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Excite me: the art of the season announcement

In the wake of the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics' season announcements (Los Angeles's season has left a particular afterglow), and in light of the steady stream of other season announcements, or announcements of announcements, that are coming in over the transom, I started to wonder what other orchestras in this country are offering seasons that music-lovers can really get excited about.
(read more after the jump)

It always helps to have a new music director: that "ooh, shiny" instinct is all too powerful in all of us. Thus the other most-watched major orchestra right now is the Chicago Symphony, which is about to announce its first season under Riccardo Muti, having managed the remarkable feat of both landing a genuine superstar music director and also announcing major new initiatives in the areas of new music and outreach (the latter is practically de rigueur in the orchestral community these days, but the former doesn't always embrace it quite as whole-heartedly as Muti is). The orchestra has put out a teaser about its next season (Muti will conduct concert performances of Verdi's "Otello," continuing the CSO's venerable opera-in-concert tradition); the full season will be announced February 25th.

But I think it's relatively rare that a orchestra's season announcement generates genuine excitement. They're received, often, with the mien of a greedy child: what are you giving us, and how good is it, and are you playing my favorite piece? And for the most part, they're fairly predictable: these days, any orchestra worth its salt is going to offer a few world premieres, a festival re-examining the works of a familiar and beloved composer, a Mahler cycle. (Mahler cycles are all the rage at the moment, just as every opera company in the world seems to have been seized with the desire to do its own Ring.)

I'm not saying that orchestras are bad, or that they don't play wonderful programs, or that I don't want to her what they have to offer. And I'm not saying that your average orchestra season doesn't present any number of highlights that could delight a music lover. I'm just observing how rare it is that L.A. managed to make this formula, as a whole, actually sound thrilling.

At least, that's how it sounded to me. I'd be curious to hear your reactions. How many other orchestras are doing that? What season announcements are you looking forward to? What gets you excited about an orchestra season?

By Anne Midgette  |  February 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  random musings  
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I am looking forward, first of all to all local announcements, and those not quite local but within a daily commute ( Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York) in order to plan my new season. Between these, there should be enough interesting stuff.

Other than that, I am regularly looking at the announcements of major orchestras and opera companies from both the U.S. and Europe - and even some top Japanese orchestras such as the NHK or Yomiuri Nippon. Then there is Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires (unfortunately a shadow of its former glory), but these announcements are made in November (I think), and anyway, it is now closed for renovations.

Anne, would it be possible to tell us the dates of some season announcements? I know Kennedy Center is on March 2 (please correct if I am wrong) and while a blog that you alreay mentioned ( does give us the Met's future seasons, it would be nice to know when the official announcement is made. And how about the Baltimore Symphony?


Posted by: cicciofrancolando | February 18, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

(the latter is practically de rigueur in the orchestral community these days, but the former doesn't always embrace it quite as whole-heartedly as Muti is) This parenthesis is unclear; what's the former? "I think it's relatively rare that a orchestra's season announcement generates . . ." I think you mean unusual.

Posted by: boris8 | February 18, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

But aren't Mahler cycles or partial mahler cycles de riguer the coming season as 150th anniversary oof his birth this spring and 50th anniversary of his death next year. Remember all this Mahler madness really began 50 years ago with
Bernstein and the NY PHIL. If Gilbert avoided it that would be strange and weird.

Posted by: stevenelworth | February 18, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

To cicciofrancolando,
Wow, I thought I was the only person on the planet (who isn't in the business) who gets excited about season announcements of orchestras outside the city I live in.

Being based in Helsinki and not completely satiated with three full time orchestras, a full time opera, and the Sibelius academy, among others, I regularly plan trips into the rest Europe to catch some must-not-miss concerts. This requires a bit of planning ahead, hence I obsessively check orchestra webpages all over the world starting February each year.

Unfortunately, the Finnish orchestras tend to lag behind in this aspect, the Finnish Radio Symphony usually posts the new season in May, as does the Lahti SO. The Helsinki Phil announces fall and spring separately, usually about 6 weeks before the season starts.

Posted by: derekh | February 18, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I always look forward to the announcements of the coming seasons at the Metropolitan and Lyric Opera of Chicago. I usually schedule business appointments/conferences in these cities around the productions I want to see, so that most of the trip (other than the cost of the tickets to the opera) can be deducted for tax purposes!

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | February 18, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

@stevenelworth, typo. You meant it is the centennial (100th) anniversary of Mahler's death next year. Easy to get all those multiples of 50 confused!

Of course, Wagner's bicentennial is in 2013, which makes me wonder what the big rush is/was for certain organizations to perform the Ring now instead of saving it.

Anyway, I'm less excited about the usual. For example, this weekend: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 is the typical Euro-Russian program. This is done at least once a year and not as interesting to me unless I'm into the performer. So if I miss it, whatever. Its no big deal. It will be put on again soon enough. However, the Requiem for Icarus would be the reason to go because it probably won't be there next year. (You can hear the Dusseldorf Symphony version on her website. I think it is very accessible music. And I think the pairing with Russian composers who didn't really fit into a Russian style is very apt if that was the intention.) But it's only due to the freshness of hearing the work live, rather than the "living composer" aspect. So my interest would be piqued by rarely programmed compositions of dead composers too, although this does not sell as well as "living composer" as far as the non-standards fare goes.

Posted by: prokaryote | February 18, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I did notice that European orchestras and companies announce the season a little later than the American ones, but this is not always the case. For example Gran Teatre del Liceu already announced their 2010-2011 season (Ariane et Barbe-Bleue anyone? And what's with that Tamerlano *in concert*?)

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | February 18, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

What excites me is the chance to hear music I've never heard before.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | February 19, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

But orchestra's announcements are almost by definition non-events. There is little point to announcing that a commercially irrelevant nearly dead artform has survived yet another year, indeed given that many of the works programmed will be receiving their 10,000th-plus performance. Alas, orchestras must announce the season at some point, but it's a bit much expecting these announcements actually to be exciting! Even when presenting premieres (which, it has been pointed out, are likely to increase the "excitement" a blip), the orchestra is, at most, a medium for delivering serious art music of a relatively academic vein. Thus, "excitement" will be analogous to the giddiness a scientist in a narrow field of specialization feels when the latest papers-and-proceedings issue of the field journal comes out, but the other 99.99998537% of the population just doesn't see the significance, no matter how marginally huge it may be. Signed, a former professional musician who attends nearly every orchestra concert put on within a 100-mile radius (and points beyond frequently). We might like this stuff, but let's be real.

Posted by: dbvgr | February 22, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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