Revisiting New Music at the Philadelphia Orchestra

First, a correction: in this post, I listed works by Higdon, Torke, and Salonen as the only pieces by living composers during next year’s Philadelphia Orchestra season. I omitted a work by Lorenzo Palomo, whose Nocturnos de Andalucia will be performed. Apologies to the Philadelphia and Mr. Palomo.

Second, by way of comparison: The New York Philharmonic will perform seven works by living composers during subscription concerts next season, plus six more on special “Contact” new music concerts. In addition, although he is technically deceased and therefore not a living composer (at least not on this planet), the Philharmonic will also play Stockhausen’s Gruppen as a special event. The San Francisco Symphony will also play seven pieces by living composers on regular concerts – but they will additionally do a good bit more as part of next year’s iteration of the “American Mavericks” festival, which will also tour. Visiting orchestras to Davies Hall in SF seem to play a lot of new music as well, including the Philadelphia Orchestra’s presentation of a work by Behzad Ranjbaran.

Now, four pieces by living composers is about four more than a great many orchestras in this country will play next season, and as a composer and a concertgoer I am grateful for these four. Yet, I do hope the Philadelphia will increase its presentations of new music as Yannick settles in.

New Music at Philadelphia Orchestra 2011-2012

The season announcement for the Philadelphia Orchestra has come out. There are plenty of appealing concerts, but it is rather slim pickings for new music. From what I can see, next season includes:

-Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Higdon Concerto for Orchestra, Dec. 8 through 11. This is the piece that helped rocket Jennifer to fame thanks not only to its intrinsic qualities, but to the fact that it was premiered by the Philadelphia the week what was then called the American Symphony Orchestra League was having its convention in Philadelphia.

Michael Torke’s Ash, with David Zinman conducting January 6 – 8. I think this is the first time Michael’s music is being played by the Orchestra.

Esa-Pekka Salonen presenting his own Violin Concerto, with Leila Josefowicz soloist, March 29-31.

And that is about it as far as living composers. This is another transitional year for the orchestra, of course, and I would guess there will be a little more new music as Yannick settles in – I certainly hope so.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

I was pleased to see Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s picture on the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning, not just because of the news that he is becoming the Philadelphia orchestra’s new music director, but because of the prominent and extensive coverage the news received. In addition to his picture on the front page above the fold, there is more than a full page inside the first section. You can read Inquirer coverage here, with comment by Inquirer critics Peter Dobrin and David Patrick Stearns.

I haven’t heard Maestro Nézet-Séguin conduct, but the buzz seems mostly positive, and I am just relieved to know that there will be a new director in place.

I haven’t had a chance to research this, but on the basis of past performances, how much new music can we expect the new director to program? has he ever conducted a piece by a living American? He did a Vivier piece in Philly not so long ago, which is a good sign, but does his repertoire – described as wide-ranging in the Inquirer – include music by living composers? More on this later.

Update: view the Nézet-Séguin discography here. While the repertoire there is not so interesting (two Nino Rota recordings?), his concert repertoire is, of course, more broad, with a wide range of standard repertoire and a bit of new music: pieces by Kurtag, Gubaidulina, Messiaen, Theo Verbey, as well as some other composers whose names I did not recognize. It is worth remembering that Riccardo Muti came to Philadelphia without much experience of doing new music, or new American music – but that changed when he got here.

Update #2: more from David Patrick Stearns, and from Tim Smith (includes video), and Anne Midgette.

Update #3 – a discussion of the appointment on WHYY’s Radio Times, with critics from Philadelphia and Montreal as well as the chair of the Orchestra’s board of directors.