Thursday, February 28, 2019

'You're Invited!" is the ISO's shout of welcome to the 2019-2020 season

Beethoven's 250th birthday will be observed next year.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will be explicit about embracing the role of host next season. It's developed the marketing slogan "You're invited!" for pops and classical concerts at Hilbert Circle Theater, its home on Monument Circle since 1984.

At a reception for donors and other supporters this week, the orchestra unfolded its schedule for 2019-2020, with a number of novelties in addition to reliable repertoire for arousing the public interest. Long ago an ISO staff member told me, off the record, that the industry standard of attracting 2 percent of the public to any year's total of symphony orchestra offerings seemed a remote goal. "Around here," he lamented, "I wonder if 1 percent is more realistic."

So there's an understandably constant battle to keep as much of the central Indiana populace interested as possible. Who knows what will work, especially in rapidly changing times with so many entertainment options? As Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 250th birth anniversary will be widely celebrated next season, once closed a letter to his publisher, Breitkopf and Hǟrtel: "I no longer expect anything stable in this age; one can be certain of nothing but blind chance." Today, he might have added the shoulder-shrug emoticon.

The weary composer was referring to international politics, not music; in the winter of 1809, Napoleon and Austria had just concluded hostilities, which Beethoven called "this dead peace." But his skepticism could be applied to both politics and art, covering our own day as well as his. The ISO can't afford to leave to blind chance the fulfillment of its musical mission, however. 
The ISO music director will be heavy into Beethoven next season.

And so in 2020 we have the novel and the reliable approaches blended around Beethoven himself. When the New Year dawns, the ISO will launch a survey of the first five symphonies under the baton of music director Krzysztof Urbanski (Jan. 20-25).

 Since Beethoven's music has never left the mainstream, calling special attention to it has to involve more than revisiting it. The ISO's innovation is to place a newly commissioned work on each Beethoven program; the living composers who'll rub shoulders with the birthday boy are Nathaniel Stookey, Hannah Lash, Dejan Lazic, Huw Watkins, and Katherine Balch.

And next season will  end with two weekends of Beethoven concerts, also conducted by Urbanski. The first (May 28-30) will bring in two veteran guest artists, Yefim Bronfman and Emanuel Ax, as soloists in the five Beethoven piano concertos. 

The second (June 5 and 6) will be devoted to "Missa Solemnis," Beethoven's grandest work for chorus and orchestra, with four guest soloists and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. The ISO brochure has devised an odd rubric for all the Beethoven concerts: BTHVN 2020. I'm not sure how you say that; I guess you're just supposed to look at it and supply the vowels in your head. 

Other major works in next season's second half will acquaint ISO audiences with prominent conductors in concerts focusing on some major 20th century masterworks: Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (Gustavo Gimeno), Feb. 27-29; Mahler's Fifth Symphony (David Danzmayr), March 13-14; and Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" Symphony (Ruth Reinhardt), March 19-21. 

Those concerts will be bookended by excursions led by a couple of other guest conductors (Marc Albrecht and Jun Mǟrkl, respectively) through a couple of 19th-century masterpieces: Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" (Feb. 7-8) and Mendelssohn's "Elijah" (March  27-28). 

Other notable events on the season will be spotlights on three of the ISO's young principals: Conrad Jones will be featured in Haydn's Trumpet Concerto April 16-18; cellist Austin Huntington will be one-third of the soloists in Beethoven's Triple Concerto Jan. 17-18; the others will be pianist Lazic and violinist Benjamin Schmid. Jennifer Christen will have the soloist position in the Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto May 7-9 when Edo de Waart is the podium guest.

Other living composers represented outside the Beethoven symphony survey include Jennifer Higdon, with "All Things Majestic" (Oct.10-12), conducted by new music specialist Robert Spano; Anna Clyne, with "The Midnight Hour," conducted by Reinhardt, and Guillaume Connesson ("The Shining One") in an all-French program conducted by Urbanski (Nov. 8 and 9). The ultimate in the living-composer category as far as age goes will  be Alma Deutscher in the opening-night gala on Sept. 14; the 14-year-old wunderkind will also be represented as a solo violinist and pianist. 

The new and less-familiar music on the season will be balanced by many well-known works, part of the ongoing push to find what will draw in audiences — starting with subscribers, of course, but also driving music lovers to the box office to buy single tickets.  The most eyebrow-raising of the warhorses is perhaps Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," presumably in the overfamiliar orchestration by Maurice Ravel, to lead off the Classical Series under Urbanski's baton (Sept. 20 and 21). The comfort-food menu will be joined by Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, with Julian Rachlin the soloist.

Pops maestro Jack Everly has put together a season with several surefire hits, spotlighting Broadway, cabaret, and television stars Leslie Odom Jr. (Jan. 31-Feb.1), Ann Hampton Callaway in a Linda Ronstadt tribute (March 6 and 7), Lea Salonga (April 24-25), and Mandy Gonzalez (June 12 and 13). 

Everly's encyclopedic knowledge of the field  comes into view in the season-opener, "Vienna to Broadway" (Oct. 4 and 5), which will trace how popular operettas laid the roadbed for an American innovation, musical comedy. Everly will also be on the podium (April 3 and 4) for "West Side Story in Concert," with a highly anticipated cast not to begin settling until August.

The ISO's dip into more contemporary popular culture — a notable feature of the "Symphony on the Prairie" series at Conner Prairie — has a place in the downtown series with a tribute to Journey, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac "and more" on May 15 and 16. Similarly, the season "specials," in addition to the annual "Yuletide Celebration" and the Opening Night Gala, will extend the popular accompanied flm series this summer with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" (June 21-22, 2019) and "The Little Mermaid" (July 19-20).  The film series proper in 2019-20 offers the following: "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" (Sept. 27-29), "Psycho" (Oct. 31), "Casablanca" (Feb. 14-15) and "Mary Poppins" (May 2 and 3).

For complete information and to feel you have personal confirmation that, indeed, "you're invited," go to the ISO website.

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