The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced its 2013-14 season this morning, offering the first public look at where it hopes to go in the near future with a season that features five world premieres, the annual trek to Carnegie Hall and Verdi’s opera “Aida.”
That will follow on the heels of a current season that began with major cutbacks in labor contracts with musicians and the subsequent departures of three longtime ASO vice presidents, the intention being to right the orchestra’s financial ship without loss of artistic acumen, however bitter the process has been.
Despite the range of events that a major orchestra necessarily engages in every year in terms of music, education and outreach, the bellwether of its long-term artistic health and well-being continues to be its classical subscription series. And the strengths and range of the ASO’s coming season are evidence that the orchestra is determined to move past the controversy that began this one.
Evans Mirageas, the orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning, says that its 69th season will seek to achieve “the great balance between satisfying people’s love and need to hear the core classical repertoire on a regular basis, as well as to satisfy the desire for the new. It stretches into everything that we do.”
What’s new on tap overall: five world premieres and first ASO performances of six other works. Five guest conductors will make their ASO debuts, as will three instrumental and five vocal soloists. ASO principal oboist Elizabeth Koch Tiscione will make her solo debut in the Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. The orchestra will also introduce a new series of “First Friday” concerts to be held at 6 p.m.: essentially abbreviated versions of the week’s subscription performances that will last one hour.
Among the five world premieres is a work by Richard Prior, director of orchestra studies at Emory University. Also on that Atlanta-centric bill is the ASO premiere of “American Symphony” by Adam Schoenberg of the “Atlanta School” of composers. The orchestra will also premiere the ASO commissions of Michael Gandolfi’s “Oratorio” and Mark Grey’s “Fire Angels.” In October, the orchestra will premiere Philip Lasser’s piano concerto “The Circle and the Child,” with Simone Dinnerstein as the soloist. And in May, it will perform the debut of a work by Charles Zoll, winner of the third “Rapido!” composition contest.
“It’s amazing to think I’ve been here 13 years and that our musical adventure continues at such a fresh and inspiring level,” says ASO Music Director Robert Spano, who in March 2014 will share the stage with Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles as piano soloists to perform works by Ravel and Stravinsky.
But there will also be familiar repertoire and favorite big-name soloists aplenty. The season will kick off on September 26 with Spano conducting music from the classical core, with pianist Andre Watts as guest soloist, in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The next week will offer another favorite luminary pianist, Garrick Ohlsson. And in the third concert, ASO Concertmaster David Coucheron, an audience favorite, will perform Samuel Barber’s violin concerto.
Mirageas says that having such soloist “muscle” up front is a deliberate strategy to engage the audience from the get-go. “We have a tendency to tout some very special names and put our best foot forward, as it were, right at the beginning of the season,” he says. That places the orchestra on much more solid ground than the old-fashioned idea of an opening “gala.”
“Robert [Spano] loves to get the orchestra digging in right away with real repertoire and great soloists,” Mirageas says. “We have this wonderful week before anybody sees us onstage with the doors open, called ‘boot camp,’ a week of intensive rehearsals before we actually get into the first week of subscription concerts.” Other soloists in the new season will include Joshua Bell, Hillary Hahn, Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Stephen Hough and Jessica Rivera.In November, the orchestra will celebrate the legacy of the late Robert Shaw, its longtime music director and conductor laureate. The gala recital will raise money for a new film, “Robert Shaw — Man of Many Voices,” that is being produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting in association with the ASO and the Yale University Music Library.
The orchestra and chorus will return to Carnegie Hall on April 30, 2014, to perform Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” with soprano Evelina Dobračeva, baritone Stephen Powell and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The performance will be a centerpiece of Carnegie Hall’s “Britten 100,” a season-long celebration of the centennial of the English composer’s birth.
If the season begins with a bang, it also will conclude with a pair of heavy-hitting concerts, with superstar violinist Bell in the penultimate offering at the end of May, followed by a big season closer, Verdi’s “Aida,” in the first week of June.
“It’s a special season anyway, and ‘Aida’ is going to be an incredible blockbuster way to end the year,” Mirageas declares. “Aida” is likely to be somewhere between a concert and partly staged, because the opera is so monumental that it does not lend itself to the orchestra’s “theater of a concert” format for dramatic works, much less being fully staged. “And we can’t have animals in Symphony Hall,” Mirageas adds, referring to “Aida’s” traditional inclusion of elephants. “It will be thrilling nonetheless.”