Tuesday 25 March 2014

The 2014/15 RSNO Season

Today the RSNO launched its 2014/15 season, Peter Oundjian's 3rd as music director. Much of the programme leaves me fairly cold, mainly because thus far Oundjian has not impressed me. But there are a fair few things that do catch my eye.

To start with the positives, the orchestra also continues its collaboration with Thomas Søndergård who most certainly has impressed me (most recently with a dazzling account of Messiaen's Turangalîla symphony). I look forward to hearing him take on Strauss's Metamorphosen and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique (though he will have his work cut out equalling the account Edinburgh audiences were treated to by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarians last festival).

Søndergård is also at the centre of a strand that marks the 150th anniversary of both Sibelius and Nielsen. I am a great fan of both composers and wish we heard more of both of them here. That said, I'm a little wary of anniversary programming, and at least two of the works programmed (Nielsen's Inextinguishable and Sibelius's 6th) have been performed by the orchestra in recent memory. That said, drawing the 6th together with Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto does make for interesting programming, and I'm very glad of the opportunity to hear Nielsen's violin concerto.

The concert with the Inextinguishable is also notable for the fact that it brings John Storgårds to the RSNO, who has worked well with both the SCO and the BBC SSO in the past. The season also brings the welcome return of Neeme Järvi. He would have seemed to me the obvious choice to feature in a Scandinavian celebration, for me he ranks among the finest Sibelians and his recorded catalogue of more obscure composers from that region is extensive, to say the least, but alas not. But the programme is very promising nonetheless: Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto (Järvi's survey of the symphonies with the RSNO is superb), and Shostakovich's 5th symphony (I missed his Leningrad a few years ago but by all accounts it was electric). The final visitor to leap out at me is Andrew Davis, whose programme includes Mahler's 4th symphony with the superb Erin Wall.

The season is fairly light on modern works. By far the most interesting comes in a November programme conducted by Rory MacDonald which sets a new composition for orchestra and chorus by Sally Beamish entitled Equal Voices alongside a work by Cecil Coles and Elgar's Enigma Variations.

I always like to see orchestral principals given concertos. This season flautist Katherine Bryan is called upon, and is more than up to the task. The choice of work is rather less exciting: the Scottish premiere of a concerto by Christopher Rouse. Oundjian has programmed several of Rouse's works, none of which has left me with a strong desire to hear any more. Principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov plays Elgar's cello concerto (though his performances haven't especially leapt out at me from within the orchestra).

And so to Oundjian. Of all his concerts, the one that grabs me most strongly as a programme, perhaps because it has the strongest thread running through it, as an all American one, taking in Adams, Bernstein, Barber and Gershwin. Alas, Oundjian's previous performances of Adams have lacked the subtlety to bring out the best in the composer. Elsewhere you can find the likes of Bruckner 7, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Tchaikovsky 4 and Stravinsky's Firebird. He closes the season with Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius wrapping up a strand with the composer (and in fairness, there is a touch more by way of themes this year than last). Here the generally hyperbolic brochure outdoes itself: apparently "he'll make The Dream soar like never before". Of course, anything is possible, but it strikes me as unlikely that Barbirolli, Boult and Elder have much to worry about. If you feel differently about Oundjian, there is doubtless a lot to get excited about here.

It's nice to see the orchestra's film music concerts in Edinburgh as well as Glasgow. We get two programmes, one of John Williams' music and a second entitled The Golden Age of Film Music which, among other things, includes part of Bernard Herrmann's score for North by Northwest (for me worth the price of a ticket alone). On the other hand, it is disappointing to find that the orchestra's excellent talk/performance Naked Classics series has vanished.

The manner of the announcement was a little odd. I have no problem with the orchestra unveiling things to their subscribers first (though it must be noted that this always takes place in Glasgow), indeed I'm all for telling the punters before the press. But what we instead got was a slightly odd halfway house of a press release with incomplete details of the season this afternoon, with full details after the subscriber event. Maybe it's just me, but I can't quite see the logic of that exact combination.

On the positive side, they seem to have moved away from overly fancy electronic brochures embedded in the website to a simple PDF download of the sort that regular readers know we love. Download them here for Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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