One of the things I most like about Donald Runnicles as a musician is his ability to surprise me. Take, for example, his recording of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It's a piece we all know backwards, so to make it sound as fresh as he does is quite something. I mention it because on Monday morning I was having some random guesses as to what might be in the 2010/11 BBC SSO season. I felt pretty confident there'd be lots of Mahler (it is a double anniversary year after all). There isn't. But there's a lot of other great stuff instead.
Something I did see coming, and anyone who's listened to the interview will have, is concert opera. The season opens with Wagner's Die Walkure albeit, unfortunately, only Act I. Still, mustn't quibble - a whole act of Wagner from one of the leading interpreters is not to be sniffed at. It is preceded by Sibelius's violin concerto with soloist Janine Jansen. Both Jansen and Runnicles return a week later (Glasgow only) for the Brahms concerto and the Eroica.
As last year, the BBCSSO is venturing into Edinburgh in its regular season. It's still a fairly limited selection but probably contains the top highlights, and it is good that two concerts last season have become three. It is my firm hope that by the time Runnicles stands down, may that be many years hence, the BBC Scottish are playing a full season in Edinburgh. The gem of the Edinburgh concerts, and indeed, the season, is the February performance of Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, preceded by Haydn's 44th symphony. Anyone who wants a taste can pop over to the Berlin Philharmonic's digital concert hall and hear the performance he gave there in December. This marks the continuation of the in season collaboration with the Festival Chorus which Runnicles initiated and which he confirmed in the interview would continue. And in what style! The final Edinburgh performance comes in April in a programme of Adams, Mahler's Ruckertlieder with Karen Cargill, and Brahms 2. It's a slight shame that Edinburgh and Perth audiences do not get a repeat of Stuart MacRae's Homage a Brahms which will have received its world premiere in the Glasgow concert a few days early. This is as puzzling as it is disappointing.
Runnicles makes his final appearance with a French programme including Ravel, Debussy and Dutilleux. It culminates in Bolero - can he convince me in a work that all too often reminds me of Chinese water torture?
But there's much more than just Runnicles going on (at least, for those not in Edinburgh), a whole ten other Thursday evening concerts. Principal Guest Conductor Ilan Volkov's programmes look especially inviting. In December he gives us Britten's double concerto for violin and viola along with Elgar's 2nd symphony, while in May he rounds off the season with the Emperor concerto and Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony. Volkov has repeatedly shown himself to be a dab hand with Bruckner (he did a fine 2nd at the 2006 festival and an even finer 9th a year ago), so the 5th symphony in January should be worth hearing.
It is, of course, the orchestra's 75th birthday, and, one day out, comes a celebratory concert. Brabbins conducts and begins with the world premiere of a work by Helen Grime, whose compositions have impressed me before. Nicola Benedetti is on hand for the Beethoven violin concerto and the finale is Walton's 1st symphony. This is one of several concerts in the season going out live. Earlier in the year Brabbins will already have performed Walton 2.
Other points of interest include Andrew Manze taking up his post as Associate Guest Conductor with a programme including another new Homage a Brahms, this time from Sally Beamish, Mozart's 17th concerto and Brahms 4. Later in the season he's back for the Symphonie Fantastique - will this afternoon performance hold a candle to Runnicles' barnstorming effort of over a year ago (bafflingly unbroadcast at the time of writing). Stephen Osborne is on hand for Britten's piano concerto in November. Given the quality of his recording of the work (made with the BBC Scottish, but with Volkov conducting rather than Sinaisky for the concert), this should be something special. Then there is the intriguing prospect of a complete performance, the first, of James Dillon's cycle Nine Rivers. Finally, March brings trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger for both Haydn's concerto and Birtwistle's Endless Parade.
The season also marks the introduction of Matthias Pintscher as Artist in Association. Interestingly, his programme doesn't feature any of his compositions but instead Messiaen's Un Sourire and Stravinsky's Pulcinella.
Meanwhile, away from the concert hall, BBC Two Scotland are making a four part series focusing on various aspects of the orchestra: conductors (following Runnicles, Volkov and assistant Jessica Cottis), soloists, composers and orchestral players. These will then be carved up into twelve ten minute films which will be made available online for anyone to access.
As ever, it's a compelling line-up, and one that makes me wish I didn't have to be so picky in my choices (since getting over to Glasgow for a concert is a bit of a hassle and an added expense).
And if you live further afield than I do, don't totally despair, some of you may catch the October Austro-German tour with Runnicles and Jensen (doubtless including some of the works they will have played here shortly before).
It has to be said that, now we have all three orchestras published, there is a lot of good stuff and it's a compelling year all round. Sadly, though, none of them have brought back Rachel Barton Pine for me. Somebody, please! We'll give you a prize (not sure what it would be, and certainly no direct monetary value, but even so).
You may well get the brochure through your letterbox in the next day or so, otherwise, why not just download them here: Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. There's also a video on their site complete with the studio announcement for their first broadcast all those years ago (they don't make announcers like that anymore!).
In the meantime, we have the Festival to look forward to, not to mention the Proms, where I gather very exciting things are happening (but we won't know exactly what until 22nd April).
Yes, the Bolero programming makes me wince too!
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