Women innovators and creators take center stage in the 2019–20 season.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra present composers, conductors, instrumentalists, vocalists, and thinkers in programs that showcase rarely heard works of the past and inspiring music of today. A world premiere by Valerie Coleman during opening weekend sets the stage for a season-long (and beyond) celebration of women’s voices, and Gabriela Lena Frank joins the Orchestra as composer-in-residence.
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Umoja, a world premiere commission by American composer Valerie Coleman, launches our 2019-20 season. Ms. Coleman's spirited music draws from Afro-Cuban, jazz, and classical genres. Umoja—meaning unity in Swahili—is alive with all these influences. Bartók's gorgeous Third Concerto, performed by Yannick's good friend Hélène Grimaud, is as vibrant today as the day The Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy gave the world premiere at the Academy of Music in 1946.
Composer, conductor, teacher, writer, thinker—John Adams is an American musical icon. His work—exciting and beautiful—unflinchingly confronts, defines, and embraces contemporary culture. He wrote Scheherazade.2 for the stellar violinist Leila Josefowicz, inspired by an art exhibit about The Tales of the Arabian Nights and Rimsky-Korsakov's original. Josefowicz's solo violin plays the role of a modern Scheherazade. Adams's musical exploration of the present-day struggle of women in a patriarchal society reverses the roles, putting the woman in a position of strength.
Yannick leads an all-Mozart program displaying the seemingly infinite range of his musical gifts. The “Haffner” Symphony, named for the commissioning Salzburg family, began as a serenade, but Mozart tweaked and enhanced it into its present form, now recognized as a true breakthrough in his musical style. The Symphony No. 40, perhaps his most famous symphony, is also hailed as a turning point in composition.
Max Bruch may have struggled to write it, but Concertmaster David Kim calls this violin concerto “the perfect combination of beautiful melodies and themes, virtuosic yet accessible.” Brahms's Second Symphony, possibly his most popular, is said to be his personal favorite as well. Its pastoral aura surely accounts for some of its appeal; but Brahms being Brahms, there is tension and drama as well, building to an extraordinary, triumphant finale. Conductor Nathalie Stutzmann returns to demonstrate her superb chemistry with The Philadelphia Orchestra.
With these concerts our esteemed colleague Stéphane Denève begins his sixth and final season as our principal guest conductor. Soviet-born American composer Lera Auerbach says she was drawn to the myth of Icarus because of “his wish to reach the unreachable, the intensity of the ecstatic brevity of his flight, and the inevitability of his fall.” Her adventurous musical palette exploits the full sonic range of the orchestra: shimmering, soaring, and ultimately dying away. Stravinsky describes a different myth about feathered flight in his Firebird.
Beethoven's only violin concerto is “an amazing trip,” says Gil Shaham, from the opening drumbeats, through some of “the most sublime, most beautiful violin passages ever,” to the “perfect fiddling” of the final dance. Susanna Mälkki, renowned interpreter of new music, leads Betsy Jolas's A Little Summer Suite, written in 2015 on the eve of the composer's 90th birthday.
The Orchestra returns to the Academy of Music for its first subscription concerts since moving to Verizon Hall in 2001. It's a fitting venue for Rachmaninoff's nostalgic, romantic Symphony No. 3, premiered by the composer's cherished Philadelphians in 1936 on that very same stage, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. The gentle, lone piano chords that open the Fourth Concerto were a radical construct when Beethoven premiered the wide-ranging and emotional work in 1808. Yefim Bronfman says he's always been drawn to its tenderness.
Daniil Trifonov, the Orchestra's Grammy-winning recording partner, returns for four performances. Amplifying the programs are two underappreciated works by formidable women composers: Lili Boulanger, the first woman to win, in 1913, the prestigious Prix de Rome composition prize, and Louise Farrenc, whose Symphony No. 2 dialogues with Beethoven, and leaves us asking why her works are not a more integral part of the canon today.
Beethoven composed “the most positive music ever written,” with every work containing “every emotion known to man,” says Emanuel Ax, who completes our piano concerto cycle. Beethoven made his public debut with his Second Concerto, a dramatic, humorous, ebullient work that announced the young artist's arrival.
Mendelssohn wrote his Second Piano Concerto right after he got married and there's plenty of joy expressed, especially in the final movement, which the composer himself described as “piano fireworks.” He was the soloist at the premiere in 1837. The young French pianist Lise de la Salle (“For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe…” –The Washington Post) is a riveting choice to interpret this concerto. Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique is a tour de force of compositional color, a breakthrough that set the stage for his most assured writing.
This American classic is the story of a man trying to rescue a woman from her distressing life. To help create his masterpiece, George Gershwin immersed himself in African-American life and culture on Charleston's Catfish Row, honoring the area's folk traditions with timeless melodies. Pioneering conductor Marin Alsop leads our performances of this tale of oppression, struggle, hope, and love. The cast includes soprano Angel Blue and celebrated baritone Lester Lynch.
Beethoven was just beginning to go deaf when he wrote his Second Symphony and though he was losing his hearing, he was finding his voice. He could have composed a manifestation of despair, but instead gave the world one of his most ebullient and life-affirming works. The Third Symphony was groundbreaking, a turning point in the composer's oeuvre and a watershed in musical history.
Beethoven was just 25 when he wrote his First Symphony. Delightful and high-spirited, floating on strains of Mozart and Haydn, it's a fascinating glimpse of the greatness and genius to come—all on full, glorious display in the climactic Ninth. Written just a few short years before his death, Beethoven's profound ode to brotherhood, salvation, and pure joy reminds us why we are here as an orchestra, says Yannick, and why we constantly try to make our world better by playing music.
Stéphane Denève's final subscription concerts as the Orchestra's principal guest conductor culminate with Strauss's epic Ein Heldenleben—literally, A Hero's Life—an extravagant, all-encompassing, semi-autobiographical tone poem that quotes from his own prodigious masterpieces. Anna Clyne's imaginative This Midnight Hour, highlighting the power of the lower strings, evokes the journey of a mysterious woman “stripped bare, running mad through the night.” Liszt's heady Second Piano Concerto is gorgeous and technically challenging.
Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto may be overshadowed by his more famous First, but it's the piece that earned Lukas Geniušas top honors at the Tchaikovsky Competition. Balanchine, too, recognized its consummate beauty, choosing it as the score for his tribute to classical Russian ballet. The government decided what was art when Shostakovich wrote his vehement and complicated Fifth Symphony under an oppressive Soviet regime (and threat of the Gulag).
The reviews were rapturous for Yannick's “blazing and urgent, yet richly nuanced account of Strauss's still-shocking score” (The New York Times) when he led Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera in 2018. He reprises the triumph with these symphonically staged performances starring The Philadelphia Orchestra and a cast of vocal powerhouses. Christine Goerke sings the title role, a tormented daughter obsessed with avenging the death of her father, Agamemnon. Mikhail Petrenko portrays the brother she hopes will kill the murderous culprits: their mother and her lover.
Brahms wrote just two piano concertos. He was 25 when he completed his youthful and vigorous First Concerto. Two decades later he composed his tremendous Second; Yannick compares the final, fourth movement to playing in heaven, surrounded by angels. The fiery Yuja Wang, Curtis Institute of Music graduate and Philadelphia favorite, returns to her second home for four performances, bringing her technical virtuosity and thoughtful depth of music-making to these two corresponding and harmonious works. Hear them both, paired with Sibelius's Symphony No. 3, a masterpiece of the Finnish national hero.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is a Proud Partner of Vision 2020’s Women 100 initiative, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women’s right to vote.