This past Tuesday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced details of their 2017/2018 Walt Disney Concert Hall season, the 99th Winter/Spring concert series in their history. Once again, orchestral fans in Southern California have good reason to celebrate because, once again, it’s a really, REALLY freakin’ good season.
Let’s take a quick look at the most compelling elements of the LA Phil’s 2017/18 WDCH season:
- Tons of new music, even more than last year (a total of 30 World, US, and West Coast premieres), comprised of fresh works written by the likes of LA Phil Conductor Laureate and former Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (!), Arturo Márquez, Nico Muhly, USC Thornton School faculty members Ted Hearne and Andrew Norman, Matthias Pintscher, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, LA Phil Principal Percussionist Joseph Pereira, and many more. This includes:
- A staggering 23 LA Phil commissions and co-commissions
- 22 world premieres in total, five of which are performed by the full Los Angeles Philharmonic, two more appearing in the orchestra’s Celebrity Recital series, and the balance as part of the LA Phil New Music Group’s Green Umbrella series
- Four of the world premieres will be conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the orchestra’s Music & Artistic Director
- For those wanting music written before the 20th century, you get two major festivals bookending the season:
- To start the season, “Mozart: 1791,” a two-week look at key works the legendary composer wrote in his final year
- A Schumann cycle, including all five symphonies, the Piano Concerto with soloist Mitsuko Uchida, the Cello Concerto with Sol Gabbeta, and the first-ever LA Phil performance of the oratorio Das Paradies un die Peri
- Truly first-rate guest conductors and soloists
- And much more
I give the season a solid “A” when grading it on a curve against other recent LA Phil seasons. What’s particularly noteworthy to me is how 2017/18 manages to be quite different in many ways to the current 2016/17 season, yet still is replete with the kind of programming hallmarks — a dedication to music by living composers juxtaposed with repertoire staples; an enthusiasm for stretching the boundaries of the traditional orchestral concert experience; a reliable roster of top-notch guest conductors and soloists — that puts this orchestra at the forefront of all others in the country, perhaps even the world, in crafting what a 21st-Century classical music season can and should be like. And mind you, that applies strictly to the regular subscription series concerts; the gap is even wider if you include the adjunct presentations of the Green Umbrella, Chamber Music Concerts, Celebrity Recitals, Visiting Orchestras, Jazz concerts, World Music concerts, and the “Songbook” series.
With that in mind, I’d give their season a solid “A+” compared in absolute terms with other major US orchestras. Note to those other orchestras: your seasons should look more like LA’s and less like what you’ve settled on.
Of those other orchestras, only the San Francisco Symphony usually comes close in both size and ambitions: even though Michael Tilson Thomas (aka “MTT”) and his crew have just announced a solid 2017/18 season of their own,
yet to officially announce their next season, I’d expect a similar blend of old and new when it’s made public; however, they lack a cash cow like the Hollywood Bowl to help finance the kind of really off-the-wall stuff that the shows up in the LA Phil’s most ambitious programming, plus the SFS has to endure life in the merely adequate confines of Davies Symphony Hall.
Anyways, back to Los Angeles. Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the individual concerts:
If I have to pick my single favorite, absolutely-can’t-miss weekend of concerts this coming season, I’d have to go with Feb 8-11, 2018:
- Mr. Salonen conducts Biber’s Battalia and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 for the four performances, while rotating three of his own concerti as the centerpiece of each concert: the West Coast premiere of his Cello Concerto featuring Yo-Yo Ma (Feb 8); the Piano Concerto with soloist Yefim Bronfman (Feb 9-10), and the Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz (Feb 11)
My Runner-Up for favorite concert:
- Mr. Dudamel leading a concert that features three works that are definitely not for the faint-of-heart: the world premiere of a new piece by Mr. Salonen commissioned by the LA Phil, the ginormously scaled Amériques by Varèse, and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 (April 13-15)
The splashiest concert about which I’m rather ambivalent:
- Bernstein’s Mass. It isn’t performed very often, and IMHO, for good reason: It’s a sprawling work that tries to be profound, but merely meanders around in melodramatic hippy fashion. There are other concerts in the orchestra’s “Bernstein 100” series that are much more interesting.
Twelve other concerts high on my priority list (in chronological order):
- Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony finally make an appearance at WDCH; if you’ll recall, their last tour through Southern California skipped LA in favor of Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County. They rectify that on October 22, 2017, with performances of Brahms’ 2nd and 3rd Symphonies. So, yeah, the program itself is a big-time yawn, but it’s still worth it to hear this imposing crew do their thing inside the resonant confines of Disney Hall.
- Speaking of visitors coming to WDCH, Valery Gergiev makes his long-awaited return conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra in an unabashedly Russian-focused program that includes the Symphony No. 9 of Shostakovich, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2 with the powerful Denis Matsuev as soloist, and Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3 (Nov 1, 2017)
- The world premiere of War of the Worlds by Annie Gosfield, based on both the original 1898 H.G. Wells novel and the infamous 1938 Orson Welles radio telecast that caused a panic because some people believed that the Martian invasion was real; Christopher Rountree will conduct the LA Phil New Music Group, and Yuval Sharon, the orchestra’s Artist-Collaborator, will direct two staged performances which will take part simultaneously at Walt Disney Concert Hall and at other locations in Los Angeles (one stand-alone on Nov 12, 2017, and another as part of the “Noon to Midnight” concert on Nov 18, 2017)
- A performance of Bernstein’s score to West Side Story played as live accompaniment to the film; David Newman conducts (Nov 24 and 26, 2017)
- Mr. Pintscher conducts the West Coast premiere of his violin concerto, mar’eh, with soloist Renaud Capuçon; also on the program are Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, “Iberia” from Debussy’s Images pour orchestre, and the always fun Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas (Jan 5-6)
- Susanna Mälkki, the LA Phil’s freshly minted Principal Guest Conductor, is on the podium for the US premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra “en forme de pas de trois,” featuring LA Phil Principal Cello Robert deMaine as soloist and three dancers from the Tero Saarinen Company, plus Webern’s orchestral arrangement of Bach’s Ricercar and Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony (yes, I’m totally interested, and that’s even accounting for the fact that I’m not a big Strauss fan) (Jan 19-21)
- Mr. Dudamel conducts the world premiere of the Concerto for Timpani and Two Percussion by Joseph Pereira, the LA Phil’s esteemed Principal Timpani, featuring Mr. Pereira and Maraca 2 as soloists, with Stravinsky’s Fireworks and Brahms’ First Symphony also on the bill (yes, I’m totally interested, and that’s even accounting for the fact that I’m even less of a Brahms fan than a Strauss fan) (Jan 25-28, 2018)
- James Conlon returns to the LA Phil podium after a four-year absence to conduct Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel, the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Organ Concerto with James McVinnie as soloist, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Ravel orchestration (Feb 23-25, 2018)
- The US premiere of another LA Phil commission, Andrew Norman’s A Trip to the Moon conducted by Teddy Abrams (more on him below), and directed by Mr. Sharon; also on the program is a ubiquitous favorite, The Planets by Holst, featuring the women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (March 2-3, 2018)
- A recital by Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Martha Argerich (piano) — ’nuff said (March 13-14, 2018)
- The San Francisco Symphony and MTT come south with violinist Gil Shaham to perform the Bruch Violin Concerto and the Mahler 5th Symphony (Mar 27, 2018)
- Mr. Dudamel always loves him some Mahler, and this season, he finally gets around to conducting Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) with the LA Phil, staged by Mr. Sharon in conjunction with TEATROCINEMA, a Chilean theater company known for its innovative interaction between video and live performers; Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano) and Russell Thomas (tenor) are the soloists (April 5-7, 2018)
And the hits just keep on coming . . . so many more concerts to like. If this is what the orchestra is rolling out for the 99th season, I shudder to think what they’ll do for their 100th Anniversary season.
Here’s a look at the conductors for the 2017/18 WDCH season and the 2017 Hollywood Bowl season, starting off with all of those currently holding official positions with the orchestra:
- Mr. Dudamel conducts 14 weeks of programs in Los Angeles (eleven at Walt Disney Concert Hall and three at the Hollywood Bowl), plus a two-week tour of Boston, Washington, DC, New York, London, and Paris in late April in May.
- In addition to the aforementioned world premieres by Messrs. Pereira and Salonen that he will conduct, Mr. Dudamel will also lead the world premiere of Danzón No. 9 by Arturo Márquez \ (Oct 15, 2017), part of “CDMX,” a festival celebrating Mexico City’s new music scene, both classical and popular, as part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative
- He also will appear on the Green Umbrella series leading the world premiere of Place, a major new work written by Mr. Hearne, with libretto co-written by Saul Williams and the composer; Patricia McGregor directs, and Beth Morrison Productions collaborates.
- Mr. Salonen’s appearances with his old band are always a treat, and the coming season is no exception: he will conduct a total of two weeks in February; in addition to the weekend spent conducting his own concertos, he’ll also lead three performances of a program featuring the Beethoven Violin Concerto, Selections from The Impresario by Mozart, and the most recent revision of his own Wing on Wing, a piece inspired by Walt Disney Concert Hall itself; Vilde Frang (violin), Kiera Duffy (soprano), and So Young Park (soprano) will be the soloists
- Ms. Mälkki opens her tenure as Principal Guest Conductor in very nice fashion, conducting a total of three regular subscription weekends plus a Green Umbrella concert
- She starts off in late October with the US premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Duende — The Dark Notes, featuring violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist, squeezed between two Berlioz works, the “Queen Mab” Scherzo and Symphonie fantastique;
- The following weekend she conducts Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- She then returns in January for the Bach/Zimmerman/Strauss concerts
- Closing out her first season, she leads the LA Phil New Music Group in the world premiere of a new work by Marcos Balter (another LA Phil commission), along with Francesca Verunelli’s Unfolding, Francesco Filidei’s Toccato, and Helmut Lachenmann’s Mouvement.
- Given Ms. Gražinytė-Tyla’s new role as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, it’s unclear if she will still hold an official position in LA at the end of the current season, but we’ll mention her here just in case.
- She gets one subscription week at WDCH in a program featuring Messiaen’s Un sourire (A Smile), the Weinberg Violin Concerto featuring the incomparable Gidon Kremer, and the Mahler 4th Symphony with Janai Brugger as soprano soloist.
- She also gets one night at the Hollywood Bowl conducting Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La mer, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Beatrice Rana as soloist), and Sibelius’s Scene with Cranes and Valse triste
- John Adams, composer and LA Phil Creative Chair, conducts only one night during the coming season: a Green Umbrella concert with two world premieres by Katherine Young and Andrew McIntosh, plus two other overtly political works by Julius Eastman and Salvatore Martirano
Three former titled conductors each spend a week at WDCH with the orchestra
- Zubin Mehta, the LA Phil’s esteemed former Music Director, returns for the second year in a row for four concerts of the Bruckner 9th Symphony and the Mozart 23rd Piano Concerto with Khatia Buniatishvili as soloist
- Lionel Bringuier, former Resident Conductor, leads a weekend of concerts full of Central European romantic works: the Tragic Overture by Brahms, the Bruch Violin Concerto featuring Martin Chalifour, the LA Phil’s Principal Concertmaster, and the 8th Symphony of Dvorák
- Former Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts the world premiere of a new work by Tania León (yet another LA Phil commission), Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”) with Hilary Hahn as violin soloist, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3
Noteworthy observations about other guest conductors:
- Some familiar faces that I’m most grateful are returning after more than one-year’s absence from the LA Phil podium: Charles Dutoit, James Conlon, Emmanuelle Haïm, and Herbert Blomstedt
- Other returning guest conductors, all of them very welcome: Matthias Pintscher, Itzhak Perlman, Andrew Manze, and Semyon Bychkov
- Most intriguing returning guest conductor: Teddy Abrams; if the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because the only other time he was scheduled to conduct the LA Phil was for a 2012 youth concert; since then, the 29-year old Berkeley, CA, native has made a name for himself as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra where he’s mapped out a rather ambitious 2017/18 schedule, especially given the relatively few number of concerts they present (check it out HERE)
- Carlos Miguel Prieto is the only conductor making his debut with the orchestra during the WDCH season, and he only gets a single night conducting a Green Umbrella concert as part of the CDMX festival; that said, it’s a doozy of a concert, with five world premieres from Édgar Guzmán, Juan Felipe Waller, Ivan Naranjo, Diana Syrse, and Alejandro Castaños, all of which are LA Phil commissions
- Other conductors appearing during the summer at the Hollywood Bowl but not at WDCH: Stéphane Denève, Ken-David Masur, Nicholas McGegan, Vasily Petrenko, Bramwell Tovey, and Krzysztof Urbański return; Karina Canellakis and Rafael Payare make their LA Phil debuts
- Frequent guest conductors who won’t be here this coming year (in no particular order): David Robertson, Christoph Eschenbach, Leonard Slatkin, MTT, Jaap van Zweden, Ludovic Morlot, and James Gaffigan
- Other conductors who haven’t conducted the LA Phil in a while (if at all) and still aren’t coming in 2017/18 (in declining order of my wistful longing for their return): Simon Rattle (sigh), Mariss Jansons, Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Jurowski, Valery Gergiev, Riccardo Muti, André Previn, Alan Gilbert, Daniel Barenboim, Paavo Järvi, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Riccardo Chailly, Kent Nagano, Antonio Pappano, Mark Elder, Ivan Fischer, Daniel Harding, Manfred Honeck, Myung Whun-Chung, and Daniele Gatti
- LA Phil musicians and Gustavo Dudamel: courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
- Yo-Yo Ma: courtesy of artist’s website
- Yefim Bronfman: courtesy of The New York Times
- Leila Josefowicz: courtesy of artist’s website
- Susanna Mälkki: courtesy of artist’s website
- Esa-Pekka Salonen: photo by Benjamin Ealovega
- Teddy Abrams: courtesy of artist’s website