Literature, art, dance provide theme to BSO's 2017-2018 season

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
A hip-hop narration for "Carnival of the Animals" is one of the novel items on the BSO's 2017-2018 season.

A new hip-hop narration for Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" and a salute to revered choreographer George Balanchine — with help from one of his prized dancers — are some of the ways the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plans to embrace various genres during its 2017-2018 season.

The underlying theme of the season is a celebration of literature, art and dance.

"People are drawn to multidisciplinary programs and this kind of cross-pollination," BSO music director Marin Alsop said.

The nod to Balanchine will come in April 2018 with an all-Tchaikovsky program. Balanchine's choreography for "Serenade for Strings" will be recreated by local dancers (to be announced later) under the direction of Heather Watts.

"For me," Alsop said, "this is very special because Heather was one of the principal dancers in the New York City Ballet when my parents were in the orchestra there. So it's a very nice full circle."

The world of dance will also be referenced in programs featuring such orchestral pieces as Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (February 2018) and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (April 2018).

The literature element next season can be found in such works as Mendelssohn's Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (October); Tchaikovsky's "Hamlet" Overture (September), which doesn't get performed often, and his "Romeo and Juliet" Overture (April 2018), which does.

Another literary item is Strauss' "Don Quixote" (October). The prominent solo parts in that piece will be played by the BSO's principal cello Dariusz Skoraczewski and principal viola Lisa Steltenpohl.

Skoraczewski will also join BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney and guest pianist Ryo Yanagitani in Beethoven's Triple Concerto (April 2018). And Carney will be the soloist in Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy" (October).

"Quite a number of BSO soloists will be performing next season," said BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome. "It's a great way to highlight the incredible strengths of the musicians."

Principal flute Emily Skala and acting principal harp Sarah Fuller will play a Mozart concerto (January). Principal timpani James Wyman and his National Symphony Orchestra counterpart Jauvon Gilliam will be featured in the Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists by Philip Glass (January 2018). And BSO principal clarinetist Yao Guang Zhai will be the soloist in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 (March 2018).

Visual art-related music will get particular attention in a program showcasing the impressionist masterworks "La Mer" by Debussy and "La Valse" by Ravel.

"I'm super-excited about collaborating with the Baltimore Museum of Art on this," Alsop said. "We'll have visuals from the BMA and discuss how art and music are related, how they both deal with light, color and palette."

And the hip-hop? That falls more or less under the literary theme, since Saint-Saens' "Carnival" is well-known in a version interspersed with the recitation of droll verses by Ogden Nash written long after the music was composed.

Baltimore rapper Wordsmith will create and perform the hip-hop narration for the BSO's January program.

Along with many other music organizations, the BSO will take note of the centennial of conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein in 2018.

His Symphony No. 2, which Alsop and the BSO recorded in 2013 for a recently released Naxos CD, will be part of the season finale in June 2018. The month before, the orchestra will offer dance music from "On the Town" and "West Side Story," as well as the "Serenade" (with violin soloist Nicola Benedetti).

"And we're playing excerpts from the birthday bouquet of pieces written for Bernstein's 70th birthday [in 1988] by John Williams, John Corigliano, Lukas Foss and others," Alsop said. "They're variations on the song 'New York, New York' from 'On the Town.' They're amazing pieces, and no one's done them since they were first played."

Next season, the BSO will give the world premiere of Christopher Rouse's "Berceuse Infinie," written for the orchestra; and the East Coast premiere of "Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance," written for Alsop by John Adams ("It's only five minutes, but it's awesome," she said).

Standard repertoire on tap next season includes Tchaikovskys Symphony No. 5 (Alsop conducting), Mozart's Symphony No. 41 (Bernard Labadie) and Requiem (Alsop, with the University of Maryland Concert Choir), Schubert's Symphony No. 9 (Lahav Shani), Brahms' Symphony No. 3 (Mario Venzago), Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 (Gunther Herbig), and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 (Alsop).

BSO principal guest conductor Markus Stenz will lead the orchestra in excerpts from Wagner's "Parsifal," as well as the first symphonies of Beethoven and Mahler.

Among the guest conductors will be Roberto Spano, Pinchas Zukerman (he'll also be a violin soloist in a Bach concerto), Jun Markl and Peter Oundjian.

Piano soloists include Jonathan Biss (playing Mozart), Gabriela Montero (Tchaikovsky), Andre Watts (Rachmaninoff), Stephen Hough (Mendelssohn) and Kirill Gerstein (Gershwin). Cellist Sol Gabetta will be featured in a Shostakovich concerto.

The season-opening gala in September, conducted by Alsop, will feature jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.

For more information, call 410-783-8000, or go to

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