Top Five Stories of the BSO's 2016-2017 Season

Mar 10, 2016

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has announced its schedule for next season, and it tells us a lot about where the orchestra is headed.

I love it when orchestras announce their upcoming seasons. Even before I began producing WCRB’s Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts, the release of detailed information about the orchestra’s coming season was something of a thrill. To me, great orchestras have distinct personalities, which are partly shaped by the programs those ensembles play, and who they play them with. Beyond that, I just like to scan the schedule to find the pieces I want to hear most.

The BSO just released its plans for the 2016-2017 season, and it’s that same thrill all over again. Here are the Top 5 stories about the coming season I find most important:

1. 14 weeks of programs led by Andris Nelsons

After nearly two full seasons with Nelsons as Music Director, it’s clear that the BSO made a great choice in hiring him. The orchestra consistently plays at its best when he’s conducting, and there remains a sense of excitement backstage as well when he’s at Symphony Hall. 14 weeks is over half the season, so we’ll have a lot of that excitement to look forward to … along with a few charming, impromptu greetings from the podium, a Nelsons trademark…

2. Thomas Adès: Artistic Partner

What I like most about the appointment of Thomas Adès to a three-year position as Artistic Partner is the title itself. It’s as though the BSO brought in a Principal Guest Conductor, a Composer-in-Residence, and an Artist-in-Residence … all in the form of one person. He’s that multi-dimensional as a musician. What other title could possibly make sense? When Adès has worked with the orchestra in the last several years, his programs haven’t only been imaginative combinations of his own music and that of others, they’ve also been stellar performances. In 2016-2017, Adès conducts one week with the BSO (Nov. 3-5), performs as pianist with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (Oct. 30), and performs Schubert’s Winterreise with tenor Ian Bostridge (Oct. 28), who literally wrote the book about that piece. And there is much more to come in subsequent seasons.

3. Great works for chorus and orchestra

  Nelsons leads three programs that encompass three of the most intensely moving works for chorus: Brahms’s A German Requiem (Oct. 6-8), Bach’s Mass in B minor (Feb. 2-7), and Mozart’s Requiem (April 20-22). On the surface, it’s a gutsy lineup given that the Tanglewood Festival Chorus does not have a leader following the retirement of John Oliver last year. But when you consider Andris Nelsons’s background in vocal training and Latvian choirs, the prospects look exciting.

4. LOTS of piano

Over the last couple of years, the BSO has replaced its Steinway collection with new instruments from both the New York and Hamburg factories. (Oh yes, there’s a difference…) So it’s time to put them to use! The lineup of pianists coming through Symphony Hall next season is nothing short of remarkable. They include Lang Lang (Opening Night, Sep. 24), Hélène Grimaud (two weeks, Nov. 11-19), Menahem Pressler (Nov. 22-26), Jean-Frédéric Neuburger (Jan. 26-28), Emanuel Ax (Feb. 14-21), Kirill Gerstein (Mar. 10-11), Mitsuko Uchida (April 13-15), Radu Lupu (April 20-22), and Leif Ove Andsnes (May 4-6).

5. More Shostakovich

The Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance of 2015 went to the BSO and Nelsons for their Deutsche Grammophon release of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 and the Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It’s the first volume in a Shostakovich series entitled "Under Stalin’s Shadow," and the series continues next season with the Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 (the “Leningrad”), Festive Overture, and Music for King Lear. It all has the makings of one of the most significant artistic endeavors by the BSO in recent memory.

BONUS: My personal favorites

Did I mention how much fun I find it to scan season schedules to look for my own favorites? Why yes, I believe I did.

So my first stop, almost by reflex, is to look for Mahler. And YES! Actually, the BSO is doing only one Mahler symphony in 2016-2017, the Fourth (May 4-6). Less than I would like, but I’ll take it, especially because Kristine Opolais is singing the gorgeous soprano solo.

Next scan: Bach. YES! As mentioned above, the Mass in B minor (Feb. 2-7). 

What next? BSO members as soloists. YES! I think one of the best things an orchestra can do is feature its own incredible musicians in solo roles. And one program (Jan. 5-7) is made up entirely of works featuring BSO musicians, including piccolo player Cynthia Meyers, clarinetists William R. Hudgins and Michael Wayne, trumpeter Thomas Rolfs, trombonist Toby Oft, and horn players James Sommerville, Michael Winter, Rachel Childers, and Jason Snider.

Finally, opera. And YES! The subscription season begins with Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (Sep. 29-Oct. 1), an unbelievable work of both depth and pure entertainment. Then Charles Dutoit conducts a work of a very different character (to say the very least), but one that grabs you in a way only Bartók’s music can:  Bluebeard’s Castle (Oct. 27-29).

For more, hear a preview with BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe on The Answered Question:
https://soundcloud.com/classicalwcrb/herbert-blomstedt-and-mark-volpe

For the complete 2016-2017 season schedule, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra.