As many readers will doubtless be aware, the forthcoming 2011/12 season is Stéphane Denève's last as music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It is understandable, then, that his final season is something of a celebration of his tenure. More than just understandable, this is rather a good thing, for it is an excuse to do lots of what he does best: showcase French composers, both the familiar, such as Debussy, Berlioz and Ravel, and also the less so, such as Joseph Canteloube and the young Fabien Waksman.
Of these, centre stage goes to Claude Debussy, whose 150th anniversary coincides with Denève's departure. Rather than simply using this as an excuse to give us La mer and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (though both make an appearance), the conductor will present all of Debussy's orchestral works as well as making a studio recording for release next summer.
This is complimented by an Auld Alliance strand, tying together Scottish and French music and, at its best, music from one country inspired by the other (such as Berlioz's overture Rob Roy and Wallace's suite from Pelléas et Mélisande). I'm glad that the themes are stronger this year than last: great concertos and great symphonies were a bit too vague and generic. That said, I think it's a slight stretch to tie Mendelssohn's 3rd and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy into this one.
So, what of the actual individual concerts? While the TEN out of 10 strand doesn't appear to be explicitly present this year, the series lives on in spirit, such that to hear RSNO regular Nicola Benedetti play the aforementioned Bruch, and Denève conduct the Debussy's portrait of the sea, you will also have to live a little more adventurously, taking in the world premiere of Waksman's Le parfum d'Aphrodite which is apparently intended as a companion piece to La mer. There's also bagpipe fanfare and Debussy's Marche écossaise in that season opening concert.
Elsewhere, music director designate Peter Oundjian offers an interesting selection at the end of October: Mackenzie's Benedictus and Martinů's 6th symphony are paired with Mozart's ever popular requiem, giving us our first chance to hear how he does with the RSNO chorus (soloists include bass Matthew Rose).
The other big choral contribution, leaving aside the annual Messiah, comes in late March with Ein Deutsches Requiem. Most excitingly though, the baritone soloist is the superb Gerald Finley (if only he'd been on hand for Runnicles' recent performance). Lawrence Renes conducts, and also on the programme is Peter Lieberson's Songs of Love and Sorrow (a European premiere - again a bankable warhorse is paired with newer music).
Fine soloists are to be found throughout the season - in October Natalie Clein plays Haydn's 1st cello concerto, in January we get Hilary Hahn and Prokofiev's 1st violin concert, a week later Tasmin Little brings Elgar's violin concerto under the baton of Andrew Davis, while in December Steven Osborne joins Denève for not one, but two Shostakovich concerti, and in March Ingrid Fliter plays Chopin's 2nd piano concerto (and if the brief encore waltz we got from her last time is anything to go by, it should be a treat).
A few weeks later Neeme Järvi makes his annual visit for a programme that includes Sibelius's first symphony. Given how well he and the orchestra have performed with the composer the last few times they've tackled him, that alone makes it a must see. We also get Beethoven's second concerto with pianist Christian Blackshaw and McEwen's Where the Wild Thyme Blows.
There's more Sibelius on show from assistant conductor Christian Kluxen, who presents the 5th symphony as part of the Naked Classics series. Elsewhere Tomas Hanus serves up Dvořák's 6th, which, if not one of his most popular, for my money ranks amongst his finest.
The season ends where it began with a pair of concerts from Denève. In the first, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune is paired with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which should be well served by the conductor's flair for dramatic razzamatazz. Between them sits Barber's violin concerto which, after having heard the first movement at a competition this weekend, I'm more than curious to hear the rest of in the flesh. Soloist James Ehnes, who performed the Britten very well with not too long ago, adds to the appeal. Then, in the final concert, there is MacMillan's Britannia, Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel and finally Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (hopefully complete).
All told, it should be a fine season, and with luck the postman will be dropping the full brochure through your letterbox tomorrow (I'll add links to brochures and concert details once they're live on the RSNO website). It's all go for programme launches now: next week it's the turn of the International Festival, then at the end of the month the SCO, and finally (I assume, I don't have the date yet), in early April we find out where the man himself will be next year.