Today marks the announcement Peter Oundjian's first season as music director of the RSNO. There are certainly a number of interesting concerts on the cards, though personally I would like to see more of a sense of curation, with themes running more strongly through the season.
The closest it comes to this, is the emphasis on American music to be found in a pair of concerts in February and April. In the first, Oundjian brings the overture to Bernstein's Candide, Gershwin's piano concerto in F and, most enticingly for me, Adams' Harmonielehre. The second sandwiches piano concertos by Barber and Copland between the latter's Appalachian Spring and Adams' Dr Atomic Symphony. This last is a superb piece, but then it helps that I am a fan of the opera it is drawn from. The symphony works well, or at least it did when I heard the composer conduct it with the LSO, most notably when the aria based on Donne's Batter my heart is transferred to the trumpet.
The season opens with a pair of concerts from Oundjian, the first combining Tchaikovsky's violin concerto with Shostakovich's 11th symphony The Year of 1905, the second mixing Britten's Four Sea Interludes with Brahms' 1st symphony. I'm particularly looking forward to the Shostakovich as it is probably my favourite of his symphonies.
Among the more interesting items, in March we get Smetana's Ma vlast. What makes it interesting is that Oundjian will, as he apparently has in Toronto, pair the work with photographic projections (or photochoreography as the programme terms it) by James Westwater. I don't know how effective that will be or whether it will add anything, but I'll be interested to see one way or the other.
New music seems a little thin on the ground and although there is actually more by living composers than last year, we are a far cry for the Ten out of 10 series. Aside from the two Adams pieces, there is Swedish composer B Tommy Andersson's The Garden of Delights, Thomas Adès's Dances from Powder Her Face and Victoria Borisova-Ollas's Open Ground. I rate Adès highly, but I don't think Powder Her Face is his finest musical hour. Andersson and Borisova-Ollas form part of a Swedish trio with Lars-Erik Larsson's En Vintersaga. (Borisova-Ollas is originally from Russia but now settled in Sweden.) Larsson's composition doesn't really rate as new music, having been composed around seventy-five years ago, though since it will be unfamiliar, the orchestra deserves points. However, it is a shame they haven't tapped compatriot Anders Hillborg whose compositions have impressed me greatly.
It seems we cannot have a Scottish orchestral season where none of the three bands does Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Indeed, November's performance will be by my reckoning the 4th the Usher Hall has heard in two years (the second by the RSNO). I love the piece, but enough already, you're going to wear it out. True, it will be interesting to have it undressed as part of Paul Rissmann's Naked Classics series, but after this can we put it to bed for a while. The other two concerts in the series feature Stravinsky's The Firebird and de Vlieger's orchestral abridgement of Wagner's Ring, the latter will see Rissmann tread dangerously close to the late great Deryck Cooke's toes.
Several concerts are conducted by new principal guest conductor Thomas Søndergård. One pairs Mahler with Sibelius's 2nd symphony (hopefully memories of Nelsons' festival performance with the CBSO will not still be too fresh), the other Dvořák's cello concerto with Stravinsky's Petrouchka (he also conducts the above mentioned Berlioz). The Dvořák is particularly nice to see as it marks the return to Scotland of Truls Mørk, who back in 2009 had to pull out of a performance of the Elgar concerto due to illness, to such an extent that it was uncertain he would be able to play again. We're delighted he has recovered and is returning here.
Also of interest is Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, played by Miloš Karadaglić, though the Respighi and Martucci that join it in Gilbert Varga's programme are less compelling.
Regular guests such as Neeme Järvi and Andrew Davis return. The former with Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto (with Nikolai Lugansky) and Tchiakovsky's Manfred Symphony, while Davis brings Mendelssohn's Elijah. This provides some meat for the RSNO chorus, as does Carl Orff's popular Carmina Burana (under Oundjian). They also have the annual performance of Handel's Messiah (for reasons unclear to me, moved to March, which I'm afraid does not make it any more attractive to me). However, for me the chorus's most interesting outing comes in the season finale, where Oundjian conducts Walton's score to the film Henry V (joined by an as yet unnamed "guest actor", meaning presumably they haven't managed to book anyone yet).
All in all, while there are some interesting things, and will doubtless be some fine concerts, it is not the most compelling season the RSNO have announced in recent years.
Full details should be on the RSNO website soon. Unfortunately they appear to have had their launch this evening and left their website in an odd limbo with just the barest minimum of details of upcoming concerts. (Links to the season brochures and website will be added once they are available.)
And here's the link to the RSNO announcement and separately the actual listings. Brochures are to be found here (and here are direct links to Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow). As was the case last year, Aberdeen is a joint series with the SCO.