There's a light and dark theme running through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2013-2014 season, which includes works dealing with great loss, as well as great compassion.
"Sometimes through tragedy, whether a world war or a personal loss, the beauty of humanity comes out in art," said BSO music director Marin Alsop. "Great art brings us together in a very authentic and pure way."
The season will feature Benjamin Britten's large-scale, profoundly moving "War Requiem" from 1962, written for the reconsecration of England's Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in 1940 by bombing. The score combines the Latin Mass for the Dead with poetry of Wilfred Owen, who was killed in World War I.
Alsop will conduct the Requiem in November with the exceptional young tenor Nicholas Phan among the soloists and the participation of the University of Maryland Concert Choir and the Peabody Children's Chorus.
Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, "Age of Anxiety," another response to the toll of World War II, will be performed in September. Alsop will conduct this W. H. Auden-inspired work with celebrated pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing the pivotal keyboard solo.
Other sobering compositions slated for next season include John Adams' haunting "On the Transmigration of Souls," which commemorates 9/11, and Karen Tanaka's "Water of Life," a reflection on the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
In addition to the recurring theme of solace, there will be uplift, too, especially from such masterworks as Beethoven's testament to the brotherhood of man, Symphony No. 9. Joining Alsop and the BSO will be the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and a quartet of soloists that includes eminent, Baltimore-born bass-baritone James Morris. The Ninth will be paired with the Adams piece.
Mendelssohn's incidental music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be performed with actors delivering extensive portions of Shakespeare's play in a semi-staged adaptation prepared and directed by Edward Berkeley.
"There's a fine line between comedy and tragedy that makes Shakespeare's comedies more poignant," Alsop said, who noted that the BSO is trying "to get a big name for [the role of] Oberon."
Beneath the recurring theme of loss and hope next season is "a fundamental thread about community and humanity," Alsop said, "about bringing people together under the BSO's umbrella. It's about partnering with different organizations that can bring so much to the table."
One of this season's most successful partnerships -- a production of "The Nutcracker" with the Baltimore School for the Arts, Lyric Opera House and Maryland Institute College of Art –- will be reprised next season.
In conjunction with the "War Requiem," Alsop said there would be "a big regional education project to get young people thinking about the themes addressed in the work by writing prose or poetry, drawing, even composing. The underlining theme for many of the concerts next season is reaching out to as many constituents as we can, get them thinking about art in a way that is relevant to their lives."
Woven through the season will be a hefty helping of popular classics, including Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 , and Holst's "The Planets" (with high-def, outer space images projected on a screen), conducted by Alsop; Brahms' Symphony No. 3, led by Jun Markl; Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" led by BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney and Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos, led by Carney and BSO associate concertmaster Madeline Adkins.
Tchaikovsky will be well represented: "Pathetique" Symphony, conducted by Gilbert Varga; Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Nobuyuki Tsujii, Arild Remmereit conducting; Violin Concerto with soloist Ray Chen, Hans Graf conducting; and the 1812 Overture, on a bill with Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" led by Alsop.
The BSO music director will lead the orchestra in its first performances of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12, as well as revisit Mahler's First Symphony, which she and the orchestra recorded (the CD came out last year). Another first symphony, the one by Sibelius, will be conducted by John Storgards.
Itzhak Perlman will make a return, double-duty visit to the BSO, playing violin pieces by Beethoven and conducting a Mozart symphony and Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."
Other notable guest artists include pianists Andre Watts (the Grieg concerto) and Yefim Bronfman (Beethoven's Concerto No. 5); violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1); and clarinetist Anthony McGill (the Mozart concerto).
The season will also offer premieres of works by two American composers -- one, John Adams, already ranked among the finest of our time; the other, Baltimore-based Jonathan Leshnoff, who has steadily made a name for himself.
Adams' Saxophone Concerto, commissioned by the BSO, will get its U.S. premiere with Tim McAllister, who was featured in the premiere of the composer's "City Noir," as soloist, conducted by Alsop. She will also lead the world premiere of Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto with the extraordinary classical guitarist and Peabody Conservatory faculty member Manuel Barrueco as soloist.
The season also promises more movie-with-orchestra presentations, including "Casablanca," conducted by Emil de Cou, and two early-1920s Charlie Chaplin films.
Alsop's popular "Off the Cuff" series returns; among the programs is "CSI: Mozart," an investigation into the composer's premature death.
On a much lighter note, the hip ensemble Pink Martini will be showcased in the BSO Gala that opens the season in September. The BSO SuperPops series with principal pops conductor Jack Everly includes salutes to Marvin Hamlisch; Barbra Streisand, featuring vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway; and sci-fi, featuring George Takei (“Star Trek”).
In the background next season, as in the current one, will be concern over the BSO's finances.
"The budget's tight. What can I say? We're being judicious," Alsop said. "We're creating enjoyable programs that won't break the bank."
The BSO's deficit for fiscal year 2012 is $823,000. The annual budget is about $26 million.
"It's possible to end up with another deficit this fiscal year, but it will be smaller," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "There is some light at the end of the tunnel."