By Karl Henning
James Levine and Mark Volpe of the Boston Symphony Orchestra met with the press at Symphony Hall in Boston on Feb. 19, 2009 to announce both the maestro’s course of 14 concerts for the 2009-10 Symphony Hall season, and the release of recordings documenting the current musical partnership.
One bittersweet touch at Opening Night relates to the retirement this August of harpist Ann Hobson Pilot: she will be the featured soloist, playing a John Williams commission, On Willows and Birches, on Opening Night (23 Sept.), again in New York’s Carnegie Hall for its Opening Night gala (1 Oct), and again in Boston (3 Oct).
Other premieres to awaken at Levine’s baton over the coming season will include: Peter Lieberson’s Farewell Songs for baritone and orchestra, sung by acclaimed Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley; a Double Concerto for violin & cello by John Harbison, with soloists Vera Wang & Jan Vogler; and a Flute Concerto by Elliott Carter, featuring Elizabeth Rowe, the BSO’s Principal Flutist.
Indeed, fans of the centenarian composer have the pleasure of three Carter works next season — the others being Mosaic for harp and ensemble, and Dialogues for piano and orchestra. The overall sense of celebrating the jubilee was subtly underscored by the room’s décor, a collection of photos and MS. pages of score dedicated to Mr Carter. (One group photo which it was poignant to regard yesterday showed the late Lukas Foss standing at the right, in evident high spirits.)
Maestro Levine managed the subtle wizardry of announcing something which is in principle something of a commonplace, as somehow a novelty; for one of the anchors of his 14-concert season is a complete traversal of the Beethoven symphonies to be performed in tight succession over four programs, between October 22 and November 7.
The senses in which this is “a first” are perhaps technicalities: this marks the first time that the BSO will have performed all nine in a single season; and in the tangled skein of how various pieces have gotten programmed over the decades of the maestro’s career, somehow Levine has never yet conducted the Fourth Symphony.
all Levine’s B.S.O. concerts have been recorded
It has been no secret that all of Levine’s concerts with the Boston Symphony have been meticulously recorded. It has also been apparent to many concert-goers that the orchestra has been making some exciting music over this time. In future, this will probably be praised as sound marketing acumen, for anticipation has certainly created some fund of demand. Then, too, this is all the more reason for the maestro and Mr. Volpe to get the roll-out right.
Mr Levine recounted that, as they were planning the method of the recordings’ availability, there was some suggestion that all should be download-only. Levine succeeded in lobbying for the release of two of the titles on compact disc.
Why the delay, when the orchestra has flourished in its partnership with Levine, and has been on an arc of clear ascent? Before digging into the question of specific releases, Levine wanted to build a rapport with the group. The maestro then told out three ruling criteria behind the specific programs:
- He wanted to release repertory for which there is not already a glut of available recordings.
- As Levine succinctly put it, “When did we have a really exciting night in the Hall?”
- Levine wanted at the outset that the recordings made available should include some of the new music being written for the Boston Symphony.
Brahms and Ravel CDs released; download Mahler and Bolcom
Thus, the two compact discs hot off the press (and also available as downloads): Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (recorded September 08), and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, complete (recorded October 07). The two programs released yesterday for download only: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony (recorded October 08) and two works by William Bolcom, the Eighth Symphony and the Lyric Concerto for flute and orchestra (recorded February/March 08 and September 06, respectively).