New season at the Atlanta Symphony: Beethoven, Bernstein and goodbyes

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced Wednesday the performances planned for its 2018-19 season, a journey through new music and old, Bernstein and Beethoven, and the beginning of the end of the tenure of music director Robert Spano.

In January, Spano announced that he would retire from leadership of the ASO in 2021, so his three-year swan song begins in September.

The season includes the last half of a two-year celebration of the music of Leonard Bernstein and Ludwig van Beethoven, with concerts that begin with Bernstein's sublime "Chichester Psalms" and conclude with Beethoven's colossal Symphony No. 9.

In addition to performing the compositions of Bernstein, the ASO will also showcase composers who were championed by Bernstein. Spano said, in a statement, that the ASO plans to acknowledge Bernstein’s “extraordinary legacy as a performer and interpreter, as well as his work as a composer. For many Americans, Bernstein’s larger-than-life presence was an access point to classical music of all periods.”

The Bernstein/Beethoven concerts (puckishly typed "LB/LB") come alongside a full menu of soloists, guest conductors, new music, themed concerts, pops concerts, performances accompanying movies on the big screen, holiday specials and events featuring the incomparable Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Pianist Lang Lang will return to Symphony Hall for a one-night-only, all-Mozart program Sept. 26, led by guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen.

There will be two all-Russian programs, three all-French programs and an all-Spanish program, featuring concertmaster David Coucheron.

Opening weekend, Sept. 20, 22 and 23, will be devoted to an all-Russian program, with Spano leading the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5  and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring Kirill Gerstein.

In addition to dozens of events at Atlanta Symphony Hall, the ASO has scheduled performances across Georgia, with planned visits to Athens, Marietta, Covington, Madison, Sandy Springs, Gainesville, Rabun Gap and Waleska, and an appearance at the Savannah Music Festival.

Along with principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles, the ASO will entertain 10 guest conductors through the course of the season, including Mei-Ann Chen, Jun Märkl and Roberto Abbado (whose musical family includes uncle Claudio Abbado).

Spano has steadily promoted new music, and the 2018-19 season will offer plenty of work by living composers, such as the world premiere of Richard Prior’s Symphony No. 4, commissioned by the ASO. Jennifer Higdon, a member of Spano’s Atlanta School of Composers, will also premiere her Viola Concerto, performed by Roberto Díaz.

The ASO will release recordings of new music on its own label, ASO Media, including music by prolific ASO bassist Michael Kurth. Kurth's compositions "Everything Lasts Forever," "A Thousand Words" and the newly commissioned "Miserere" will be available through the label.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus will be featured in four concerts this season, including Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," Verdi's "Four Sacred Pieces," Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and "Fidelio."

Spano arrived as music director in 2001, and when his 20-year tenure ends in 2021, his time at the podium will nearly match that of the titanic Robert Shaw, who led the ASO from its infancy in 1967 until 1988. Spano has not yet said where he will go post-Atlanta, though he will retain a connection to the orchestra as conductor laureate.

Subscriptions for the 2018-19 season are on sale now and start at $75 for a three-concert package. Single tickets go on sale in August. Information: 404-733-4800,

Free tickets are available for veterans, active duty and military families through a grant from the Home Depot Foundation.