Wynton Marsalis returns with a new composition to receive its world premiere from the orchestra.

Don't worry, subscribers, the orchestra has programmed a healthy amount of Beethoven, Mahler and of course Dvorák. Semyon Bychkov arrives in January for Beloved Friend, an exhaustive  survey of orchestral and chamber works by Tchaikovsky. Titled after the composer's frequent correspondence with Nadejda Von Meck, the series will feature the Fifth, Sixth and Manfred Symphonies, and guest appearances from Yefim Bronfman and Kirill Gerstein.

Vladimir Jurowski comes to the orchestra in November, leading a performance of the full version of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloë. Other guest conductors include Manfred Hoenick, Pablo Heras-Casado, Jakub Hrusa and Zubin Mehta, the only surviving past music director of the orchestra. Mr. Mehta will conduct a program featuring a concerto by Ravi Shankar, played by Mr. Shankar's daughter Anoushka.

The starry cast of scheduled guest pianists include appearances by Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang and Daniil Trifonov. Violonists include Mr. Kavakos, Augustin Hadelich, Nikolaj Znaider, Lisa Batiashvili and Joshua Bell. Finally, guest singers include Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, John Relyea and Eric Owens, who will sing Wotan in a full performance of Das Rheingold, the opening chapter of Wagner's epic Ring. 

Although it's not called "Gilbert's Playlist", the final four weeks of the season will mark Alan Gilbert's last bow as music director. He is celebrating with Beethoven's Ninth (paired here with Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor of Warsaw, the aforementioned concert performance of Das Rheingold and a final program, the details of which remain securely under wraps.
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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.