BSO to mark centenary with major works, favorite artists

Yuri Temirkanov
Yuri Temirkanov(Sasha Gusov)

For its 100th anniversary season in 2015-2016, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its history with the help of former music director Yuri Temirkanov, other conductors once associated with the ensemble, and some the starriest musicians to appear on the guest soloist roster in the past — violinists Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianists Leon Fleisher, Andre Watts and Lang Lang.

At a season announcement event Wednesday evening at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, music director Marin Alsop pointed out several "huge blockbusters of the standard repertoire" that are part of the lineup for next season, including symphonies by Mahler and Strauss that she will conduct, and John Adams' epic "Harmonielehre," to be conducted by the composer.


George Gershwin's path-breaking opera "Porgy and Bess" will be semi-staged, directed by Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and featuring the stellar Morgan State University Choir.

There will be other collaborations with arts groups in the area. Aaron Copland's beloved ballet score "Appalachian Spring" will be performed in its original version, with students from Baltimore School for the Arts dancing a recreation of the original, iconic Martha Graham choreography.

And Sergei Prokofiev's brilliant ballet score "Romeo and Juliet" will be interspersed with dialogue from Shakespeare's play performed by actors from Washington's acclaimed Folger Theatre. The Prokofiev score will be recorded for the Naxos label.

The centennially season "is about accessibility, inclusion, celebration and fun," Alsop said.

Asked why the two large-scale requiems, the ones by Brahms and Verdi, are scheduled for such a festive season, Alsop shrugged. "Death is part of life," she said. "Get used to it, baby."

In addition to the requiems, the BSO will present another great work of sacred music, Bach's profound Mass in B minor, last performed by the orchestra a half-century ago.

In addition to looking back musically, the centennial season will also have a distinctly contemporary vein as well. About a dozen new pieces will be played on the orchestra's programs. And a new series developed in collaboration with WTMD-FM will find ensembles of BSO players sharing concerts with indie artists.

The orchestra will perform works by 22 living composers, nine of them women, next season. They include Baltimore-born Philip Glass and Christopher Rouse, along with two British composers, Anna Clyne and Thomas Ades.


Ten Americans on the contemporary list — equally divided by gender — are writing short, celebratory pieces for the BSO, commissioned by Alexandria-based Classical Movements, Inc., as part of the Eric Daniel Helms New Music Program. These composers include Rouse, Libby Larsen, Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, Christopher Theofanidis and Baltimore-based James Lee III and Jonathan Leshnoff.

"When Marin Alsop approached us about these commissions, we were delighted to support them with an orchestra that happens to be in our own backyard," said Classical Movements founder and president Neeta Helms.

The BSO will premiere a multimedia work called "The City" (Symphony No. 5) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and Peabody Conservatory faculty member Kevin Puts. The piece, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, will also be performed on the orchestra's visit to that New York landmark in April 2016.

A percussion concerto by eminent Scottish composer James MacMillan will receive its East Coast premiere, featuring a Scottish soloist, Colin Currie.

The season will open in September with a gala showcasing Lang Lang in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by former BSO resident conductor Christopher Seaman. The BSO will celebrate its exact 100th birthday on Feb. 11, 2016. That event, conducted by Alsop, will feature Bell's own violin-orchestra suite from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story."

The centennial season will see the BSO's new, German-born principal guest conductor, Markus Stenz, begin his tenure with three programs devoted to music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.


Guest conductors next season include Mario Venzago, who was director of the BSO's summer festival 1999-2003; and Joseph Young, who was the first BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellow.

For his return to the podium, music director emeritus Temirkanov will conduct Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and, with soloist Denis Matsuev as soloist, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. (Temirkanov's predecessor, David Zinman, who relinquished his own emeritus title to protest the Temirkanov's programming, is not scheduled to return next season.)

In addition to such guest artists as pianist and YouTube star Valentina Lisitsa and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, about a dozen BSO players will get major solo spots next season.

"The ultimate stars are our incredible musicians, the life blood of the orchestra," BSO board chair Barbara Bozzuto said.

On the pops front, the BSO, conducted by principal pops conductor Jack Everly, will reprise one of its biggest recent hits, "Hairspray in Concert," with narration by John Waters. And Mandy Patinkin, who canceled his BSO appearance in January due to scheduling conflicts, is on the pops schedule next season.

In addition to the annual presentation of Handel's "Messiah," the orchestra's activities for the holidays next season include a program featuring Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell; a showing of the 1990 film "Home Alone" with live film score; "Christmas with the Morgan State University Choir"; and a return of Cirque de la Symphonie.

To build social media attention for the season announcement, the BSO launched a scavenger hunt Wednesday morning for 100 "golden tickets" hidden around the Baltimore/Washington area. Each ticket entitles the finder to bring an addition 9 people to a concert next season. As of Wednesday night, about a dozen had yet to be found.