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The Boston Symphony Orchestra Announces its 2023-2024 Season

Clockwise from top left: mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges, composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, conductor Andris Nelsons, pianist Seong-Jin Cho, violinist Randall Goosby, conductor Karina Canellakis
Bridges: Freddie Collier Photography; Thorvaldsdottir: Anna Maggý; Nelsons: Marco Borggreve; Cho: Christopher Koestlin; Goosby: Kaupo Kikkas; Canellakis: Mathias Bothor
Clockwise from top left: mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges, composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, conductor Andris Nelsons, conductor Karina Canellakis, violinist Randall Goosby, pianist Seong-Jin Cho

The culmination of an era-defining project, two mini-festivals, and two major anniversaries only begin to describe a BSO season of illuminating artistic depth, rich musical color, and historic significance.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 143rd season begins on Oct. 5, 2023, and launches a series of programs through May 4, 2024, that, inspired by a storied history, offers audiences an uncommonly daring and spectacular experience of the orchestral art form. Highlights include the final chapters in the BSO’s decade-long survey of Shostakovich’s music, festivals entitled “Music of the Midnight Sun” and “Music for the Senses,” a commemoration of the centenary of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, and a celebration of the legacy of former Music Director Serge Koussevitzky. The season also includes an astonishing array of music of our time, in the form of Boston Symphony commissions and other very recent works.

When Andris Nelsons came to Boston in 2014 as the BSO’s 15th Music Director, he and the orchestra launched a series of performances and recordings of Shostakovich’s music that would prove foundational in their collaboration. In 2024, that project reaches its zenith as Nelsons conducts Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Jan. 23-27), the final - and by far most ambitious - part of the series, with a cast that includes soprano Kristine Opolais and bass Günther Groissböck among many others. In another program (Oct. 12-15), Yo-Yo Ma is the soloist in both of Shostakovich’s cello concertos.

“Music of the Midnight Sun” (Feb. 29-Mar. 10) celebrates the distinctive compositional voices of Nordic countries. The first program, led by John Storgårds, includes three tone poems by Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, with soloist Pekka Kuusisto in his BSO debut, and Outi Tarkiainen’s Midnight Sun Variations. In the second week, Bill Barclay’s production of Peer Gynt, adapted from Henryck Ibsen’s play, anchored by Edvard Grieg’s music, and premiered by the BSO in 2017, returns, with conductor Dima Slobodeniouk and soprano Georgia Jarman. The festival also includes a Boston Symphony Chamber Players program of works by Nielsen, Thorvaldsdottir, and Schubert as arranged by Hans Abrahamsen.

“Music for the Senses” (Apr. 4-14) explores the interplay and relationship of music and light and color. Andris Nelsons leads two programs, the first of which includes works by Anna Clyne, Wagner, and Liszt, as well as Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, Poem of Fire, for which the composer conceived of a “light organ,” projecting colors that reflect his own experience of synesthesia. In the second week, pianist Yuja Wang and ondes Martenot player Cécile Lartigau are the soloists in a dazzling work by another synesthetic composer, Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players offer a prelude to the festival in a program that includes Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, with guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson (Mar. 31).

In addition to their place in this festival, both Turangalîla-symphonie and Prometheus, Poem of Fire are part of a celebration of Serge Koussevitzky, whose quarter-century leading the BSO was one of the most artistically vital conductor-orchestra relationships in history. 2024 marks the sesquicentennial of Koussevitzky’s birth and the centennial of his first season as BSO Music Director, both commemorated in the works mentioned above as well as Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4 (Apr. 25-27), all of them commissioned and/or premiered by Koussevitzky.

In addition, four new works in the 2023-2024 season are designated as “Koussevitzky 150 commissions,” honoring Koussevitzky’s extraordinary commitment to contemporary music and living composers of his own lifetime. They include a piece by Tania León (Jan. 11-13 and 26, in a program that also features pianist Seong-Jin Cho in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand), Elena Langer’s A Dong with a Luminous Nose (Mar. 14-16, featuring BSO Principal Cellist Blaise Déjardin), Roberto Sierra’s Symphony No. 6 (Mar. 28-30), and Sofia Gubaidulina’s Prologue for Orchestra (Apr. 25-27). The “Koussevitzky 150” celebration continues in the 2024 Tanglewood season and into the 2024-2025 season at Symphony Hall.

Among the new and recently composed music included in other programs in the coming season is the world premiere of Iman Habibi’s Zhiân, a BSO commission (Oct. 12-15), and Hannah Kendall’s The Spark Catchers and James Lee III's Freedom’s Genius Dawn, co-commissioned by the BSO (Oct. 19-21, three programs in which Paul Lewis is the soloist in all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos). Other composers of our time not mentioned previously include Arturs Maskats (Oct 5 and 6, in a program that also features pianist Rudolf Buchbinder in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23), Carlos Simon (Oct. 7), Thomas Adès (Nov. 16 -18, with more information below), Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Apr. 18-20, a program that also features violinist Hilary Hahn in the Violin Concerto by Brahms), and Detlev Glanert (Apr. 25-27), whose Trumpet Concerto features BSO Principal Trumpeter Thomas Rolfs.

Just last month, a towering artist of our time left us when jazz legend Wayne Shorter died at the age of 89, and the BSO pays tribute to his unparalleled artistry in a program led by Clark Rundell (Mar. 21-23). Guest soloists include vocalist and bassist esperanza spalding, pianist Leo Genovese, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and saxophonist Dayna Stephens in a program that includes, among other works, excerpts from …(Iphigenia), the opera by Shorter and spalding that premiered in Boston in 2021.

Among other individual programs in the coming season is a centennial celebration of iconoclastic Hungarian composer György Ligeti (Nov. 16.-18), with conductor and composer Thomas Adès and pianist Kirill Gerstein. The program includes Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, as well as Liszt’s Les Preludes, Stravinsky’s Orpheus, and Adès’s Tevot. Adès and Gerstein join the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in a continuation of the Ligeti celebration, a program that also features soprano Katalin Károlyi (Nov. 19).

In another program, Karina Canellakis returns to Symphony Hall to conduct Béla Bartók’s meditation on the dark depths of the human soul, Bluebeard’s Castle, with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and bass-baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle, and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, with soloist Alisa Weilerstein.

Guest artists performing for the first time with the BSO include conductor Joana Mallwitz and pianist Anna Vinnitskaya (in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Nov. 2-4), saxophonist Steven Banks (in Tomasi’s Saxophone Concerto, No. 24-25), violinist Randall Goosby (in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Feb. 2-3), pianist Yunchan Lim (in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Feb. 15-18), and conductor Domingo Hindoyan and cellist Pablo Ferrández (in Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Mar. 28-30).

Along with the 2023-2024 subscription season, the BSO announced a special weekend of Boston Pops concerts celebrating Pops Conductor Laureate John Williams (Sep. 22-24). Keith Lockhart leads two programs, the first a Tribute to John Williams, encompassing selections from the composer’s vast catalog of film music, and the second called “Star Wars: The Story in Music,” with narration accompanied by selections from the core nine-episode Star Wars series.

In addition to those previously mentioned, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players perform a program that includes a new work by Adam Schoenberg “modeled after Copland’s Appalachian Spring,” and works by Alison Loggins-Hull and Brahms (Feb. 11).

The season closes with a return to one of the signature works of the Boston Symphony, when Andris Nelsons conducts Berlioz’s self-described “symphony with choruses” Roméo et Juliette (May 2-4). A ravishingly vibrant depiction of Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers, and particularly associated with past Music Directors Charles Munch and Seiji Ozawa, the BSO and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus are joined by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and bass-baritone John Relyea.

For more information about the 2023-2024 season, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Brian McCreath is the Director of Production for CRB.