The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced its 2014–15 season today, marking the orchestra’s 70th year, as well as the 40th anniversary of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. The ASO is a top-tier major orchestra that presents a wide range of musical, educational and outreach events every year, but the barometer of its long-term artistic health and well-being continues to be its classical subscription series, which in the new season spans from the last full week of September through the first week of June.
ASO music director Robert Spano will lead 10 of the 24 classical subscription weeks, plus a special concert with pianist Lang Lang. ASO principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles will conduct three concert series. Of the 11 guest conductors scheduled for the classical subscription concerts, four will be making either their ASO debuts or ASO subscription series debuts. Worth noting is that in addition to his many other conducting duties, newly appointed ASO assistant conductor Joseph Young will be responsible for serving as backup conductor for all 24 subscription concerts, in the event any of the scheduled conductors become indisposed at the 11th hour.
The season features three world premieres, two by Atlanta School of Composers stalwarts Christopher Theofanidis and Michael Gandolfi, and another by Jonathan Leshnoff, whose Flute Concerto was performed by the ASO in March. Also scheduled are first-time ASO performances of 11 works.
As was the case with the current season, the ASO plans to engage the audience with string programming out of the starting gate. The season will kick off on September 25 with Spano conducting music by Mozart and Richard Strauss, with pianist Jeremy Denk as guest soloist, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20.
For the next two weeks, Runnicles will lead a miniseries of all-Beethoven concerts. The first of those will offer up both guest pianist Jonathan Biss in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, plus a quartet of guest vocal soloists and the esteemed Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in his Symphony No. 9. The following week will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and his Violin Concerto featuring Nicola Benedetti, a Scottish violinist of Italian heritage, in her ASO debut.
Spano will return to the podium the following week, first with the one-night special with pianist Lang Lang, on Wednesday, October 15. The subscription concerts proper on that Thursday and Saturday will be the first of the season to bring 21st-century music to the stage with the Atlanta premiere of “Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!,” a duo concerto featuring ASO percussionists Thomas Sherwood and Charles Settle by Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman.
In addition to Sherwood and Settle, ASO musicians to be featured as soloists include concertmaster David Coucheron and principal clarinetist Laura Ardan, and both will also perform in a “concertante” solo group for the world premiere of Michael Gandolfi’s “Sinfonia Concertante” at the end of April along with principal oboe Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, principal horn Brice Andrus and the orchestra’s new, young principal bassoon, Keith Buncke. Also prominent among the home team forces, the ASO Chorus is scheduled to perform in four subscription concerts in all, apart from its annual cluster of holiday concerts in December.
Among the roster of visiting guest soloists, there will be a total of 10 pianists including Emanuel Ax, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Inon Barnatan, whose ASO debut as a last-minute substitute in 2013 proved stunning; six violinists, Lelia Josefowicz and Midori among them; cellist Lynn Harrell, guitarist Miloš Karadaglić, the flamboyant organist Cameron Carpenter and a bevy of vocal soloists including the familiar voices of regular guests soprano Jessica Rivera and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor. Five of the guest soloists will be making their ASO debuts.
The series of chamber concerts that have graced the stage at 6:45 p.m. before concerts on selected Thursdays will continue in the new season, free and open to ticket holders for the week’s subscription performances. The orchestra will also continue its practice of one-hour “First Friday” concerts at 6:30 p.m., essentially abbreviated versions of the week’s subscription performances held, as the name implies, on the first Friday of each month.
The season will conclude with an operatic heavy-hitter, the first ASO performance in concert of Saint-Saën’s “Samson et Dalila” during the first week of June, featuring mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as Delila, tenor Stuart Skelton as Samson and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as the High Priest.