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The Boston Symphony's 2024-2025 Season

Six-panel image of artists of the Boston Symphony's 2024-2025 season. The headshots are bronze, silver, and gold.
Terrance Ragland: Simon; Eamonn McCabe: Uchida; Andrew Eccles: Fleming; Marco Borggreve: Nelsons; John Mac: Chen; Arielle Doneson: Goerke
Clockwise, from upper left: Carlos Simon, Mitsuko Uchida, Renée Fleming, Andris Nelsons, Ray Chen, Christine Goerke

The BSO's next season at Symphony Hall is anchored by Composer Chair Carlos Simon and major undertakings in works by Mahler, Beethoven, and Shostakovich with Music Director Andris Nelsons. In a conversation with BSO Vice President for Artistic Planning Tony Fogg, he describes what Simon brings to the orchestra in his new position and the projects Nelsons takes on in celebration of the 10th anniversary of his appointment as Music Director.

He also talks about the intersection of jazz and orchestral music, a lineup of guest conductors that includes longtime artistic collaborators and exciting BSO debuts, and a special series of Boston Pops programs to celebrate Halloween and The Day of the Dead.

To hear our conversation, use the player above, and read the transcript below.

For more details on the 2024-2025 season, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

TRANSCRIPT (lightly edited for clarity):

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Tony Fogg, the Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And Tony, I'm always excited to talk to you about a new season announcement. It seems like we were just here for the announcement of this summer’s Tanglewood season, but it is springtime now, and that means, along with the new baseball season, it's time to look ahead to a new BSO season for next fall as well. Thank you for a little bit of your time today.

Tony Fogg My pleasure as always, Brian.

Carlos Simon, Composer Chair

Brian McCreath One of the really exciting developments that was announced a while ago, but now we're seeing it come into its fruition, is this new position of Composer Chair that Carlos Simon will fulfill. And I want to ask you about it in terms of the language you've used, because this might be seen by some to be a "Composer-in-Residence," a more common title that orchestras might hold. What does "Composer Chair" mean for Carlos Simon in the way that you've conceived of it with him?

Tony Fogg The BSO has never actually had a Composer-in-Residence. We had a wonderful relationship with Thomas Adès as our Artistic Partner over a number of years, and that formal relationship has now concluded, but we still have Tom back as a guest conductor here in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood. But Tom had a very unique set of skills. He is not only one of the great composers of musical history, but he is also a fantastic conductor and pianist, and a great programmer. So, we crafted our position around Tom's unique qualities as an artist.

Carlos Simon
Terrence Ragland
Carlos Simon

Carlos is a different type of artist again. We got to know his music over the course of several seasons. There was clearly a chemistry between his music and the esthetic of the orchestra and audiences. And the more we got to know his work, the closer we wanted to get with the music itself and to him as a creator.

Carlos brings a number of very, very specific, unique qualities. He's not only an extremely talented conductor with a real voice, but he's a great educator. He's a programmer. He's someone who can initiate dialog, talk about the place of music in society in our time, talk about the BSO's role in that. So, we felt that there was an opportunity to create a new type of relationship with Carlos, and we created this position of Composer Chair, which he will have for a three-year period.

He's going to write a number of pieces for us, about six in total, some orchestra pieces, some educational works, a piece for the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, one for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, etc. And we'll also perform a number of his existing works. And we're going to join in a couple of other commission projects that have been initiated by other orchestras. It'll be quite a wide palette of his music that we'll hear, but we'll also get to experience his work as a thinker, as a speaker, as an advocate.

In terms of the planning and curatorial work, he's working with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players to curate a program of chamber music early in the season. He's also curated a really fantastic evening around the music of John Coltrane, which will be in March of 2025. This is a project that he's very deeply passionate about, and we're delighted that we had an opportunity to find a place for this in the schedule. So, this is a big new phase for us. We're all terribly excited in many parts of Symphony Hall and Tanglewood about this new relationship we have with Carlos Simon.

[Carlos] is not only an extremely talented conductor with a real voice, but he’s a great educator. He’s a programmer. He’s someone who can initiate dialog, talk about the place of music in society in our time, talk about the BSO’s role in that.
Tony Fogg, on Carlos Simon

Brian McCreath My own perceptions of Carlos and how he has interacted with the orchestra and audiences, and how his music has been received is that he has this almost unique combination of what I might characterize as charisma and fearlessness. He's so approachable. He's so ready and willing to engage with an audience. But he also pulls no punches. His music really takes on what he believes in. He seems like a composer of great conviction. And so, I can see how that will add a lot to not just his own pieces, but these other projects, his curatorial abilities and all these other things you describe.

Tony Fogg That's right. And he does have a certain charisma. That's undeniable. We took his Four Black American Dances on tour to Europe, last August and September. And we played the work in probably seven or eight different cities. And it was always a tremendously positive response from the audience in those concerts in which he was personally present. He was like a rock star.

I must also say that a test of a new composition is how well the orchestra responds to it over a period of time. And I can say that the BSO, in all of these performances, I didn't hear one murmur of a complaint about it or saying, Why are we doing this again? They were always backstage practicing figuration and certain passages, which is a sign of a great composition.

Brian McCreath That's interesting to hear because, when we in the audience hear these new compositions in performance, the BSO just completely executes everything at the highest level. So, we may not understand what the players really are attracted to as much. But that's really interesting that they're so attracted to Carlos Simon's work.

Andris Nelsons: Mahler, Beethoven, Shostakovich

Brian McCreath Andris Nelsons conducts, as is the practice of the last several years, half the season, basically. And some of the major things that he's doing, I just want to run through with you really quickly because they really are very major undertakings, beginning with the most major undertaking any orchestra might take on, which is Mahler's Eighth Symphony. Tell me about the decision to take on this incredibly huge piece, not just in its own duration and scope, but in the number of performers required. You probably won't have a thousand people literally, but it is known as “The Symphony of a Thousand.” What makes this the right time to do Mahler Eight?

Andris Nelsons
Marco Borggeve
Andris Nelsons

Tony Fogg Well, the answer to that one is very simple, Brian. You know, it's Andris's 10th anniversary as Music Director. And we said to him, what are the projects you would like to do in your 10th birthday year? And, almost without pausing, he said Mahler Eight. And I should have guessed. [both laugh] So, we thought that early in the season it would be great if we could do a performance of this mighty work. It's been about 20 years since the Boston Symphony has played it in Symphony Hall. We've had it at Tanglewood with the TMC Orchestra in between, with Andris conducting. But it's a work on the grandest scale.

It's eight soloists, as you mentioned, and a very, very large orchestra and chorus and children's chorus. It's in two parts. The first part is a setting of the "Veni Creator" hymn. And then the second is based on text from Goethe's Faust. So, it's a sort of artistic summation of Mahler's work in in many ways, but it's also just a grand occasion work. And we thought a 10th birthday is the occasion to do it [Oct. 4-6].

The other big project that Andris wanted to see next season is a cycle of the Beethoven symphonies. This had been planned for the 2020-2021 season, which was the season that didn't eventuate because of the pandemic. So, we were very pleased that we could find a way to do this over the first three weeks of January in 2025. And unlike some previous Beethoven cycles that have taken place here, this will be with one conductor and in chronological order. And I don't think that's been done with the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall since 1927 with [Serge] Koussevitzky.

It's an incredible undertaking, both for Andris and for the orchestra itself. It's a huge, physically very demanding cycle to perform. And so, the players are already thinking about how we pace the rehearsals and schedule the strings and so on. That was certainly one of the top picks for Andris for his 10th anniversary season.

And the other was an opera that he's been itching to do for a while, which is a very, very beautiful piece, slightly out of the mainstream, but rich in many ways. And that's Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt, or The Dead City, which was premiered in 1920 by the 23-year-old Erich Korngold. It's a work in the sort of full flowering of the Romantic style, in the sort of richness of all of Strauss's music, but already hinting at some new language.

It’s Andris’s 10th anniversary as Music Director. And we said to him, "What are the projects you would like to do in your 10th birthday year?" And, almost without pausing, he said "Mahler Eight" . . . It's a sort of artistic summation of Mahler's work in in many ways, but it's also just a grand occasion work. And we thought a 10th birthday is the occasion to do it.
Tony Fogg

We were happy that we've been able to put together, I think, a very strong cast. The role of Paul will be sung by Brandon Jovanovich, and of Marietta by Christine Goerke. And these two singers are sort of on stage for almost the duration of the two hours. It's really full, dramatic singing from both of them. They're very, very demanding roles. The orchestral dimension is also very intricate but full of great virtuoso writing. And I think it'll be a fantastic vehicle for the BSO [Jan. 30-Feb. 1]. So, these were sort of three key projects that Andris particularly hoped that we could include in his 10th anniversary season.

Brian McCreath And incidentally, Christine Goerke is also on the schedule for Mahler Eight, so we get the luxury of hearing from her twice in the season. She's a delight to be around, not just to hear on stage.

Tony Fogg Oh, yes. And she's one of Andris's closest collaborators. They've done a number of performances together. Audiences will remember the stunning performances of [Richard Strauss’s] Elektra that she gave several seasons ago. But she's appeared with us at Tanglewood, Andris has appeared with her on tour in Europe with various orchestras, so they have a real chemistry, and it's always fantastic to see Christine and Andris together on stage.

Brian McCreath One of the really memorable things that she did was that Berlioz cantata that she did at Tanglewood a couple of years ago. I can't honestly remember the name of it.

Tony Fogg Ah, The Death of Cleopatra by Berlioz, yes.

Brian McCreath Yes, that was really like, wow! That is quite a piece of music. Well, there's one more aspect to Andris's season that I just want to touch on, among all the other weeks he's conducting, which is that you're ending the season with a string of programs built around Shostakovich symphonies [Apr. 10-May 3], which have been a constant feature since Andris came here. He said, I remember, his first press conference, “We will be doing Shostakovich,” and that has definitely been the case with so many great, award-winning recordings. And I know this is connected to, then, a tour to Leipzig that the orchestra will do to take part in a Shostakovich festival. There must be logistics involved with that, but tell me about your choices of programing, which pieces by Shostakovich that were right to do in Symphony Hall at the end of this coming season.

Tony Fogg I should mention that the impetus for this series of programs, and for the festival of Shostakovich's music in Leipzig, about which I'll speak a little more in a moment, is that this August will be the 50th anniversary of Shostakovich's death. So, there was that anniversary to mark, but also we felt that we'd come to a sort of cadence point with Shostakovich's music. We have, over the last decade, performed and recorded all 15 symphonies, the piano concertos, and the cello and violin concertos, as well as, last January, [the opera] Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which is probably one of the biggest undertakings that the Boston Symphony has ever done. We've had this incredibly long journey with Shostakovich.

But it's been, I would say, sort of piece-specific rather than composer specific. And we wanted to have a chance to look within a concentrated period of time at the breadth of Shostakovich's work through the symphonies, but also to contextualize those in ways that we just haven't had a chance to do over the course of the last ten years when we've been preoccupied with performing and recording the works.

We wanted to have a chance to look within a concentrated period of time at the breadth of Shostakovich's work through the symphonies, but also to contextualize those in ways that we just haven't had a chance to do over the course of the last ten years when we've been preoccupied with performing and recording the works.
Tony Fogg

So, we've grouped these programs together under the title "Decoding Shostakovich." And in addition to the main symphonies, which are numbers Six, Eight, Eleven, and Fifteen, which trace a very particular arc in Shostakovich's output of symphonies, around these we will be adding some other works which were of significance. Our chorus, for instance, will perform Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, which was one piece that Shostakovich held very close to his heart. He made a version of the piece for two pianos alone, and then two pianos and chorus. It was a piece that he taught to students.

There'll be a Beethoven piano concerto with Mitsuko Uchida, and Beethoven again was a very important influence on Shostakovich's work. We'll be doing a bunch of chamber music, we want to have a film festival of films for which Shostakovich wrote the accompanying music. There'll be some documentaries about him, some panel discussions. So, some of the deep work around the music that we just haven't had a chance to do. It'll be one sort of final summation of what we're doing in terms of our performances of Shostakovich's music, but it'll also be a chance to do a sort of deep dive into some of the other things.

And, you know, we talked a lot around what one could call such a contextualization. And for me, having been so closely involved in the music for such a long time now, it's really trying to work out what he's saying at any particular point. Is this parody? Is this some subliminal message that he's giving us? How does a musical idea that appears in one context – it might be a film, for instance – and then which reappears in another, what message does it carry with that?

Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich

There are lots and lots of things about Shostakovich's music which are a source of speculation in some instances, but in other cases are clearly aligned with particular political events. The [Symphony] Number Six, for instance, is clear. Number 11, Number 15, which is a deeply personal and wonderful, wonderful symphony, is like a reflection of life and life's woes. So, all of those sorts of issues and themes are ones that we want to have a chance to bring to the fore and will allow our audiences to be part of that dialog.

Brian McCreath And along the way, you happen to now have an orchestra that is so steeped in this music that – they've always been able to play Shostakovich, of course, it's the Boston Symphony – but there's a feel now that this orchestra seems to have, with their chemistry with Andris, that is really, truly something special. So, with all the other context that you're offering, the performances themselves have such promise to be really landmark performances.

Tony Fogg And then, as we mentioned, we're taking these to Europe and part of a festival that our colleagues at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra are putting together in which, over the course of about three-plus weeks, all 15 symphonies are being performed, all the concertos, the complete chamber music, song programs. And Andris is conducting 90% of all of this. It's a superhuman feat that he's doing, including conducting Lady Macbeth in the opera house.

Brian McCreath Oh my goodness. Is that fully staged?

Tony Fogg Fully staged, yes.

Brian McCreath Oh my goodness.

Tony Fogg It'll be an amazing project to be part of. And the BSO is doing three programs on its own. And then combining with the Gewandhaus Orchestra for the "Leningrad" Symphony [No. 7]. A number of our musicians from the Tanglewood Music Center are coming to Leipzig and joining with their colleagues from the Mendelssohn Academy to form a festival orchestra that will have about three different programs in their own right as well. It's a huge undertaking and very, very exciting to be part of all of that.

Brian McCreath And a destination for anyone in the mood for summer travel in May of 2025. That would be an amazing destination.

Tony Fogg Yeah, it's on sale now. So, if you're itching to be part of this, and it's apparently selling really quickly, get onto that Gewandhaus website and order your tickets straight away.

The Intersection of Jazz and Orchestra: Ellington and Coltrane

Brian McCreath As we speak, we're maybe still hearing the echoes around the hall of a pretty amazing concert of Wayne Shorter's music that was just done here, and something like that is also planned. You've already referenced it when we talked about Carlos Simon: a concert devoted to [John] Coltrane's music. And that is one of two concerts, really, that lean into the relationship of jazz and symphony orchestra, the first of those being Thomas Wilkins conducting an all-Duke Ellington program. Tell me more about the BSO's taste with leaning into jazz programs, and maybe even what your reflection is on the Wayne Shorter program and what that has brought to the orchestra and to the audience.

John Coltrane, of course, is one where his influence on the language of music has been profound, who had an output of works which required sort of symphonic forces.
Tony Fogg

Tony Fogg The BSO is unique in that it has this alter ego as the Boston Pops, so the idiom of jazz and popular musical styles is second nature to our players. For us to look at the symphonic output of these very, very important jazz figures is an opportunity that we are, in many ways, uniquely positioned to be able to undertake at a very, very high level. You mentioned the Wayne Shorter program that we had recently. That's music of incredible complexity. It's up there with some of the most difficult 20th century music ever written. But it's great language and it's inspired music. So, we've looked at composers who are in that tradition.

John Coltrane, of course, is one where his influence on the language of music has been profound, who had an output of works which required sort of symphonic forces. And Carlos has undertaken the task of making sure that those arrangements in those symphonic versions are all ones that will shine in a full orchestral context [Mar. 21-22].

Duke Ellington's music is probably more familiar to a general public, but there are a number of purely orchestral works that he wrote: Three Black Kings, New World A-Comin', which is a wonderful piece...

Brian McCreath And we heard one last summer as well, the suite from The River, which was such a beautiful piece.

Tony Fogg ... Such a beautiful piece. Thomas Wilkins, who is part of our artistic leadership, has a strong connection with this repertoire. We also wanted to focus on some of Ellington's spiritual music. And he wrote these three spiritual pieces that were performed, I think the first may have been performed in [San Francisco's] Grace Cathedral, and this is for voices and ensemble, and this is very, very important and profoundly beautiful music. And so, Thomas is putting together a selection from those. We're working with Renese King, who's a wonderful singer and advocate for the musical style of Ellington, as well as a great teacher, so we're very happy to have this collaboration for programming in November [Nov. 7-9]. And it's also the 50th anniversary of Ellington's passing.

Guest Conductors

Brian McCreath Let's look at guest conductors. And I just need to say that, one of those that stood out to me immediately is Herbert Blomstedt, who is a sort of miracle of a person who has lived so many decades, and he brings that to the stage. But yet, amazingly, there's this vitality to his performances that we've seen here in recent years that is utterly remarkable.

Herbert Blomstedt conducting in Leipzig.
Alexander Boehm
Wikimedia Commons
Herbert Blomstedt

Tony Fogg Maestro Blomstedt will be 96 by the time he comes to conduct this program and these concerts, which, we'll have to check, he may be the oldest conductor ever to appear with the BSO.

Brian McCreath Get on the hotline to [BSO Archivist] Bridget Carr and have her look this up.

Tony Fogg But he's amazing, and he has this sort of laser focus. Everything he does and says has deep meaning. And it's just always a great honor to have him with us. He'll be conducting Brahms's First Symphony and Schubert's Sixth, which is a very elegant program, very core repertoire for Maestro Blomstedt [Feb. 13-15]. So we're very happy that we have this ongoing relationship with him as we do a couple of other important conductors: Antonio Pappano, who is back with us next season [Oct. 24-26, in a program of works by Kendall, Liszt, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Strauss], Dima Slobodeniouk, who's become one of our most popular guest conductors, will be back for two wonderful programs, one with the Mozart Requiem [Mar. 27-29, with Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa] and the other with the great Violin Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar, with Frank Peter Zimmermann [Apr. 3-5, with works by Hailstork and Stravinsky].

Brian McCreath Well, yes, we talked before about Dima Slobodeniouk and what a gift he is when he comes to the orchestra. Also coming are Alan Gilbert [Feb. 20-22, with works by Haydn and Stravinsky, with violinist Isabelle Faust] and Giancarlo Guerrero [Feb. 27-Mar. 1, with works by Ortiz and Tchaikovsky, with cellist Alban Gerhardt]. These are great conductors that have great chemistry with the musicians of the BSO.

Nathalie [Stutzmann], of course, is well known to us as a singer . . . But she slowly emerged as a conductor of unique talents, and she’s having a wonderful career. She’s Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony, but she’s also very active in opera, both at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and this last summer at Bayreuth. So, we’re very, very excited to have this opportunity to work with Nathalie.
Tony Fogg

But some of the names that will be here for the first time include Nathalie Stutzmann. Another one is Eun Sun Kim, who leads the San Francisco Opera. And another one I should mention is Teddy Abrams, who leads the Louisville Orchestra. Tell me about some of the choices you've made in BSO conductor debuts.

Tony Fogg We think it's important to bring new conducting talent to the orchestra each season, whether it be here in Symphony Hall or at Tanglewood. And the choices are of artists we've been thinking about for a number of seasons. We've been following their work. We think that this is probably the right moment in our schedule and in theirs to introduce them to the BSO.

Nathalie, of course, is well known to us as a singer. She's an alto with a number of performances here over the years in, concerts with Seiji [Ozawa] of the Saint Matthew Passion [by Bach], with Bernard Haitink in [Debussy's] Pelléas et Mélisande on a number of performances. But she slowly emerged as a conductor of unique talents, and she's having a wonderful career. She's Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony, but she's also very active in opera, both at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and this last summer at Bayreuth. So, we're very, very excited to have this opportunity to work with Nathalie [Feb. 6-8, in works by Ravel, Stravinsky, and Beethoven, with violinist Veronika Eberle].

Likewise, Eun Sun Kim is someone who's really performing at the highest level, not only in opera but in concert [Mar. 6-8, with works by Liadov, Rachmaninoff, and Bartók, with pianist Inon Barnatan]. So, we're very happy that we could find these opportunities, also with Terry Abrams, who's an exciting young talent doing great work in Louisville, amazing talents as a composer as well as a conductor and an activator is probably the best word [Mar. 13-16, in works by Bernstein, Tchaikovsky, with violinist Ray Chen, and Tilson Thomas, with baritone Dashon Burton]. So, these will be very exciting moments for us in the schedule next season.

The Pops and Halloween

Brian McCreath Well, I want to ask you about one more thing, Tony, which just sounds incredibly fun. It's a series of concerts around Halloween that the Boston Pops is doing to mark that day and have some fun in the hall. Can you describe what the Pops and Keith Lockhart are going to be doing?

The famous shadow scene of the 1922 film Nosferatu.
The famous shadow scene of the 1922 film Nosferatu.

Tony Fogg Well, thanks to some new flexibilities that we have with the orchestra's contract, and not to get too technical, we are, throughout the symphony season, now able to schedule a number of performances by the Boston Pops. And so, we've taken the opportunity around the week of Halloween and The Day of the Dead to schedule some performances with Keith and the Pops: a couple of screenings of The Nightmare Before Christmas and a concert for The Day of the Dead, which is November 1st. It'll be terrific to be able to do these performances, and we hope that they'll be appealing to those who are looking for some fun things to do in Halloween week.

Also, on the Wednesday before the first of the orchestra concerts, we're doing a screening of the classic film Nosferatu, which will be done with organ accompaniment. The whole week will be a lot of fun. It's always a time of year in Boston where, God willing, it's not too cold already, and everyone can be out and about and having fun with these important celebrations.

Brian McCreath And maybe even a costume contest along the way.

Tony Fogg Yeah, yeah. And a few tricks or treats as well.

Brian McCreath OK. Special prize for the Koussevitzky costume?

Tony Fogg [laughs].

Brian McCreath We'll see.

Tony Fogg I'll hold you to that.

Brian McCreath [laughs] OK. Tony Fogg, it is always great to talk with you, and especially great to talk with you about new seasons and all these previews. Thanks so much for your time today. I'm really looking forward to all of this.

Tony Fogg My pleasure.

Brian McCreath is the Director of Production for CRB.