The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its plans for the 2014-15 season today, marking the beginning of a discussion about the works on the docket. Conductor and music director John DeMain walked Isthmus through the season's highlights, providing insider commentary along the way.
DeMain emphasized one overarching theme, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Overture Hall, which he says "has changed our lives." Thus, the first of the eight programs (Sept. 19-21) will include Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 (the "Organ" Symphony), which the MSO performed during its first year in the venue. With it comes Frank Martin's colorful Concerto for Seven Winds and Richard Strauss' massive Also sprach Zarathustra, which also calls for an organ. DeMain stresses that the hall's great Klais organ is itself a focus of celebration.
At the season's conclusion (May 8-10) comes another work identified with Overture Hall's opening, Beethoven's glorious Ninth Symphony, coupled with Bernstein's elegant "Serenade After Plato's Symposium." Other concerts, such as the annual Christmas celebration (Dec. 5-7), follow established MSO traditions.
The most unconventional program of the season will come next spring (March 6-8). At these concerts the MSO will explore the work of three "exiles" from Nazi Europe: Franz Waxman, Miklós Rósa and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. They will each be represented by a formal "classical" work -- in Korngold's case, his Violin Concerto, with Daniel Hope as soloist -- and then by examples of their movie music from their new and influential lives in Hollywood. DeMain approaches this program seriously: "I don't consider this 'crossover' or 'pops' music," he says.
The appearance of guest soloists will be built into a number of themed programs, allowing the inclusion of notable but rarely heard works. At the concerts taking place Oct. 17-19, a suite from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake will yield to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Olga Kern as soloist, and Dmitri Shostakovich's highly individual Sixth Symphony. The following month (Nov. 7-9), a "Scandinavian" program will open with Grieg's Lyric Suite, then go on to Sibelius' dreamy Violin Concerto, with soloist Sara Chang, and the fiery Symphony No. 4, the "Inextinguishable," by Carl Nielsen.
Next winter (Feb. 13-15), Ingrid Fliter will play Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, framed by Benjamin Britten's masterpiece for strings, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, and Robert Schumann's innovative Fourth Symphony. As spring arrives (April 10-12), Madison's own Christopher Taylor will play Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 and a Bach concerto, prefacing to the noble Symphony No. 7 by the too-long-neglected Anton Bruckner.
DeMain notes that of the works programmed for the season ahead, no less than seven are pieces the orchestra has not played before, at least not according to its documented history. He sees their inclusion as part of his mission of expanding the repertoire. This is not only for the public, important as that is, but also for the orchestra, to allow them to widen their playing experience, especially when it comes to more recent literature.