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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

2018-19 Season Preview: There Will Be (New) Blood

Jaap van Zweden and Deborah Borda take the reins at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Welcome to the jungle: Jaap van Zweden takes over at the Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic's upcoming season features a diverse slate that sees americas oldest orchestra dispensing with a few less popular initiatives while opening a few that will hopefully fill seats, and accelerating the orchestra’s transition from the Alan Gilbert era to the stewardship of its new music director, Jaap van Zweden.
Mr. Van Zweden is no stranger to the podium in David Geffen Hall, having made his debut with the orchestra six years ago. The new music director is coming off a tenure in Dallas where he was praised for turning around that city's orchestra. Also returning to the Philharmonic (and starting her tenure) is new President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda. The new team is cleaning house at the historic orchestra, getting rid of some old ideas that didn't work, keeping some that did, and moving in fresh, new directions. All this activity is with one goal: that of restoring the orchestra's place at the heart of this city's cultural life.

Part of that bid for relevance is a shift away from yearly touring, and towards urban outreach. The new concert series Phil the Hall will offer one-hour concerts at just $5 each in an effort to bring new listeners to Lincoln Center. Two new contemporary music series: Sound On will open the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, while the post-concert Nightcap series offers short post-concert evenings at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. Both programs are dedicated to contemporary works, and are meant to emphasize and re-integrate the orchestra as part of Lincoln Center.

The new season schedule, conceived by Ms. Borda and the new artistic team at the helm of the orchestra, itself is organized around the idea of programming "pillars", each of which is focused on a different contemporary composer. This takes the place of the Philharmonic's Composer in Residence program, which has been a feature at the orchestra for the last decade.

The Art of Andriessen
The Dutch composer Louis Andriessen has staged large-scale stage works in New York but is more known for his chamber music. Here, the Philharmonic premieres his new tone poem Agamemnon, inspired by the tragic Greek king. The following week, David Robertson conducts TAO. There are also works in the Sound On and Nightcap series featuring the composer's work.

New York Stories: Threads of Our City
The news here is the premiere of Fire in my mouth by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe. This is a multimedia work for chorus and orchestra inspired by the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a disaster in what is now TriBeCa which killed 146 garment workers in less than ten minutes.
Ms. Wolfe's Anthracite Fields received its New York premiere at the first Philharmonic Biennial.

Music of Conscience
The final pillar is dedicated to social justice and ends the Philharmonic season. First: the music of John Corigliano, whose Symphony No. 1: Of Rage and Remembrance will evoke memories of the AIDS Quilt with a Mahler-sized orchestra. The season ends with the world premiere of prisoner of the state, a new opera from composer David Lang. Like a modern take on Beethoven's Fidelio, this work explores incarceration and the failure of social justice in contemporary society, and was commissioned at Mr. van Zweden's special request.

Here are some other programs of note:

The Art of the Score (Sept. 12-15) returns with the first Philharmonic performance of There Will Be Blood (with music by Jonny Greenwood and Brahms) and two performances of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie that kicked off this series. Later special events with accompanying movies include John Corigliano's score for The Red Violin (played by Joshua Bell) and a holiday screening of Home Alone with music by John Williams.

The season opens Sept. 20 with the world premiere of a new composition by Ashley Fure, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G with pianist Daniil Trifonov, and Le sacre du Printemps. The three following subscription concerts (Sept. 21, 22, 25) feature Mr. Trifonov swapping out the Ravel for Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. Jaap van Zweden conducts.

Bruckner Eighth (Sept. 27-28)
Accompanied by a new piece by Conrad Tao, this massive symphony thunders out as the second program of the new season. It repeats as the program for next year's Memorial Day concert at St. John the Divine. All performances are led by Mr. van Zweden.

Schubert and Beethoven (Nov. 7, 8, 10)
Ivan Fischer leads symphonies by each composer and a rare re-orchestration of Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock for soprano and solo clarinet.

Matthias Goerne (Dec. 6-8) This year's Artist-in-Residence will sing songs by Schubert and Richard Strauss, flanked by works by Bach and Mozart. In March he will sing John Adams' The Wound Dresser with works by Ives and Brahms.

Matthias Pintscher (Feb. 21-23, 2019)
The composer-conductor leads the New York premiere of his work mar'eh as well as a run through Stravinsky's Firebird.

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