When the New York Philharmonic announced this season’s programs, I immediately sought out what I didn’t want to miss. For starters: Mahler—I’ve sung in the chorus for Mahler symphonies and performed the songs from them, so Mahler Four (in March) and Two (in June) are on my Create Your Own subscription series. In the latter, I particularly look forward to hearing the jaunty tune about St. Anthony delivering a sermon to fish; Urlicht, sung by solo alto; and, in the glorious fifth movement, the soprano soloist joining the full chorus for the radiant Resurrection that gives the symphony its nickname.
Then, I began to wonder what members of the Philharmonic were particularly looking forward to playing, and why.
Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples is with me on Mahler’s Second, which will mark Jaap van Zweden’s final subscription concerts as the NY Phil’s Music Director. “Discovering Mahler in my teens was life-altering, as if a door was opened to appreciating a whole new dimension of music and humanity,” she recalls. “This monumental work is a profound journey for musicians and audience alike, and sure to be a very powerful and deeply moving experience with Jaap.”
Staples is also “thrilled to have the opportunity to perform Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with my wonderful colleague [Principal Viola] Cynthia Phelps. I particularly love the sentimental second movement, with its deep and beautiful melodies passed back and forth and intertwined between violin and viola.”
Speaking of Mozart, as a former oboe player I can’t wait to hear Liang Wang perform Mozart’s gorgeous concerto for that instrument. He’s played many concertos with the Philharmonic since becoming Principal Oboe in 2006, but this will be his first time with this one. “You kind of have to be perfect,” he says. No pressure there! He intends to write his own cadenzas — the virtuosic sections where the soloist gets to show off.
Wang is also looking forward to big works he thinks the Philharmonic does especially well, like Felix Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. That shares a program with a commission by Joel Thompson. Having heard Lawrence Brownlee sing the terrific songs that Thompson composed for him, I now want to hear everything Thompson writes.
Principal Cello Carter Brey joins the others in looking forward to another piece at the top of my own list: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, which I’ve loved ever since receiving a recording of it for my 21st birthday. The piece reminds Brey of his friend Konrad Wolff, the late pianist and musicologist. When Brey asked Wolff—who, like Bartók, fled Nazi-occupied Europe—what his favorite 20th-century composition was, Wolff “named the Bartók without hesitation. This was a statement by a fellow refugee that explores very dark corners of human experience, only to end with an overwhelming ‘yes’ to life.”
Brey is also excited about joining Concertmaster Frank Huang as soloists in the Brahms Double Concerto. “The printed music I’ll be using is the same part that I’ve owned since high school, and from which I’ve played in each of my many Philharmonic performances of it over the past 27 years. By now it looks like something fished out of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but I’ll never replace it.” The Brahms shares the program with another piece from my own list: Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano (Igor Levit, in these performances), Trumpet (Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin), and Strings, with its hilarious, silent-movie style race to the finish.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted such a great Philharmonic concert last season that I’ll be there when he conducts Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, plus the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with Sheku Kanneh-Mason as soloist. You may remember the cellist from the internationally televised wedding of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex; he has half a dozen recordings, and an impressive touring schedule. Stéphane Denève is conducting Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, featuring NY Phil organist Kent Tritle, which Sheryl Staples says is “one of those classic pieces that sounds familiar from beginning to end, even if you can’t quite place where you might have heard it. (Have you seen the movie Babe?) The organ’s grand entrance at the beginning of the last movement is just breathtaking, and I can’t wait to hear how it fills our new David Geffen Hall.”
I agree about the Organ Symphony—and about the new hall, which makes it a joy to listen to the extraordinary musicians of the New York Philharmonic.
What else is coming up this season at the New York Phil. Visit nyphil.org to learn more.
- Jaap van Zweden conducting works by composers he’s championed, from Steve Reich’s Jacob’s Ladder to the Mozart Requiem, and collaborating with NY Phil musicians as soloists, including Principal Trombone Joseph Alessi in a concerto by Tan Dun
- A focus on Ligeti on his centennial, which includes a US Premiere of one of his early pieces as well as Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s survey of his Études on Artist Spotlight
- The US Premiere of Émigré, an oratorio composed by Aaron Zigman with lyrics by Mark Campbell and Brock Walsh co-commissioned with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, in a semi-staged production
- Hilary Hahn as The Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence
- 14 World, US, and New York Premieres
- The celebration of the Young People’s Concerts at 100
Naomi Lewin is the former weekday afternoon music host on WQXR, where her show Classics for Kids airs on Saturday mornings, and has produced features for NPR and The Metropolitan Opera and hosted online programs for 92NY. She now hosts live events, performs as a narrator, and creates music podcasts.