Mahler, youth will be BSO's themes for 2010-11 season

Weak demand ends 'Casual Concerts'

March 24, 2010|By Tim Smith | | Baltimore Sun reporter

A common thread of Marin Alsop's tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been common threads. The conductor devised a unifying theme or two for each of her three seasons so far, and she has done it again for her fourth.

The BSO's 2010-2011 lineup, announced Tuesday, will mark a double anniversary for Austrian composer/conductor Gustav Mahler - the 150th anniversary of his birth and centennial of his death. Also woven through the season is a theme of youth, reflected in several pieces written by composers in their early years and by a roster that lists several young guest artists.

Alsop will conduct Mahler's Symphony No. 7 and "Das Lied von der Erde," as well as the unfinished Symphony No. 10. The latter will be on a program that includes rarely heard works by the composer's wife, Alma. Marital difficulties led Mahler to seek help from a doctor who was just beginning to gain fame, Sigmund Freud, and that will be explored in an "Off the Cuff" music-and-discussion program led by Alsop.

"I thought it would be wonderful for audiences to get to get inside Mahler the human being a little bit," Alsop said. "We'll look at what Freud thought of Mahler and what Mahler thought of Freud."

Providing an extra dimension to the Mahler examination next season will be performances of works by other composers that he re-orchestrated in a controversial effort to improve supposed weaknesses. These include symphonies by Beethoven and Schumann.

The youthful theme for 2010-2011 will be particularly prominent when 17-year-old Ilyich Rivas, recipient of a conducting fellowship from the BSO and the Peabody Institute, makes his subscription concert debut leading Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1, composed at the age of 19.

Among other artists on the young side of the guest roster will be pianists Yuja Wang, Orion Weiss and Markus Groh; and violinists Stefan Jackiw and Augustin Hadelich. Performances of John Corigliano's "Pied Piper Fantasy" will involve students from the BSO's OrchKids educational project. Youth will also be the emphasis of a program featuring a multimedia piece by Baltimore native Philip Glass, "Icarus at the Edge of Time," based on the children's book by physicist Brian Greene; this program also offers John Williams' "Star Wars" Suite.

Seasoned artists appearing next season include pianist Emanuel Ax; violinists Midori and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg; conductors Mario Venzago, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Juanjo Mena.

Vocal music next season includes Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute," in a semi-staged version conducted by Alsop and featuring members of Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program; and Verdi's monumental "Requiem" with the Washington Chorus.

A substantial amount of Russian music, the most since the days of Alsop's predecessor, Yuri Temirkanov, is on the schedule, including major works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

Although such standards as Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony will be played next season, contemporary music will be plentiful, from John Adams' "Doctor Atomic" Symphony to a new score by Osvaldo Golijov.

"I think we have a responsibility to offer a broad array of repertoire," BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham said. "I don't think we can be accused of choosing contemporary works that will not be interesting or attractive to hear, and we've tried to do it in a way that blends the familiar with the unfamiliar. The ticket sales will tell."

What ticket sales revealed in recent years was weak demand for BSO's "Casual Concerts" series held on Saturday mornings. It will not return next season.

"This has gone for over 20 years, but has not been attracting a new audience," Meecham said. "The $25 ticket offer we made was hugely successful for every other series but Casual."

Although this means six fewer concerts next season at the BSO's home base, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, six concerts are being added to the lineup at the orchestra's second home, the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

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