The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season, announced Friday, is built around a salute to the late Robert Shaw on the centennial of his birth, celebrating his pivotal role in building the orchestra and its chorus into international institutions. The season differs markedly from previous seasons, featuring many of the choral blockbusters Shaw loved and focusing on his two favorite composers: Beethoven and Brahms.
Brahms’ “A German Requiem,” conducted by ASO Music Director Robert Spano and featuring the ASO Chorus and soloists, will be performed at Carnegie Hall on April 30, 2016, which would have been Shaw’s 100th birthday. The concert, which also features the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Zohar,” will be performed in Atlanta April 14-16, 2016. Brahms’ orchestral work will be featured throughout the season.
The Beethoven focus will be anchored by his gigantic, mysterious “Missa solemnis,” a rarity championed by both Shaw and ASO Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles, who will lead performances Jan. 21-23, 2016. As the orchestra’s director of artistic administration, Evans Mirageas, put it: “If you didn’t think a composer had written it, it’s what God would talk like. It’s that kind of elemental utterance so profound it takes your breath away.”
On Nov. 12-14, Spano will conduct Verdi’s “Requiem.” And ASO Director of Choruses Norman Mackenzie, who worked closely with Shaw for many years, will conduct “A Robert Shaw Choral Celebration” March 10-12, 2016, featuring Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” and Verdi’s “Stabat Mater.”
The season features four world premieres by three composers. In addition to “Zohar,” we’ll hear Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 2 on Nov. 5-7. Mark Grey’s work, “The Frankenstein Symphony,” to be performed Feb. 25-27, 2016, uses music from his opera based on Mary Shelley’s novel. And a work by ASO bassist Michael Kurth will be performed Feb. 4-6, 2016.
“This is the second generation of the ‘Atlanta School,’” Mirageas commented, referring to a group of composers hand-chosen by Spano whose work is regularly programmed here. “Guess what? The original ones are now in their 50s. We won’t abandon them, but we need to bring in new blood.” The season also includes seven Atlanta premieres of newer works.
One major change this season is the reduction in the number of superstar guests. “One of the hard decisions we made was to reduce the number of marquee artists,” Mirageas said. “This has an economic benefit, but also allows the stars in our own orchestra to step forward.” The season will feature a record number of solo performances by ASO musicians. “This also frees up funds for younger artists,” many of whom will be guest soloists this season.
The focus on choral works, Beethoven and Brahms means that for the first time in years, this will be a season with no opera.
The season opens on Sept. 17-19 with performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, conducted by Spano. Later, on April 21-23, 2016, Runnicles will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, welcome news for fans of this immensely important composer.
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