Baltimore Symphony announces 2009-2010 season of stars and circuses

Star power, cultural diversity and the circus — a brief summation of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season, announced today.

The presence of several big-name guests on the lineup may well get the most attention as subscribers digest the material. "I think we've done well," says music director Marin Alsop. "The trick was to figure out how to maintain reasonable ticket prices and bump up the level of artists we feature." Those artists include such longtime luminaries as sopranos Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle (in separate concerts), and violinist Itzhak Perlman (he'll conduct as well as play).

The roster also offers pianists Andre Watts, Garrick Ohlsson, Jean-Yves Thibaudet (for two weeks, covering Liszt and Gershwin works), Simone Dinnerstein (her BSO debut), and Lang Lang. The latter will perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 during the annual season-launching gala concert in September. "I'm so happy Lang Lang's coming," Alsop says, "since he made his debut with the BSO. We've worked together a few times."


Violinists Gil Shaham, Leila Josefowicz and James Ehnes are scheduled. Conductors on the list include Robert Spano, Jiri Belohlavek, Louis Langrée and Nicholas McGegan.

Norman will be heard in Laura Karpman's Ask Your Mama, a multimedia work with texts by Langston Hughes that was premiered earlier this week at Carnegie Hall. A Philadelphia-based hip-hop group, The Roots, will also participate. Battle, joined by the Morgan State University Choir, will sing spirituals and hymns in a program that celebrates the Underground Railroad.

Also notable for '09-'10 will be the world premiere of Starburst by remarkable Baltimore composer Jonathan Leshnoff; the U.S. premiere of Incantations by eminent Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; and the first East Coast performance of Ansel Adams: America composed by Jazz great Dave Brubeck and his son Chris Brubeck — all three works are BSO co-commissions. Other contemporary works being performed next season: John Adams' Violin Concerto and Jennifer Higdon's Concerto 4-3.

There will be plenty of standard repertoire, including ...

Baltimore Symphony announces 2009-2010 season of stars and circuses

Beethoven’s Fifth, Schubert’s


Symphony, Brahms’ Third, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Stravinsky’s



Suite. Alsop will continue her cycle of Mahler symphonies, conducting his Fourth on a program with Mozart’s

Eine kleine Nachtmusik

. Brahms’

German Requiem

, with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, is scheduled on a program with Barber’s

Knoxville: Summer of 1915


(with soprano Janice Chandler-Etemé). A much rarer work of Barber’s, a 10-minute opera called

A Hand of Bridge

, also will be heard, sharing a program with a Gershwin rarity,

Blue Monday

, a jazzy little opera that offers a foretaste of

Porgy and Bess

. The singers for these concert-version operas will come from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program of Washington National Opera.

Running through the season will be a theme of cultural heritage. "Part of my interest in art is how it offers a little window to another era, another culture, another political-social climate," Alsop says. "It's a time machine in a way." In one program, for example, a folk ensemble will play traditional Hungarian and gypsy melodies as a lead-in to Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, to point up the influences on the latter.

Once Alsop started thinking about ethnicities and roots, she found herself going in an unexpected direction. "The Bartok concert led me to the idea of featuring world music," she says, "and this led me to folk tales and traditions, and, for some unknown reason, to the circus. I don't know where that came from. But the circus is a shared tradition with many cultures."

The circus concept will generate four weeks of programming next spring, including a "BSO Under the Big Top" SuperPops presentation conducted by Jack Everly and featuring quick-change artists and other entertainers; a Cirque de la Symphonie event with choreographed performances of music by Copland, Poulenc and Satie; and a performance of John Corigliano's Circus Maximus, a piece for multiple wind ensembles and percussion that will involve the BSO and U.S. Army Band. "The circus idea gives us an opportunity to have a mini-festival within the season," Alsop says.

The Symphony With a Twist series has been dropped next season, but the recently introduced Off the Cuff series of early evening, roughly hour-long programs will return. "People seem to respond so positively to these," Alsop says. "Five or six hundred people have been staying for the after-concert talks, which is really great."

Ticket prices will not rise for next season, at either Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or the Music Center at Strathmore. And 70 percent of Meyerhoff will be set aside for the $25 subscription seats that have been a popular feature since the '07-'08 season. BSO subscribers will receive a free online subscription to the Naxos Music Library, which has more than 400,000 tracks from Naxos CDs. (Alsop and the BSO record for the label.)

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

In other news from the orchestra, the second BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship has been awarded to 15-year-old Venezuelan Ilyich Rivas, who will start his two-year training program in September, when Mei-Ann Chen will also join the BSO as assistant conductor and League of American Orchestras Conducting Fellow.

There had been talk a while back of the BSO going on an overseas tour next season. That won't happen. "We have to be fiscally responsible," Alsop says. "But people [in Europe] are really eager to hear the BSO again. We're looking more at 2011-12 for possible touring."

Does that mean Alsop has extended her contract, which expires next season? "We're working on that," she says. "We like to roll out the news month by month. I think by April we'll have something to report on the contract."

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTOS (Jessye Norman, Lang Lang)