The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will be announcing its 2014-2015 season in a few weeks. As is the case every year, I am hoping for a whole bunch of surprises, a filling in of long-standing gaps in the BSO's repertoire. And, naturally, I am especially hoping to hear more of my favorite stuff (it's all about me, as you know).
In the same way the BSO and its audiences should be getting a wider sampling of guest conductors (off hand, I can think of Osmo Vanska, Jaap van Zweden, Manfred Honeck, Benjamin Zander and the apparently indefatigable Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos), they're missing out on some terrific music.
I made a whole bunch of repertoire suggestions for the BSO in an article I wrote back in 2003, and, especially since Marin Alsop became music director, some of those have turned up on concerts. You'd think I'd be satisfied, but that still leaves plenty of stuff unheard.
So I offer this wish list (in no particular order) for future BSO programs:
Charles Ives (pictured in thumbnail): The occasional airing of "The Unanswered Question" just won't cut it. How can any American orchestra, especially one with an American music director, perform so little Ives? He's this country's first truly great composer. As a start, the BSO needs to play his Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies. Soon.
Haydn: We get a symphony every now and then, including one last month. But think of how many of his 100-plus symphonies have not been programmed. I think the new rule should be: Every time you start to plan yet another piece by Mozart, you have to stop and sub in something by Haydn instead. His endless invention and humor should be celebrated much more often.
Carl Nielsen: If I recall correctly, the BSO has played one symphony by this composer in the past decade or so, but that leaves four more, plus other colorful orchestral pieces. His 150th birthday is coming up in 2015, so maybe that would provide a good excuse to add Nielsen to the mix.
Anton Bruckner: We've just got to get more Bruckner in our diet. Period. He's good for the soul.
Howard Hanson: I may be in a tiny minority, but I think this American composer wrote some powerful music worthy of a life today in the concert hall. The obvious starting point is the Symphony No. 2 (it's not called the "Romantic" for nothing), but there is a lot more to consider.
Elliott Carter: He never wrote anything that would qualify as easy listening, but musicians and listeners need to be challenged. This late, great American composer left a legacy that ought to explored and celebrated.
Arnold Schoenberg: Speaking of challenges, it's high time Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra got a workout here. Such a brilliant score, quite the monument to the composer's revolutionary 12-tone method. (More attention should also be paid to Schoenberg disciples Alban Berg and Anton Webern.)
Under-programmed American composers well worth sampling by the BSO: William Grant Still, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, David Diamond, Roy Harris, Edward MacDowell, Randall Thompson, Carl Ruggles, and -- please, please, please -- Lou Harrison.
Under-programmed composers from beyond the U.S.: Paul Hindemith, Carlos Chavez, Alexander Scriabin, Peter Maxwell Davies, Frederick Delius, Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux, Gyorgy Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Albert Roussel, Kaija Saariaho, Arvo Part, Karol Szymanowski, Einojuhani Rautavaara.
Even when it comes to much-played composers, more variety is possible. A prime example is Tchaikovsky. It would great to get these works in place of the usual: Orchestral Suites; Piano Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 3; "Manfred" Symphony (the whole thing, not the truncated version the BSO played in 2006 with then-music director Yuri Temikanov).
Mahler is, thankfully, a staple of the BSO diet, but we tend to get a narrow range of works (Alsop is revisiting Symphony No. 1 this season). I'm holding out hope for: "Das Klagende Lied"; "Ruckert Lieder"; Symphony No. 6, No. 10 (in one of the versions completed by others); and -- for the ultimate blowout, when the budget allows, and with many local organizations helping to fill out the ranks -- No. 8, "Symphony of a Thousand."
I am likewise hoping for more off-the-beaten-path works by Sibelius and Stravinsky (particularly Symphony of Psalms); lots of symphonies by Vaughan Williams; and John Adams' "Harmonielehre" (this composer has received lots of welcome attention at the BSO, but programming this masterpiece is overdue).
One last thing: The BSO has not done much opera-in-concert-form, but the two I've experienced -- Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta" led by Temirkanov and Act 1 of Wagner's "Die Walkure" last season led by Alsop -- have been fantastic. There should be much more of this.