Letter from Maestro

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I have the pleasure this year of welcoming you to the concerts of not one but TWO great orchestras. The amazing new Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will launch its second season, hot-on-the-heels of a triumphant eleven-day, five-city June tour of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, its “parent” organization, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, will be celebrating its 35th season, and I will be marking 50 years of living in Boston, as well as my 75th birthday in March.  It’s a time for me to look back in gratitude for five decades of joy, musical friendships and stimulation in this great city and to look forward to what is to come. 
 
The two orchestras have become amalgamated in my mind as one huge project on which I am now focusing most of my musical energies, but let me separate them as I describe their individual seasons. Get out your diary!
 
The Boston Philharmonic season will begin with Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, which was postponed from that terrible day when Boston was locked down in the wake of the Marathon tragedy. Because the performance last April was sold out four weeks in advance, we have decided to perform the Beethoven twice in Symphony Hall – on September 30th and October 4th – and in Worcester’s Mechanic’s Hall on October 3rd. The Boston Philharmonic, Chorus pro Musica and four soloists will raise the roof and the spirits of everyone present with that most glorious celebration of the brotherhood of Mankind.
 
The season proper begins with two monumental Russian works: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a great favorite of mine that has been absent from our programs for more than fifteen years, and a newcomer to our repertoire, Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto. I have waited a long time to find the right pianist for this work. I met Jue Wang, the soloist, when I conducted a concert with him earlier this year in the Dominican Republic. As soon as we started playing Rachmaninoff together, I knew I had found the pianist with the scorching technique and the refined artistry to tackle the Prokofiev - a work that is often called the most technically difficult piano concerto in the concert repertoire. I invited him that very evening to play the Prokofiev with the BPO and he accepted on the spot, informing me that he would have to rearrange a concert trip to Vienna for the honor of making his debut with the BPO in Boston! The winner of the prestigious Santander International Piano Competition, Jue is already emerging as a new star in the classical music firmament. It is always so exciting to introduce a phenomenal new artist to Boston audiences.
 
Another exciting newcomer to Boston will be the soloist at the second concert. Patricia Kopatchinskaja was recommended to me by one of my most musically knowledgeable friends, a man not given to hyperbole: “This is the most extraordinary new violinist I have heard in twenty years, you’ve got to hear her!” he told me over the phone. And I did hear her. I went on the web that evening and listened to all her recordings, including the most ravishing and authentic Bartok violin concerto I have ever heard. She combines a Heifetz-like technique with the daring abandon of a Hungarian gypsy fiddler. I called her agent in London at 4 am the next morning and booked her to play the Bartok with us in November. From a family of Moldavian folk musicians, she plays with a passion that seems to burn out of her violin. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. She is already a star in Europe, playing in a different city almost every night. This will be her American debut and I feel as excited as I did when Yo-Yo Ma came to play with us for the first time when he was an unknown sophomore at Harvard! Also on the program are Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz and Brahms’s Second Symphony, which we performed at the very first BPO concert 35 years ago, and which is one of my all-time favorite symphonic works.
 
The experience of performing the Bruckner Seventh with the BPO more than 30 years ago started me on a life-long love affair with Bruckner. It will be a thrill to perform, and hear, this profound and deeply moving work in Symphony Hall, where Bruckner’s cathedral-like sonorities and vast arching phrases can be heard to full advantage. Mozart’s monumental C Major Piano Concerto K503 is the perfect companion piece. Robert Levin, the undisputed monarch of Mozart scholarship, returns to the BPO after a long hiatus to dazzle and amaze with his improvised-on the-spot cadenzas and his uncanny insights into Mozart’s style – with Bob Levin it always seems as though Mozart himself were sitting at the keyboard!
 
The final concert of the season will be Mahler’s Ninth. People often ask me which is my favorite piece of music. I am unable to answer that, but I often reply that if I had to choose just one work to conduct before I die, it would be Mahler’s Ninth – the work that launched the Boston Philharmonic’s birth 35 years ago and that has been ever since a cornerstone of my performing repertoire ever since, with many orchestras around the world. It will be a special treat to perform it at last in Symphony Hall with my beloved Boston Philharmonic, now at the very peak of its game!
 
Remember that each Boston Philharmonic concert is preceded by a pre-concert talk in which I prepare the members of the audience, whatever their age or musical experience, to listen to the music in as deep and connected a way as possible.  I cannot emphasize enough how this enriches the experience for the performers as well, because it provides the musicians with an audience to play for that is prepared, informed and engaged. It makes for a rich and rewarding experience for all.
   
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The season of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra takes place entirely in Symphony Hall. Oh yes, there will also be a couple of run-outs to the acoustically perfect Mechanics Hall in Worcester in March and to the Mecca of classical music in the United States, Carnegie Hall, in November! Those lucky kids!
 
Their first concert begins with that most dramatic of overtures, Verdi’s Forza del Destino, followed by two movements of local composer Michael Gandolfi’s 
colorful and highly original The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. The brilliant pianist Christopher O’Riley, who played several times with the Boston Philharmonic while he was a chamber music student of mine at New England Conservatory way back when, returns to play Ravel’s Piano Concerto with the Youth Orchestra, having become one of the most cherished figures in the world of music for young people, as the host of the popular Radio show From the Top. And to round off that program:  possibly the most popular symphony of the twentieth century, Shostakovich’s Fifth, whose poignant and universal cry for freedom from oppression always has tremendous significance and resonance for an orchestra of young people.
 
For the second program they will play Mozart’s sparkling Marriage of Figaro overture and the violin concerto of Samuel Barber (who also celebrates his birthday on March 9th) followed by Mahler’s Fifth. The soloist in the Barber Violin Concerto is the preternaturally elegant and heartfelt 20-year-old Max Tan, a member of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and an undergraduate student of stem cell biology at Harvard. That program will be heard on March 7 in Symphony Hall and on March 9 in Mechanics Hall. I cannot imagine anything more joyful and gratifying than spending my 75th birthday with the wonderful kids of the BPYO and my beloved Gustav Mahler!
 
For their third concert there will be works offering differing musical perspectives on Spain from three countries: Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole; Ginastera’s Harp Concerto and Strauss’s Don Quixote. Two of the most brilliant young musicians that I have watched grow up in this area over my 50 years in Boston, both members of the new Youth Orchestra, will be the soloists. 17-year-old Anna Deloi, will play the colorful and rhythmically intoxicating Ginastera Harp Concerto and 19-year-old NEC Freshman cellist Jonah Ellsworth will play the title role in Strauss’s profound portrait of the Don.
 
We cannot wait to share the beauty, the excitement, the passion and the glory of this music with YOU!
 
Benjamin Zander