Since becoming music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, Marin Alsop has typically devised a theme of some kind to unify each season. For 2014-2015, the theme is "spirituality and transcendence."
"I started talking about a few pieces, like Beethoven's Ninth, Bernstein's 'Candide,' and some Mahler, and the theme seemed to evolve without forcing," Alsop said.
Fitting that theme will be such works as Mahler's Symphony No 3, with its last movement "pointing the way to God," as the composer put it; and Symphony No. 4, which ends with a song evoking a child's view of heaven. Alsop will conduct both of those symphonies.
Other pieces with a spiritual element include Alexander Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy" -- he sought to convey how "the spirit ... surrenders himself to the bliss of love." Alsop will pair that score, long absent from the BSO's repertoire, with Christopher Rouse's "Rapture," which the composer says addresses "spiritual bliss, religious or otherwise."
The season's theme will also resonate in such pieces as Mozart's "Great" Mass, on an all-Mozart program conducted by Masaaki Suzuki; Bernstein's "Jeremiah" Symphony, which Alsop conducted in 2008 (its reprise will be recorded for the BSO's Bernstein series on the Naxos label), and "Chichester Psalms" (with the Washington National Cathedral Choir, a first-time collaboration with the BSO); and Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral."
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has also been programmed as part of the season's theme, conducted by Nicholas McGegan on a program that includes less-frequently encountered pieces by Beethoven and Haydn. (This reprise of the Ninth will come only seven months after being performed as part of 2013-2014 season this June, led by Alsop.)
Bernstein's musical "Candide" will be presented in a semi-staged format starring Broadway diva Patti LuPone and conducted by Alsop. The two collaborated a decade ago on a version of "Candide" performed with the New York Philharmonic.
LuPone is not the only big Broadway name on the BSO's roster of guest artists. Mandy Patinkin (he was Broadway way before "Homeland" fame) will perform his "Dress Casual" program with the orchestra in a BSO SuperPops presentation.
The pops series, which marks the 12th season for principal pops conductor Jack Everly, also includes concerts saluting the Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington (with vocalist Patti Austin), and, once again, film composer John Williams.
Back on the classical front, the BSO will perform several works that have not had much of a presence, including Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 (Gunther Herbig conducting) and Tchaikovsky's "Polish" Symphony (Arild Remmereit).
Contemporary pieces new to the orchestra's repertoire include a percussion concerto by James McMillan (U.S. premiere with soloist Colin Currie) and Osvaldo Golijov's "Rose of the Winds."
There will be plenty of favorites as well, including Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (Christoph Konig) and No. 7 (Alsop), Schubert's "Unfinished" (Mario Venzago); Brahms' Symphony No. 2 (Hannu Lintu); the fifth symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich (Alsop); Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 (Garrick Ohlsson, soloist, Alsop conducting); Stravinksy's "Firebird" Suite (Yan Pascal Tortelier) and "Rite of Spring" (Alsop).
The annual BSO gala in September, conducted by Alsop, will feature Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah as narrator in Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" and the Morgan State University Choir in that composer's "Old American Songs."
To mark the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, the gala will include the first performance in more than 80 years of Ferde Grofe's "Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner." The original score is being restored by the Library of Congress for the occasion.
Another milestone will be celebrated next season -- the 10th anniversary of the BSO at Strathmore, the orchestra's second home, where a new Sunday matinee series will be unveiled.
Guest artists next season include Baltimore's own Hilary Hahn (Beethoven's Violin Concerto), as well as Simon Trpceski (Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1), Sol Gabetta (Haydn's Cello Concerto), and James Ehnes (Korngold's Violin Concerto).
The BSO's holiday programming will include the annual, complete performance of Handel's "Messiah" led by Edward Polochick; a production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" with Baltimore School for the Arts dancers (presented at the Modell-Lyric); and a pops concert that promises the return, at long last, of the tap-dancing Santas.