Recap: January 2016


Jaap van Zweden will succeed Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic in 2018.

A big month in classical music news. In Chicago:

  • Lyric Opera has announced its 2016/17 season, with its usual emphasis on meaty 19th-century repertoire. Highlights include the beginning of Lyric’s new Ring cycle with October’s Das Rheingold, the Lyric premiere (!) of Berlioz’s Les Troyens in November, a new production of The Magic Flute, and the Chicago premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird in March, coproduced with Harris Theater. Subscriptions go on sale tomorrow, February 1.
  • The CSO also announced its 2016/17 season this month. Like previous seasons, most of the offbeat programming comes not from commissions and new works, but explorations of lesser-known (and usually Italian) composers. That’s not to say, however, that the new season offers nothing by way of new music: Four new pieces are scheduled to be premiered by the CSO, including a cello concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen that was co-commissioned by the CSO, the New York Philharmonic, the Barbican Centre, and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. (Yo-Yo Ma will premiere the work at Symphony Center in March 2017.) Other highlights include an ongoing celebration of Prokofiev’s 125th birthday year, a visit by the Budapest Festival Orchestra and music director Iván Fischer, a two-piano Chamber Series recital with Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes, and a complete Beethoven piano concerto cycle. In and outside of Chicago, the CSO will also continue its community outreach concerts, including a new series at Wheaton College.

Both entities, on the whole, seem to be plugging in much the same creative direction as last season—which is to be expected—but their programming already seems more promising than 15/16 did this time last year. Autumn couldn’t come sooner, but first…

  • …a promising summer line-up is slated for the Grant Park Music Festival’s 2016 season. A bouquet of artists and pieces both familiar and new enliven the season, including a weeklong Marin Alsop residency, an appearance by the Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine, a world premiere by Michael Gandolfi and regional premiere by Aaron Jay Kernis, and finally, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust as a riotous season closer.
  • Ravinia—or, as I call it, Chicago Pops—has also announced its CSO residency season. Its opener includes the American premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto, as performed by Nicola Benedetti. (The rest of that concert has yet to be programmed.) Also appearing are Alisa Weilerstein, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniil Trifonov, Jeffrey Kahane, Paul Lewis, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, and Lynn Harrell.


A little ways to the east, the New York Philharmonic named Jaap van Zweden as its next music director, set to succeed Alan Gilbert in 2018. The news came to some as a surprise, though I’d say it was hardly a shock. Once Salonen was out—taking the press with him—just about any name tossed around would seem unassuming in comparison.

Though a regular in Chicago, Van Zweden has eluded me: He withdrew from the orchestra’s October 2014 performance of Mahler 5, necessitating a last-minute program shuffle and podium substitution by Donald Runnicles. What I’ve heard of van Zweden has only come in the form of many a YouTube recording.

What will be most interesting is to observe how the artistic direction of the NY Phil shifts. Though I often found him underwhelming on the podium, Gilbert certainly succeeded in striking a tactful balance between new repertoire and standard fare. I don’t doubt that Van Zweden can bring the intensity to the podium—but it remains to be seen if can he bring the innovation with him, too.

That being said, it begs to be remembered, especially for the initiates among us, that music directors are not just tapped by symphony presidents and bigwigs: They’re hand-selected by the musicians. As much as the critic in me can’t resist sounding off on the NY Phil’s selection, another part of me—the ensemble violinist, no doubt—finds over-analysis tiresome and borderline presumptuous.

The musicians know who they want; they’ve played enough times with each of the serious candidates to know when the chemistry works, and when it’s not there. I trust their judgment above all else.

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