Marin Alsop will pay tribute to her mentor, Leonard Bernstein, and his hero, Gustav Mahler, during the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2008-2009 season, Alsop's second as music director. Works by both men figure prominently, along with new pieces by Christopher Rouse and Jennifer Higdon, continuing Alsop's commitment to contemporary American music.
After last season's successful pricing of subscription seats at $25 per concert, the BSO will again offer a $25 deal. This time, it won't include all locations at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, but more than 70 percent of the seats will be eligible for $25-per-concert subscription packages. (The rest will be priced at $50 per concert.)
The subscription bargain will be underwritten by a $250,000 matching grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The Bernstein salute is keyed to the 90th anniversary of the celebrated conductor/composer's birth.
The biggest Bernstein item next season is his Mass, the controversial "theater piece for singers, players and dancers" that opened the Kennedy Center in 1971. Alsop said the piece is "inclusive, eclectic and breaks the rules -- I'm really big on that."
The Mass project, with the BSO, Morgan State University Choir, Peabody Children's Chorus and Jubilant Sykes as the celebrant, will be performed at Meyerhoff, as well as at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, in October.
Other Bernstein items next season include his Symphony No. 1, subtitled Jeremiah, paired on a program with Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Bernstein's Opening Prayer for voice and orchestra will share a program with Mahler's Symphony No. 6.
Bernstein also figures in the annual BSO gala Sept. 13, when Yo-Yo Ma performs the Three Meditations From `Mass,' as well as Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.
BSO music director emeritus Yuri Temirkanov is slated to return for Brahms' Violin Concerto (with Vadim Repin) and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. Leonard Slatkin, conducting the BSO for the first time in 15 years, will lead his own composition, based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.
After an absence of several years, Mario Venzago, former artistic director of the BSO's summer season, will be back to conduct Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 (with Nelson Freire) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 3.
Other guest conductors include Stephane Deneve, Vasily Petrenko, Carlos Kalmar, Juanjo Mena, Jun Markl and Peter Oundjian.
Guest soloists include Hilary Hahn in Higdon's Violin Concerto; Yefim Bronfman in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3; and Stephen Hough in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.
Replacing the Explorer Series next season will be a venture called "Off the Cuff." Each concert, running for 90 minutes or less without intermission, will focus on a single masterwork.
"I'll come out and talk about the piece first, with anecdotes about the composer and the music, hopefully in a nonpatronizing way," said Alsop, who will conduct three of the programs. Repertoire includes Tchaikovsky's Pathetique, Brahms' Symphony No. 1, Copland's Symphony No. 3 and Elgar's Enigma Variations (Oundjian conducting).
The Symphony With a Twist series returns with the gospel-ized Messiah, a concept devised and conducted by Alsop and featuring the Morgan choir; a program with tap dancer Savion Glover; and a concert that mixes Mozart, Ravel, Bernstein, Prokofiev and pianist Christopher O'Riley's take on the rock band Radiohead.
Alsop will open the season Sept. 18-21 with an outer-space theme -- Gustav Holst's The Planets, Michael Daugherty's UFO and the closing music from Gotterdammerung, the last of Wagner's Ring operas. Providing symmetry, the Gotterdammerung apotheosis will return in June 2009, when Alsop will end the season with excerpts from the complete Ring.
The 27th annual presentation of Handel's Messiah, conducted by Edward Polochick, will be part of the season. And the popular "Holiday Spectacular" will be back, with 14 performances, up from a dozen this season.
The BSO's annual salute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will be conducted by Alsop, with members of the BSO and Soulful Symphony (details on the latter's '08-'09 lineup will be announced later) and narrator Kweisi Mfume in Joseph Schwantner's New Morning for the World.
The BSO SuperPops series includes a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (with vocalist Patti Austin) and music of Billy Joel (with singer/pianist Michael Cavanaugh).
Information: Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.