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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

2019-20 Season Preview: Suffragette City

The New York Philharmonic celebrates the 19th Amendment with its new schedule.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This season, conductor Jaap van Sweden and the New York Philharmonic board the Hogwarts Express.
Original images © Warner Brothers Entertainment and Philharmonic photographer Chris Lee. 

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Last night the New York Philharmonic, in the person of President Deborah Borda and Music Director Jaap van Zweden unveiled its 2019-20 season, the second year to be forged from this new artistic partnership at Lincoln Center. The announcement was made (as with last year) in the sparkling Stanley H. Kaplan penthouse, in a relaxed, loungey atmosphere with strolling hors d'ouevres and a signature cocktail created for the occasion, the "Negentiende" ("Nineteenth" in Dutch, Mr. van Zweden's native tongue.

The Philharmonic has a long history of forging festivals and schedules around the centennials and bicentennials of composers' births and deaths. This year, America's oldest continually operating orchestra is building a festival around the centennual of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1919. The initiative is called Project 19 and consists of nineteen commissions from women composers.

Also on the schedule is Mr. van Zweden's first deep dive into the music of Mahler, with a two-week festival celebrating the composer's brief reign at the helm of the Philharmonic before his death in 1911. Curiously, the programming will ignore the late Mahler works (written during those last years) for the ever-popular First and Second Symphonies. It is supposed that one has to start somewhere. This festival program will also launch the orchestra's first tour with Mr. van Zweden, arriving at a Western Europe concert stage near you in the spring of 2020.

This year, the Philharmonic brings back its ever-popular Art of the Score series with performances of the complete film scores of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (by John Williams) and the original Psycho (with music by Bernard Herrman.) Later film offerings include a holiday performance of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mary Poppins and a gala performance featuring the complete score of Singin' in the Rain.

Opera, ignored at the New York Philharmonic in 2018 comes back to the stage of David Geffen Hall in September, with an ambitious, fully staged double bill of Expressionist operas. This is harrowing stuff: Schoenberg's Erwartung paired with Béla Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle. Each is an intense one-act work centered around a female protagonist, and the latter features super-soprano Nina Stemme making her Philharmonic debut.

Other highlighs of the new season include:

  • The return of the position of Artist in Residence in the person of pianist (and Philharmonic board member) Daniil Trifonov. Among other offerings, Mr. Trifonov will give a solo Bach recital, premiere his new chamber work for piano, and play Scriabin's devilishly difficult piano concerto.

  • An as-yet-untitled new work by Philip Glass is the first piece of that composer's music commissioned by the Philharmonic. It appears alongside Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 sung by Kelli O'Hara.

  • Throughout the season, Mr. van Zweden will also lead symphonies by Bruckner, Berlioz and even some composers whose names don't start with "B."
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to the Philharmonic to premiere Castor, the companion piece to his tone poem Pollux and lead the orchestra in Hindemith's underperformed symphony based on his opera Mathis der Maler.
  • The Dude abides: conductor Gustavo Dudamel returns to David Geffen Hall to premiere "Universos Infinitos", a new piano concerto by composer Esteban Benzecry alongside the New World Symphony by Antonín Dvořák. Mr. Dudamel will also lead Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Simon O'Neill and Michelle DeYoung.
  • Franz Welser-Möst is not a frequent guest of the Philharmonic but the Cleveland-based Austrian conductor will lead the ensemble in a Strauss specialty: the raucous Symphonia domestica.
The season wraps up in June of 2020 with a program dubbed "Hotspots." Rather than referring to the free WiFi available at David Geffen Hall, this is a curated three week look at  cities considered important to the creation of current art music. The cities are Reykjavik, Iceland, Berlin, Germany and New York, New York. Composers Nico Muhly, Olga Neuwirth and Sara Kirkland Snider will all have world premieres commissioned by the Philharmonic.

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