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thoughts on the upcoming season

As promised (or threatened), here are my thoughts on the upcoming 2011-2012 season which was just announced today (or yesterday, if you are an Oregonian reader).

To keep it simple, I’ll divide the comments into two sections – artists, and repertoire.


Renée Fleming - Photo: Andrew Eccles

The new season continues with the same level of A-list soloists, headlined by the reigning soprano of her generation, Renée Fleming (March 13, 2012). Her program has not yet been announced, but if it were to include Strauss’ Four Last Songs, I would be in heaven, closely followed by Canteloube’s Chants d’ Auvergne. Whatever she does, it will be great, and fill the hall, so it matters little to me that the program is unknown at this time.

Dawn Upshaw - Photo: Dario Acosta

Continuing in the soprano vein, Dawn Upshaw (October 1, 2011) appears with the Oregon Symphony for the first time in my 15 years with the orchestra, and she’s singing one of the great 20th century vocal masterpieces: Britten’s Les Illuminations. I’ve always wanted to hear this live, and I especially love the version for soprano voice.  She also will sing a selection of songs from the American Songbook, at which she excels.

Elina Vähälä - Photo: Laura Liihelä

It’s always a pleasure to welcome Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä (September 24, 2011) back to Portland, especially after last season’s extraordinary performances of the Britten Violin Concerto. She opens the season’s Classical series with Prokofiev’s wonderful Violin Concerto No. 2 (one of my all-time favorites).

Alban Gerhardt

Cellist Alban Gerhardt (November 19, 2011) returns to the Schnitz after several years’ absence, and he brings with him one of the towering edifices of the cello repertoire, Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto. Many of you may not have had a chance to get to know this piece, written for Rostropovich (who made an unequalled recording of it), but it is absolute mayhem and beauty for the cello and orchestra. Not to be missed!

Joshua Bell

Violin superstar Joshua Bell (January 14, 2012) returns again next season, and plays another relative rarity at the Schnitz, Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. If you enjoyed the First Cello Concerto that Yo-Yo Ma performed this season, you will also very much like the violin concerto, which follows a similar formal layout, with a huge solo violin cadenza in the middle of the piece.

Yefim Bronfman

Pianist Yefim Bronfman (October 8, 2011) returns after his stunning performance of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto last season, and he brings one of my all-time favorite piano concertos, the First Concerto of Johannes Brahms. I wish that he’d bring the Salonen Piano Concerto, but I’ll take anything that this amazing artist will bring to us!


I’m very much looking forward to returning to a piece that was a calling card, or signature piece, if you will, of the orchestra under James DePriest, and that is Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony (September 24, 2011). It will be interesting to see how Carlos puts his stamp on this apotheosis of the romantic orchestral symphony, and see how this orchestra plays it after eight years of continued artistic growth. And of course, principal clarinet Yoshinori Nakao’s sublime slow movement solos.

Christopher Rouse is known for writing music that deliberately sets out to debilitate an orchestra, and his work Phaethon (November 19, 2011) is perhaps one of his most difficult pieces for orchestra. Indeed, the story goes, he set out to make Phaethon the most difficult to play orchestral piece ever written. Gulp!

I’m intrigued by the concerto that concertmaster Jun Iwasaki plays with us next season – the other Bruch Violin Concerto: No. 2. (February 4, 2012)

I’ve always been a big fan of the music of Benjamin Britten, so I’m thrilled that we’re finally performing his Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from his opera Peter Grimes. Just amazing music. Also on this program, one of my favorite symphonies, Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. (May 12, 2012)

Dmitri Shostakovich is another composer of whom I very fond, and so it’s a great thing that we’ve got the work that features his huge and terrifying scherzo portrait of Josef Stalin, his Symphony No. 10. It should blow the roof off the Schnitz! (March 31, 2012)

It’s been a while since we’ve done Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, here played by violinist Karen Gomyo, who I first encountered at the Cascade Festival of Music, where she performed the Beethoven straight out of her studies at Juilliard and the Aspen Festival. On the same program is Carl Nielsen‘s powerful Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable”.  If you liked his Sixth Symphony this season, you will love the Fourth, which very prominently features our new principal timpanist Jonathan Greeney.

Music of ABBA (January 27, 2012). What more can I say? Love it!