Hidden from small

“Rewarding, Special, and Unique”: The Philadelphia Orchestra Unveils Its 2018-19 Season

January 30, 2018

The 2018-19 Philadelphia Orchestra season is a kaleidoscope of matchless breadth, encompassing a world of nationalities and cultures, and musical styles from Romantic to 12-tone, and Baroque to Broadway. In other words: This season has it all.

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Jessica Griffin

For Yannick Nézet-Séguin, launching his seventh season as music director, this programming is a personal joy. “I love to collaborate with my wonderful musicians in many styles, settings, and formats. We’re highlighting their great talent, their ability to play in intimate settings as well as large scale orchestrations, and to play a variety of styles at the highest level.”

A very selective list of season highlights includes a host of beloved superstar guest soloists, plus several of the Fabulous Philadelphians performing front and center; brilliant international guest conductors, as well as Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève and Assistant Conductor Kensho Watanabe; some of the symphonic masterworks made famous by the Orchestra; premieres and commissions that continue the Orchestra’s legendary role as a musical pioneer; a collaboration with the Barnes Foundation, highlighting connections between art and music; a spectacular finale to our celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s birth centenary in the form of a theatrically enhanced version of his sparkling operetta Candide; and of course, Yannick imparting his special brand of musical magic to everything he conducts.

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato makes her Orchestra subscription debut with Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer in November. Photo by Simon Pauly

You’ll see and hear old friends like André Watts, who appeared in Yannick’s Philadelphia Orchestra debut concerts in 2008 and will return with the mighty Grieg Piano Concerto. Lisa Batiashvili will dazzle in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Emanuel Ax will bring his mastery to Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto while Kirill Gerstein will explore the jazzy soul of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. And Garrick Ohlsson will bring his towering technique to Barber’s Piano Concerto, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963.

You’ll also enjoy Philadelphia Orchestra debuts from rising piano stars Seong-Jin Cho (Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20), Benjamin Grosvenor (Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1), and Beatrice Rana (Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3); the Los Angeles Guitar Quintet (Rodrigo’s Concierto andaluz); and organist James McVinnie (Nico Muhly’s Organ Concerto).

As always, some concerts will feature our own musicians, shining the spotlight on Concertmaster David Kim soloing in Chausson’s Poème; Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen in Ginastera’s Concerto; Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales in Weber’s Second Concerto; and Principal Viola Choong-Jin Chang in Bartók’s Concerto. All this, of course, is in addition to the many gorgeous solos featured in symphonic works throughout the season.

The Orchestra collaborates with the Barnes Foundation for a two-week festival in October, examining the relationship between Leopold Stokowski and Albert Barnes. Photo courtesy the Barnes Foundation

Esteemed guest conductors have been beating a path to the Orchestra’s door for decades, and 2018-19 will be no exception. The ensemble will welcome old friends, including Cristian Măcelaru, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Bramwell Tovey. Audiences will get to know David Afkham and Emmanuelle Haïm in their debuts. Nathalie Stutzmann returns for her subscription debut, and Myung-Whun Chung is back on the Orchestra’s podium after an absence of over 20 years. Stéphane Denève will bring his Gallic charm to several weeks, including a special collaboration with the Barnes Foundation, examining the relationship between two titans of art in Philadelphia, Albert Barnes and Leopold Stokowski.

Of course, one of the joys of coming to Verizon Hall season after season is to hear favorite pieces that have been inspiring music lovers for decades, even centuries. Some of these, such as Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, were written expressly for the Fabulous Philadelphians. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was brought to the U.S. by Stokowski. And many other large-scale works embedded in the Orchestra’s DNA—including pieces by Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, Schubert, Dukas, and Dvořák—will be featured.

While honoring the beloved staples of the concert hall, The Philadelphia Orchestra has always been a trailblazer, commissioning new works that will become standards in their own right. In the coming season, you’ll hear Healing Tones from Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Hannibal and two pieces by the exciting young composer Nico Muhly, an orchestral suite from his opera Marnie and the Organ Concerto.

Conductor Emmanuelle Haïm makes her Philadelphia Orchestra debut in November, leading works by Purcell and Handel. Photo by Marianne Rosenstiehl

Concluding the Orchestra’s tribute to the incomparable Leonard Bernstein, born 100 years ago this year, is a theatrically informed version of Candide. This operetta, written at the same time as his immortal West Side Story, never fails to dazzle and delight, thanks to its irreverent humor, quirky story line, and brilliant vocal and instrumental music. Yannick loves bringing this kind of composition to life, as he did three years ago with MASS and earlier this season with West Side Story, with exciting cast members drawn from the world of Broadway. The Orchestra also completes its exploration of Bernstein’s symphonies, with No. 3 (“Kaddish”), a dramatic, spiritual work based on the Jewish prayer for the dead. The large vocal forces and Bernstein’s inimitable writing create a powerful impact on listeners everywhere.

Bernstein is the epitome of the American Sounds theme the Orchestra has been featuring in recent years, a celebration of works inspired by jazz, folk, and Broadway to create a quintessentially American music. In addition to Bernstein, Barber, Hannibal, and Muhly, this season will feature Copland’s Appalachian Spring, in a newly completed full orchestral version of the entire ballet; Gershwin’s Cuban Overture; Mason Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, which exploits the virtuosity of the Orchestra to evoke what the composer calls a “psychedelic bestiary”; and an orchestral suite from Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick, all mining the rich vein of American Sounds.

Piano sensation Benjamin Grosvenor debuts in February/March 2019, performing Beethoven’s First Piano Concert. Photo by Patrick Allen—Opera Omnia

Other unique highlights include an extended concert version of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet with choreography; Rossini’s Stabat Mater, a spiritual vocal showcase from a brilliant opera composer; Yannick leading Handel’s incomparable Messiah; and several works featuring the magnificent Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the entire season is Yannick himself, whose inspiring approach to music delights everyone. This season he’ll lead towering works from Haydn to Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mahler, and Sibelius (a special favorite of his); introduce us to classics we may not know, such as Franz Berwald’s Symphony No. 3, as well as new pieces destined to become classics (the two Nico Muhly works, for instance); and of course, surprise and delight us with his unique musical personality and playful sense of humor.

You’ll see more of the unique benefits stemming from Yannick’s role as music director both here and (beginning in the 2020-21 season) at the Metropolitan Opera. For example, in our very first subscription concerts we’ll have the world premiere of Muhly’s Marnie Suite (the Met is giving the opera’s U.S. premiere next season as well). We’ll continue to see the vocal stars who love to work with Yannick, including mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer. In addition, the future stars nurtured by the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program will appear in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas classic Amahl and the Night Visitors.

For Yannick, whether it be a mighty Mahler symphony, a new work, or a Broadway masterpiece, “every interpretation we make together—no matter the size of the ensemble, or the style of music—is rewarding, special, and unique.”

Steve Holt, managing partner at re:Write, is a veteran journalist and musician.