Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The 2013/14 RSNO Season

Perhaps it's the fatigue of four programming announcements in eight days, but I'm afraid I can't get too excited about the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's 2013/14. In part, this may be because while a number of the individual works or concerts catch the eye, there is little by way of theme or overarching structure to tie them together.

The sole thematic exception is the programming of a number of works by Britten, including a his War Requiem, conducted by Peter Oundjian, who starts his second season, and featuring Susan Gritton among the soloists. This perhaps goes some way to explaining the absence of the work, and indeed the composer, from the Edinburgh festival this summer.

The Britten is not the only big outing for the RSNO Chorus. The other, which comes at the end of the season, is a performance of Mahler's titanic 8th symphony, again under Oundjian. That Erin Wall is singing will please those who recall her stunning voice when she sang it under Runnicles at the festival in 2010.

These are far from the only blockbusters in a season that is perhaps weighted too much towards favourites against more adventurous repertoire. So we will have Holst's Planets, Shostakovich's 5th symphony, Strauss's Heldenleben, Beethoven's Emperor concerto and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, among others. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it is a shame that more of these aren't used as lures for something a little further off the beaten track. There are a couple of notable exceptions, though, such as Susanna Mälkki's pairing of the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Circle Map and the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. Elsewhere Thomas Søndergård mixes Britten's violin concerto (and exciting soloist Vilde Frang) with Dvorak's 9th symphony and a new work by Brett Dean whom Edinburgh's more adventurous concert goers may remember from the opera Bliss which came to the festival a couple of years ago.

In general there is not a huge amount of new music: I count just five works by four living composers. That said, some that are there are exciting prospects: for me, Thomas Ades's exceptional violin concerto stands out among them. And in fairness this statistic does hide some works by composers not all that long dead. Kristjan Järvi's programme of Pärt and Ravi Shankar, featuring the latter's daughter Anoushka on sitar, looks especially interesting. Speaking of Järvi, it is a shame this is the first season I can remember without Järvi snr. Well, technically the second as ill health forced Neeme to withdraw from a concert last week. I hope he recovers and that we haven't seen the last of him on these shores.

Elsewhere, it's good to see the orchestra's talented principal flute Katherine Bryan get to shine with Nielsen's excellent concerto. Though sadly (or not, depending on your taste) it comes coupled with MacCunn 's The Land of the Mountain and the Flood. On a different note, I also look forward to hearing Søndergård take on Messiaen's Turangalîla symphony.

Often there are individual items in programmes that jump out at me, but somehow the concert as whole, much like the season, doesn't really seem to excite me all that much. It seems to be missing that extra sparkle. This somewhat mirrors my muted reaction to Peter Oundjian: while I find he turns in solid performances, he has not especially impressed me. In the interests of balance, it must be noted that if the press release is anything to go by, I'm in a minority here.

Still, you can make up your own mind tomorrow when the orchestra publishes full details (in a slightly odd move they stuck the press release on the website a day before the brochures - contrast this with the BBC who published everything to the public before they specifically told the press).

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