Developing programmes is perhaps one of the most rewarding tasks of any symphony orchestra in the world: expanding the canon of performing repertoire and offering new, pleasing narratives to the repertoire demanded by presenters and audiences. For 2019-20, the Wiener Symphoniker, under their Chief Conductor Philippe Jordan, aim to mark out the journey through their season's programmes anew, with milestones - and thereby visiting stimulating islands of interest along the way.
The objective is to present works whose premieres or rediscovery triggered something further, whose artistic and creative radiance released an aesthetic impulse that has forever changed the way we hear music; which sparked discussion on the podium as much as in the public; which renegotiated the idea of what music can and should be, and thus greatly influencing what we now regard as the course of music history. In some cases, these milestones served to form national schools and motivated the next generation to absorb the shockwaves - and to chafe against them. And so the season programme begins with a palpable Parisian scandal from 1913. While, in Vienna, the 'Watschenkonzert' caused a furore, the world premiere of Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring' redefined just how much of the rhythmically archaic a score can withstand.
In 1823, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was given a manuscript of the St. Matthew Passion by his grandmother. Six years later, his revival performance of the work heralded in a Bach Renaissance. Philippe Jordan traverses the arc from Bach to 'choral stronghold' with Mendelssohn’s 'Reformation' Symphony.
The youngest German General Music Director, Joana Mallwitz, examines the German non-conformist, Richard Wagner, with the 'Siegfried-Idyll' flowing into the first act of ‘Die Walküre'; and the young American Robert Trevino reassesses the Fifth Symphony by Mahler, whose 'Resurrection' Symphony and 'Symphony of a Thousand' under Chief Conductor Philippe Jordan close the season.
It was not ashes that shaped Jean Sibelius, father of Finnish music, but rather fire - here 'stoked' by the young Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali. 'Finlandia' is part of the Finnish national identity, and Sibelius's Symphony No. 1 of 1899 was a success from the beginning, and a turning point in Finnish music.
Jakub Hrůša, one of the Czech Republic's leading young conductors, traces the influence of Bohemian and Moravian folk music upon the works of his compatriots Antonín Dvořák and his son-in-law Josef Suk, and on the fantastically musical maverick, Leoš Janáček. And the Wiener Symphoniker begin Beethoven Year 2020 with the great Beethoven Academy of 1808, whose duration continues to blast open our understanding today of what a typical concert length should be..
Kent Nagano places Béla Bartók’s 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' between Jörg Widmann and Johannes Brahms - a work of such compositional sophistication that it remains one of the pinnacles of 20th century music.
American milestones feature on the French conductor Ludovic Morlot's programme, with Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein's 'Serenade' and Aaron Copland’s 'Appalachian Spring'. And conducts Johannes Brahms's 'Ein deutsches Requiem', which was the target of criticism from some who felt it took too many liberties with the biblical word. Nevertheless, it brought the ambitious young composer his breakthrough. He was less concerned with Purgatory than with the sorrow and consolation of the living.
Alban Berg's Violin Concerto finds a brilliant interpreter in Frank Peter Zimmermann, who surely will revel in the symbolic power of this milestone.
The Russian-Finnish newcomer Dima Slobodeniouk, on the other hand, contrasts two works expressing the horrors of the Second World War: Richard Strauss's swansong 'Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings' from the last days of the war in 1945, and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13, which references the Babi Yar massacre of 1941.