Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Focus: American guest conductors

The Seattle Symphony released its 2008/2009 season last week. The theme the season is built around is American guest conductors. I harbor ambivalence about season themes. On the one hand themes, especially when used to develop concert programs, can be a good device to explore unfamiliar repertoire. On the other hand, themes are often so poorly done that they end up hurting the season more than helping. Fortunately for Seattle audiences Schwarz has developed programmatic themes that are interesting and unlike other orchestras. There is no season long Brahms festival for Seattle, but we do get refreshing Central Europe, immigrant composer, and contemporary American music programs.

This season’s unifying theme could be very good. The composer’s being tapped are big names. Andre Previn comes for two weeks. Dennis Russell Davies, the conductor of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz, does too. Leonard Slatkin makes his debut with the Seattle Symphony and conducts Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Joann Falletta, arguably the first woman to head a “major” American orchestra (she leads the Buffalo Philharmonic) will conduct Faure’s Requiem. Saint Louis Symphony’s David Robertson is also coming to town. All in all the talent on the podium will be fun to watch and hear.

Unfortunately, Rossen Milanov will be conducting one of the Mostly Mozart concerts. When I lived in Iowa, Milanov came through town. Fresh after being appointed to Philadelphia, Milanov put together an exciting performance of Franck’s Symphony with my town’s resident part time orchestra.

The visiting orchestras are also pleasing. The San Francisco Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the Academy of Ancient Music will each perform.   

But there are still pieces of the season that puzzle me. For instance, how does a complete cycle of Beethoven string quartets fit with the overarching subject of the season? For me it is an intriguing addition, but one that seems oddly juxtaposed alongside a robust orchestral season. It may not compliment the American guest conductor theme, but it does add a chamber music dimension to the season.

Best of all, the season opener is Mahler’s gargantuan Symphony No.8. Last fall I was talking with a record store clerk and I let him know that I wanted to hear each of Mahler’s symphonies performed live at least once. The record store clerk thought the eighth would never be performed. Cost would prohibit Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand from ever reaching the stage. Thankfully, Schwarz and Phillion decided to perform the piece anyway.

If your like me and can't wait to hear Mahler's No.8 check out this wonderful clip of Simon Rattle conducting the piece at the 2002 Proms.

1 comment:

Ozni Torres said...

I heard the Symphony when I was in high school. The CSO and everybody played it in the Medinah Temple while Orchestra Hall was being refitted into Symphony Center. It is very big.