Among several unusual experiences planned for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season is the ensemble’s first performance of an incomparable 20th-century work by Olivier Messiaen about life and love that requires massive forces, including an eerie electronic instrument called the ondes Martenot.
On the opposite side of the spectrum will be a concert with the BSO debut of exceptional actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr., who won the 2018 best actor Tony Award for his role as Aaron Burr in the Broadway mega-hit musical “Hamilton.”
“This season demonstrates the incredible versatility of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in classical repertoire, movies and more,” says BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome. “When they opened Meyerhoff Symphony Hall 36 years ago, you were not seeing the BSO performing with acrobats.”
Those acrobats are part of the Los Angeles-based Troupe Vertigo, which will be showcased in a “Cirque Nutcracker” program as part of the BSO’s holiday specials in December.
“We have really curious audiences, which is something I love about Baltimore,” say BSO music director Marin Alsop.
That curiosity may be particularly aroused by Messiaen’s “Turangalila-Symphonie,” an 80-minute, highly complex marvel from 1948 filled with sonic riches and intense spiritual yearnings.
Alsop will be conducting the score for the first time. Joining the orchestra will be ondes Martinot specialist Nathalie Forget and, tackling the work’s prominent solo keyboard part, stellar pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Programming for ’18-’19 also encompasses HD screenings of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and “West Side Story;” Dvorak’s relatively under-appreciated Violin Concerto, with the ever-popular Joshua Bell as soloist; a semi-staged presentation of Gershwin’s seminal opera, “Porgy and Bess,” and Mahler’s profoundly moving Symphony No. 9.
“The orchestra is flexible enough to capture that range,” Alsop says. “I feel really great about the way the orchestra is sounding, the way it’s playing. Our veteran players are so seasoned and accomplished. And there are a lot of new players, who put a new spark in everybody’s commitment and passion.”
Part of that commitment will be directed next season to music by eight living composers.
“Three of them are women,” Alsop says. “And that wasn’t intentional, which is even better.”
They include British composer Roxanna Panufnik, daughter of notable Polish-born composer Andrzej Panufnik. She has been commissioned by the BSO for a work for chorus and orchestra that will receive its world premiere in March 2019.
Another successful composer from the United Kingdom, Helen Grime, will be represented by the U.S. premiere of her Percussion Concerto, featuring percussionist Colin Currie.
The Grime work will share a program with the BSO’s first performance of a piece it co-commissioned with the Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra: Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, which will showcase BSO players.
Although women will be well represented in the repertoire, no woman other than Alsop will conduct a complete concert next season. This has been the case throughout her decade-long BSO tenure.
“I have asked for certain [female conductors] — it’s a very short list — but the dates have not worked,” Alsop says. “I am 100 percent committed to featuring women on the podium, and it is a big part of my future programming.”
Adds BSO vice president and general manager Tonya Robles: “It truly is strictly a matter of scheduling. There are fewer women [conducting] at this orchestra’s level, and it’s difficult to get dates that work for them and us. But we are doing what we can.”
Next season’s contemporary music component includes John Adams’ “Scheherazade 2” for violin and orchestra, performed with the soloist he wrote it for, Leila Josefowicz. It will be paired with Rimsky-Kosakov’s popular “Scheherazade” on a program conducted by Alsop.
Guest conductor Hannu Lintu will lead the North American premiere of the 2015 Concertino for Trumpet and Orchestra by the dean of contemporary Polish composers, Krzysztof Penderecki, who turns 85 later this year. The soloist will be the Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth.
An all-American program conducted by Alsop offers Andrew Norman’s video game-inspired “Gran Turismo”; Kevin Puts’ Oboe Concerto, a BSO commission, with principal oboist Katherine Needleman as soloist; and Copland’s Symphony No. 3.
On the season-opener in September, Alsop will conduct Joseph Schwantner’s 1982 tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom” for narrator and orchestra (narrator to be announced).
Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos returns to the BSO repertoire after more than 30 years, with twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton as soloists, Kwame Ryan conducting.
Other uncommon fare includes Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 (“Inextinguishable”), conducted by Rune Bergmann; Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4, Cristian Macelaru conducting; and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”), Peter Oundjian conducting.
Plenty of standard works are on tap, too. Alsop will conduct Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and, with veteran pianist Andre Watts, the “Emperor” Concerto.
Brahms will be especially well-represented. His Symphony No. 2 and, with BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney as soloist, Violin Concerto will be conducted by Oundjian; the Piano Concerto No. 1 will feature pianist Lars Vogt and BSO principal guest conductor Markus Stenz.
Preeminent pianist Leon Fleisher,who turns 90 this summer, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 with Oundjian on the podium.
Other notable soloists performing popular pieces include pianists Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” Freddy Kempf in Grieg’s Piano Concerto and James Ehnes in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
BSO members will be spotlighted in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Schumann’s “Konzertstuck” for four horns, Nicholas McGegan conducting. Another BSO podium favorite, Mario Venzago, returns to lead music of Berlioz, Ravel and Liszt (Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Conrad Tao).
Stenz’s three programs next season traverse works by Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Schoenberg and others. BSO associate conductor Nicholas Hersh has programmed Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6 and, with soloist Narek Hakhnazaryan, Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
December events for the holidays include the long-running annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah” led by Edward Polochick (a recording of his distinctive interpretation with the BSO will be released on Naxos this year).
Multiple Grammy-winner CeCe Winans joins the orchestra and Morgan State University Choir for a Gospel Christmas conducted by Eric Conway. Andy Einhorn, who was musical director for the acclaimed “Hello Dolly” revival on Broadway with Bette Midler, will conduct a holiday pops featuring the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the now traditional bevy of tap-dancing Santas.
The BSO’s Superpops series with principal pops conductor Jack Everly includes a Rodgers and Hammerstein program, a Cirque Goes Hollywood event with Troupe Vertigo, and a live-soundtrack presentation of the 1951 film classic “An American in Paris.”
Still to be announced: details of the annual BSO gala in September; and next season’s Pulse series, which will once again bring indie bands and BSO musicians together.