NSO: 2017/18

The 2017-18 season of the National Symphony Orchestra, its 87th and the first under its new music director Gianandrea Noseda, was announced last week.

On the plus side the core repertoire programming pushes past the usual "three Bs" boundary of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven to include substantial works by Barber, Berg, Berio, and Bloch. The presence of Nathalie Stutzmann and Jeanette Sorrell on the podium makes some headway against the ongoing, inequitable gender imbalance of conductors leading American orchestral concerts. It's also impossible to not be excited about appearances by Martha Argerich and Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, a week-long festival featuring visiting American orchestras, and an artistic residency by Leila Josefowicz, one of today's most interesting and talented musicians. There are numerous debuts by notable conductors and performers, and return visits by venerated favorites. Befitting the orchestra's home and mission, American composers are well-represented, including its celebration of the Leonard Bernstein centennial and significant local premieres by two of the country's most popular living composers, John Adams and Mason Bates. And of course, the start of a new era is cause to celebrate, especially when a conductor as gifted as Noseda takes the helm.  

On the other hand, Adams and Bates are the only living composers represented in subscription series concerts during the entire upcoming season (works by Tan Dun and Guan Xia appear during a special Lunar New Year concert in February). There are no works by female composers, and the musical diversity on the schedule in terms of origins and styles isn't all that different from a season that might have been performed for audiences in 1950 (or earlier). There's a tremendous amount of music to look forward to hearing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall next season, but the lack of boldness and dearth of contemporary pieces in the programming is something the new music director will have to address if he wants to raise the NSO's profile.

Noseda leads eight of the season's 22 subscription series concerts, including three weeks during November of 2017 showcasing his desire to enliven the concert experience by breaking free of its traditional overture-concerto-symphony format in favor of more narrative-based programming. The first week looks at updating Baroque forms through pieces by Webern, Dallapiccola, and Beethoven. Week two is a kaleidoscope of musical color featuring works by Respighi, Chausson, Falla, and Gershiwn. At the end of the month Yuja Wang joins Noseda and the orchestra for Prokofiev's 5th Piano Concerto in a program including Britten's Matinees and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances -- all works composed by musicians living in exile.

In March 2018 Noseda returns to lead the orchestra's first performances of John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary; a Brahms/Strauss/Kodaly program featuring Yefim Bronfman playing the Brahms 2nd; and three performances of Verdi's Requiem featuring guest soloists borrowed from Washington National Opera's production of Don Carlo taking place next door: Leah Crocetto, Veronica Simeoni, Russell Thomas, and Eric Owens. In April Noseda leads a musical portrait of Stravinsky, including Leila Josefowicz playing the Violin Concerto, and in May he showcases Bach's influence in a program of pieces by Berio, Berg, and Brahms.

Performances led by Noseda aren't the only highlights. As artist-in-residence during 2017-18, Leila Josefowicz appears at the Kennedy Center three times. Along with the Stravinsky concerto in April, Josefowicz performs a recital with pianist John Novacek featuring 20th Century pieces by Saariaho, Zimmerman, Prokofiev, and Mahler in November as part of the Fortas Chamber Music Series, followed by January performances with the NSO of Olivier Knussen's Violin Concerto in a subscription series led by Conductor Laureate Cristoph Eschenbach.

In October Martha Argerich, conductor Antonio Pappano, and Rome's Orchestra dell'Acdademia di Santa Cecelia pop into the Kennedy Center for one night only in a joint presentation by the NSO and Washington Performing Arts to perform music by Verdi, Prokofiev, and Respighi.

Also in partnership with Washington Performing Arts, in April the NSO presents SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, including concerts by orchestras from Fort Worth, Albany, Indianapolis (with conductor Krzysztof Urbański and cellist Alisa Weilerstein performing works by Lutoslawski and Penderecki), and Noseda conducting the NSO with guest vocalist Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

The Leonard Bernstein Centennial is celebrated during the opening night gala and in three subscription programs led by Cristian Măcelaru (Divertimento, September 28 & 30), former NSO music director Leonard Slatkin (Slava! A Political Overture and Songfest, November 2 & 4), and Bernstein student Yutaka Sado in his NSO debut (Symphony No. 2, "The Age of Anxiety," January 11 & 13).

Other highlights:
Nathalie Stutzmann conducts, Arabella Steinbacher solos in the Brahms Violin Concerto, along with Dvorak's 7th (October 5, 6, & 7).

Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena conducts the first NSO performances of Mason Bates' Auditorium, along with the Tchaikovsky 6th (Pathetique) and Garrick Ohlsson as the soloist in Barber's Piano Concerto (October 12, 14, and 15).

Jeanette Sorrell, founder and director of Apollo's Fire, conducts Handel's Messiah (December 14, 15, 16, & 17).

Pianist Kirill Gerstein makes his NSO debut playing the Rach 2nd in an all-Russian program led by Hannu Lintu (February 1, 2, & 3).

Fabien Gabel, Music Director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, makes his conducting debut with Dukas' Polyeucte, Bloch's Schelomo with soloist Alban Gerhardt, Rachmaninoff's The Rock, and Shostakovitch's 9th (February 8 & 10).

Marek Janowski conducts, Stefan Jackiw solos in the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, plus the Brahms First Symphony and Weber's Overture to Euryanthe (February 22, 23, & 24).

Donald Runnicles conducts Mahler's Tenth (March 1, 2, & 3).

Sir Mark Elder conducts the NSO during the first two weeks of May. The first week features music by Strauss and Haydn, the second has Ravel, Butterworth, and Vaughan Williams.

The season kicks off on July 28th with Noseda leading a performance of Carmina Burana at Wolf Trap, followed by a free concert on the National Mall on July 29th. Noseda leads the season's opening night gala on September 24 with an all-Bernstein program featuring Yo-Yo Ma and Tony Award-winning singer Cynthia Erivo. Subscription series are available now, and include the ability to purchase add-on performances, including the Argerich/Orchestra dell'Acdademia di Santa Cecelia concert in October.

View the entire NSO season here.

Pictured above: Martha Argerich, Leila Josefowicz, Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, John Adam, Mason Bates, Leonard Bernstein, Stefan Jackiw, Yuja Wang, Donald Runnicles, Jeanette Sorrell, Nathalie Stutzmann, Sir Mark Elder. Header image: Gianandrea Noseda.

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