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Monday, September 18, 2017

The 2017-18 New York Philharmonic Season Preview

New York City's most prominent symphony orchestra unveils its new face.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The New York Philharmonic unveiled Jaap von Zweden (center) as its new Music Director.
Background art © 1983 Mad Magazine from Issue 259. Painting by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder.
Photo butchery by the author.
The New York Philharmonic throws open its doors tomorrow night with a concert they are dubbing the Gala of 106 All-Stars. The program is unusual and heavy for an opening night: Gustav Mahler's burly five-movement Symphony No. 5. The real star of the show will be on the podium: Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden who is one year away from beginning his tenure as the orchestra's newest Music Director. This concert will be reviewed on Superconductor but if you're not going it will also be streamed live on Facebook.

At the Philharmonic, Mr. van Zweden is replacing Alan Gilbert, but he is not the only new face. The past President and Vice President of Artistic Administration are gone Matthew van Besien and Ed Yim are gone. The new President is Deborah Borda. Ms. Borda, who served at the orchestra in the 1990s (and narrowly lost out on the job of general manager of the Metropolitan Opera to Peter Gelb) returns from Los Angeles, where she oversaw the rise of that city's L.A. Philharmonic to a new national prominence. Isaac Thompson is her new Vice President of Artistic Planning.

The new team inherits a difficult situation. The orchestra is still playing in the renamed David Geffen Hall, but the only significant changes to the building remain the removal of two hanging sculptures and the installation of a new lobby café. The venue remains dated, acoustically problematic and tough to market to the new generation of New Yorkers, although the season-starting festival of Star Wars concerts has been so far well attended. So it's a transi5tional year, although one with concerts and festival events of considerable interest. Here are five recommended concerts on the slate for 2017-18

Salonen, Sibelius and Rachmaninoff
This season's Artist in Residence is pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. He will start his tenure in October with a concert featuring the rarely played and technically challenging Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 4, an autumnal work that is the least known of this composer's four contributions to the genre. This program conducted by Paavo Järvi, will also feature a new piece by Composer in Residence Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Sibelius Symphony No. 5.

La Mer with Susanna  Mälkki
Another new Salonen work, "Helix" gets an airing with 2017 Musical America Conductor of the Year Susanna Mälkki at the controls. It will be paired with Tchaikovsky's evergreen Violin Concerto (with soloist Baiba Skride) and Debussy's oceanic three-movement non-symphony "La Mer." This is a wonderful program with the warmth and beauty of the Debussy much needed in the depths of a New York winter. 5

Jaap van Zweden leads Wagner and Dark Waves
The New York Philharmonic continues its piecemeal approach to Wagner's Ring with this concert under Jaap van Zweden. Here, you'll hear the first act of Die Walküre, where the love music of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde prove that George R. R. Martin didn't have too many original ideas. Heidi Melton, Simon O Neill and bass John Relyea are the featured soloists. Infinitely more interesting: this program includes Dark Waves by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams.

Christoph Eschenbach pairs Bruckner with Mozart
Famous pianists often grow up to become famous conductors. Thats what happened to Daniel Barenboim and later to Christoph Eschenbach. This program echoes last5 year's Barenboim Mozart-Bruckner festival at Carnegie Hall, with a pairing of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 and Bruckner's wall-busting Symphony No. 9, a challenging work that the Austrian composer did not live to finish.

Semyon Bychkov conducts An Alpine Symphony
This is the last real "blast" of the 2017-18 season: a performance of Richard Strauss' over-the-top Ein Alpensinfonie. This is a huge work, requiring 136 musicians (including a cameo by 16 offstage horn players) recounting a climb to the summit of a Bavarian alp and the flight back down the mountain in the teeth of a summer storm. It is always worth hearing live, and Semyon Bychkov is one experienced mountain guide. 

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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.