For the first season of its second century, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will premiere several works, bring back popular soloists and conductors, launch a new late-night series and play a lot of Beethoven.
The 2016-2017 lineup of programs at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore includes four of Beethoven's nine symphonies, as well as six of his concertos.
"We may have Beethoven as a bedrock, but we have tried to avoid playing it too safe," said BSO President and CEO Paul Meecham. "We will have a fair amount of unfamiliar or new music by living composers, too. And we are looking at repertoire we haven't done in a while."
In addition to the bountiful Beethoven, the season also offers an opportunity to delve into a good deal of Stravinsky's output.
"Stravinsky was the 20th century's rebel, someone who had the same shocking effect as Beethoven," said BSO music director Marin Alsop.
Two of Stravinsky's great ballet scores, "The Firebird" and "Petrushka," along with "Symphony of Psalms," "Symphony in Three Movements," "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" and "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto are spread through the season.
"We haven't done 'Symphony of Psalms' since 1982, the 'Symphony in Three Movements' since 1993," Meecham said. "And this will be the first BSO performance of the 'Symphonies of Wind Instruments,' almost 100 years after it was written."
The Beethoven portion of the season includes an unusual opportunity for audience participation.
In November, as a final salute to the BSO's centennial year, Alsop will lead the orchestra, soloists and Baltimore Choral Arts Society in a sing-along performance of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Amateur musicians will be invited to participate, playing alongside the BSO.
"Ode to Joy" will also serve as the finale to the BSO's annual gala in September, led by Alsop. She and the orchestra will be joined by members of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras and OrchKids. The headliner for this gala concert will be distinguished violinist Itzhak Perlman, who will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, heard in 2014 and 2015, will also be performed complete in November with Alsop conducting.
"The idea of doing Beethoven 9 is not particularly ground-breaking, but we're looking it at as a radical symbol of unifying and bringing people together," Alsop said. "We want to share it with as many people as possible. When people become part of the performance, this is what the piece is about. It's what Beethoven is about."
It will be paired with the BSO's first performance of John Adams' "Absolute Jest" for string quartet and orchestra, based on themes from Beethoven's late string quartets.
(The featured ensemble in the Adams piece, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, will also perform a Haydn-Beethoven program for the Shriver Hall Concert Series, a co-presentation with the BSO.)
All five of Beethoven's piano concertos will turn up; soloists include Angela Hewitt, Paul Lewis and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Beethoven's Violin Concerto will also be performed, with Gil Shaham as soloist.
Among other guest soloists for 2016-2017 are pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Gershwin), Helene Grimaud (Brahms); violinists, Jennifer Koh (a recent work by Steven Mackey), Augustin Hadelich (Ravel, Chausson) and Ray Chen (Paganini); cellist Johannes Moser (Dvorak); and soprano Nicole Cabell (Ravel).
On five Friday nights, guest artists for the regular program will stay around for the new BSO Late Night at the Meyerhoff series to give informal performances in the lobby, starting around 10 p.m. Among those participating are Thibaudet, Chen and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
"The late-night series is a little innovation I hope will stick," Meecham said.
Among Alsop's programs next season is a semi-staging of Bartok's spooky opera "Bluebeard's Castle."
"I absolutely adore the opera," Alsop said. "Musically, it's phenomenal. And I also love the psychological drama, and how it looks at it from a woman's perspective."
The music director will lead Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" for the third time during her tenure, Mahler's Symphony No. 6 for the first.
Alsop's 2016-2017 repertoire also includes Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies, Saint-Saen's Symphony No. 3 ("Organ"), Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."
The BSO will give its first performances of "Cantus Arcticus" by eminent contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, conducted by Hannu Lintu; and "Credo" by equally eminent contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part, led by Alsop.
Several BSO centennial commissions, including pieces by Christopher Theofanidis, Joan Tower and Libby Larsen, are scheduled to premiere.
Next season marks the second year for BSO principal guest conductor Markus Stenz, who will lead Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, as well as works by Mozart, Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky, Strauss and contemporary German composer Detlev Glanert.
In addition to such guest conductors as Vasily Petrenko, Nicholas McGegan, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Ludovic Morlot, newly promoted BSO associate conductor Nicholas Hersh will lead several programs.
For the holidays, the BSO will unveil an extended version of Duke Ellington's jazz arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," with dancing by the Washington-based troupe Step Afrika. Storm Large, vocalist for the pop group Pink Martini, will be featured in another holiday program; this one also marks the return of the crowd-pleasing Tap Dancing Santas from Baltimore School for the Arts.
The BSO SuperPops series with principal pops conductor Jack Everly, whose contract has been extended until 2021, includes programs of Frank Sinatra standards, Broadway fare, doo-wop and Celtic music.