Star power, cultural diversity and the circus - a brief summation of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2009-2010 season.
The presence of several big-name guests on the lineup may well get the most attention as subscribers digest the material, released Tuesday. "I think we've done well," says music director Marin Alsop. "The trick was to figure out how to maintain reasonable ticket prices and bump up the level of artists we feature."
Those artists include such longtime luminaries as sopranos Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle (in separate concerts), and violinist Itzhak Perlman (he'll conduct as well as play). The roster also offers pianists Andre Watts, Garrick Ohlsson, Jean-Yves Thibaudet (for two weeks, covering Liszt and Gershwin works), Simone Dinnerstein (her BSO debut) and Lang Lang. The latter will perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 during the annual season-launching gala concert in September.
"I'm so happy Lang Lang's coming," Alsop says, "since he made his debut with the BSO. We've worked together a few times."
Violinists Gil Shaham, Leila Josefowicz and James Ehnes are scheduled. Conductors on the list include Robert Spano, Jiri Belohlavek, Louis Langree and Nicholas McGegan.
Norman will be heard in Laura Karpman's Ask Your Mama, a multimedia work with texts by Langston Hughes that was premiered earlier this week at Carnegie Hall. Philadelphia-based hip-hop group The Roots will also participate. Battle, joined by the Morgan State University Choir, will sing spirituals and hymns in a program that celebrates the Underground Railroad.
Also notable for '09-'10 will be the world premiere of Starburst by Baltimore composer Jonathan Leshnoff; the U.S. premiere of Incantations by eminent Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; and the first East Coast performance of Ansel Adams: America, composed by jazz great Dave Brubeck and his son Chris Brubeck - all three works are BSO co-commissions. There will be plenty of standard repertoire, including Beethoven's Fifth, Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Brahms' Third, Tchaikovsky's Fourth and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.
Brahms' German Requiem, with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, is scheduled on a program with Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (with soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme). A much rarer work of Barber's, a 10-minute opera called A Hand of Bridge, will also be heard, sharing a program with a Gershwin rarity, Blue Monday, a jazzy little opera that offers a foretaste of Porgy and Bess.
Running through the season will be a theme of cultural heritage. "Part of my interest in art is how it offers a little window to another era, another culture, another political-social climate," Alsop says. "It's a time machine in a way." In one program, for example, a folk ensemble will play traditional Hungarian and gypsy melodies as a lead-in to Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
Once Alsop started thinking about ethnicities and roots, she found herself going in an unexpected direction. "The Bartok concert led me to the idea of featuring world music," she says, "and this led me to folk tales and traditions, and, for some unknown reason, to the circus. I don't know where that came from. But the circus is a shared tradition with many cultures."
The circus concept will generate four weeks of programming next spring, including a "BSO Under the Big Top" SuperPops presentation conducted by Jack Everly and featuring quick-change artists and other entertainers and a Cirque de la Symphonie event with choreographed performances of music by Copland, Poulenc and Satie.
The Symphony With a Twist series has been dropped next season, but the recently introduced Off the Cuff series of early evening, roughly hourlong programs will return.
Ticket prices will not rise for next season. And 70 percent of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will be set aside for the $25 subscription seats that have been a popular feature since the '07-'08 season. BSO subscribers will receive a free online subscription to the Naxos Music Library, which has more than 400,000 tracks from Naxos CDs.
For more information, call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.
In other news from the orchestra, the second BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship has been awarded to 15-year-old Venezuelan Ilyich Rivas, who will start his two-year training program in September, when Mei-Ann Chen will also join the BSO as assistant conductor and League of American Orchestras Conducting Fellow.
There had been talk a while back of the BSO going on an overseas tour next season. That won't happen. "We have to be fiscally responsible," Alsop says. "But people [in Europe] are really eager to hear the BSO again. We're looking more at 2011-'12 for possible touring."
Does that mean Alsop has extended her contract, which expires next season? "We're working on that," she says. "We like to roll out the news month by month. I think by April we'll have something to report on the contract."
'Peter Grimes' in D.C.
Washington National Opera opens its production of Britten's Peter Grimes on Saturday at the Kennedy Center with an exceptional cast headed by Christopher Ventris in the title role and Patricia Racette as Ellen.
This towering work of 20th-century opera deals with issues of alienation, social pressure and much more, all told through the curious case of a fisherman whose young apprentices meet tragic ends. Britten's vivid music and brilliant sense of timing and atmosphere combine to create a compelling case of music theater.
Call 202-295-2400 or go to dc-opera.org.