There's an unmistakable Russian tint to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2002-2003 season -- 17 works by 11 Russian composers. But that's only part of the picture.
Also providing color is a welcome sampling of pieces by contemporary composers, along with works by rather infrequently encountered masters of the past (more than a dozen pieces will get their first BSO performances). Putting the finishing touches on the season, as usual, will be lots of meat-and-potatoes music.
The lineup lacks the extra excitement that, say, a world premiere can provide, but it has distinct strengths. For all of the greatest hits to be found (the difference in repertoire between the orchestra's "Celebrity" and "Favorites" series seems to get smaller every year), there are also several exceptional items on the list, from a riveting concerto for "water percussion" by Tan Dun to Alexander Zemlinsky's lush Lyric Symphony.
Even some of the most popular music scheduled has an extra jolt of novelty. It's not often that you come across a night of George Gershwin standards, including Rhapsody in Blue and selections from Porgy and Bess, conducted by a Russian. BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov has led a little bit of Gershwin here before (American in Paris figured on a gala concert last September), but this all-
Gershwin program will provide the biggest local showcase yet for his longtime love of the composer.
Fazil Say, one of the more imaginative young pianists around these days, will be the soloist in the Rhapsody. Soprano Kishna Davis and the Morgan State University Choir will be featured in the Porgy excerpts.
Needless to say, Temirkanov's time on the podium is of prime importance as he continues to mold the BSO. How long he will continue to do the molding is unknown; his contract ends next season and there is still no word on a renewal. Last week, BSO president John Gidwitz would say only that Temirkanov had reserved dates in 2003-2004 for the BSO.
In 2002-2003, Temirkanov will devote a good deal of attention to the great Austro / German canon -- Haydn (Clock Symphony), Mozart (Violin Concerto No. 5 with Elisabeth Batiashvili), Beethoven (including Piano Concerto No. 3 with John Lill and Symphony No. 2), Mendelssohn (Italian Symphony), Schumann (Piano Concerto with Michie Koyama), and Brahms (Symphony No. 4).
Such music is the premium fuel for every orchestra's development; the opportunity to delve deeply into this repertoire, a departure from the Russian fare he has been typecast with, is one of the things Temirkanov likes most about his BSO post.
The season is set to open with a pair of all-German programs. In addition to the Schumann and Brahms works, an overture by Carl Maria von Weber, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Pamela Frank) and Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier Suite are slated.
All of this material has been chosen for use in the BSO's possible two-week tour of Japan in late September; given the state of the Japanese economy, it's not surprising that the tour remains unfinalized at this point.
Warhorses out of the stable
Continuing his survey of Mahler symphonies with the BSO next season, Temirkanov will conduct No. 5, a work that also will be featured on the orchestra's visit to Carnegie Hall in May 2003.
Of course, Temirkanov will be in on the Russian part of the season, too, most of it tied to the Vivat! St. Petersburg festival he instigated. In February 2003, that Baltimore-
wide celebration of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary will find the BSO trotting out a whole stable of warhorses: Glinka's Russlan and Ludmila Overture, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Anna Kravtchenko as soloist), Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (with Dmitri Alexeev).
Complementing these hardly under-performed works will be Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Vadim Repin) and a suite from the 1961 opera Not Love Alone by remarkable Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin.
There will be more Shostakovich earlier in the season -- his Symphony No. 10, one of the composer's most profound creations, on a program with two masterworks by Mussorgsky. The Prelude to the latter's opera Khovanschina will be paired with his Songs and Dances of Death (orchestrated by Shostakovich). The soloist in the songs will be Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who will perform them a few days earlier next season with the New York Philharmonic, also conducted by Temirkanov, at Lincoln Center.
A Russian / Iberian mix is another BSO program to be conducted by Temirkanov -- Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and Violin Concerto No. 2 (with soloist Boris Belkin); Isaac Albeniz's Iberia; and Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Music.
Stravinsky's blockbuster The Rite of Spring completes the Russian items on Temirkanov's BSO plate next season. It will be complemented by Beethoven's Emperor Concerto (with one of the conductor's favorite pianists, Lang Lang) and Network by Kevin Puts.
Temirkanov, when asked about the lack of modern music on his BSO programs, has been known to say there isn't enough worthy stuff being written. But he does a lot of listening and sifting through scores and tapes in search of appealing material. Puts is one result of that effort.
An assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Puts studied composition with Jacob Druckman and Christopher Rouse. He has received commissions from such entities as the National Symphony Orchestra and Young Concert Artists (he was composer-in-residence for the latter); the Boston Pops is among the many orchestras that have performed his music.
Another composer Temirkanov specifically asked for next season is David Brewbaker, the first American to receive a commission from the Kirov Orchestra. Brewbaker, who studied with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter, has also composed for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, to name a few; Blue Fire, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, will be played by the BSO.
As it turns out, Temirkanov won't be conducting that Brewbaker work; on the podium will be Jun Markl, a much-touted German conductor who has been particularly active on the operatic front. His BSO debut program will include orchestral highlights from Wagner's Ring Cycle.
Also making his BSO debut will be famed Russian conductor Yevgeny Svetlanov. His program offers Dvorak's Cello Concerto (with Alexander Knizev), Anatol Liadov's The Enchanted Lake and one of the sexiest items in the whole repertoire, Alexander Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy.
Another guest conductor heading to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for the first time next season is Roberto Minczuk, who will lead Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Liszt's Les Preludes and a 20th century masterwork, Carl Nielsen's Violin Concerto (with new BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney as soloist).
Noted French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier will make his BSO debut in an all-French program that salutes the 200th anniversary of the birth of Hector Berlioz with excerpts from his "dramatic symphony" Romeo et Juliette. Ravel's Piano Concerto (with Jean-Philippe Collard) and Bolero complete the bill.
Other returning guest conductors:
* Gunther Herbig, leading Mozart's Symphony No. 40, Schubert's Symphony No. 6 and Hummel's Trumpet Concerto (with the BSO's Andrew Balio).
* Emmanuel Krivine, who will salute Berlioz with the Roman Carnival Overture on a program that includes Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26 (with Gianluca Cascioli) and that rare performance of Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony (with soprano Jessica Jones and a baritone to be announced).
* Bobby McFerrin, whose program features the Choral Arts Society of Washington in Bach's Cantata No. 80 (Ein feste Burg), Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei (a vocal version of his famous Adagio for Strings) and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms.
* Mario Venzago, who will offer Schumann's Symphony No. 4 and violin concertos by Mozart (No. 3) and Prokofiev (No. 1) with Frank Peter Zimmermann as soloist.
Doing the 'Twist' again
Other noteworthy solo turns coming up next season: Bartok's Viola Concerto with Yuri Bashmet (an unlikely choice to complement Haydn and Mendelssohn symphonies conducted by Temirkanov); and Faure's Elegy and Saint-Saens' Cello Conceto No. 1 with Steven Isserlis (on a program conducted by BSO assistant conductor Lara Webber that includes Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 and a 20th century classic, Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231).
The BSO's new and already popular "Symphony With a Twist" series will return. As is the case this season, the Venzago-led enterprise is providing a home for some of the most adventuresome music on the 2002-2003 schedule.
The biggest case in point is the Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra -- in Memory of Toru Takemitsu by remarkably inventive, Chinese-born composer Tan Dun, winner of the Academy Award for his score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The concerto caused a sensation when it was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1999; the Philharmonic's principal percussionist, Christopher Lamb, will be the soloist here.
The work is part of a "fire and water" program that includes Handel's Royal Fireworks Music, the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes, and Toru Takemitsu's I Hear the Water Dreaming (with BSO flutist Emily Skala).
"Symphony With a Twist" also offers a Latin music night featuring eminent guitarist Manuel Barrueco and dancer Anna Menendez and a classical program with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Another "Twist" event suggests a pops concert -- classical pieces used in movies -- but has the classy attraction of distinguished composer John Corigliano (an Academy Award winner) as host.
All in all, the 2002-2003 season looks promising. A conservative bent remains unmistakable (and unsurprising, given Temirkanov's preferences), but assorted surprises and fresh challenges provide an effective, enticing balance.