Top Five Audacious Season Openers

Beyond Labor Troubles, Some Bright Spots Among American Orchestras

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Chicago Symphony and Atlanta Symphony have settled labor disputes this week, and the Philadelphia Orchestra recently exited bankruptcy. Yet uncertainty still surrounds many American orchestras as the 2012-13 season gets underway. But all is not dire. Here are five opening-night concerts that excite us for the months ahead.

His arrival comes at a time when the orchestra has recently exited a season-long bankruptcy.

1. Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Arguably the biggest stateside event this year is the season opener of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Sept. 28-30). After an acrimonious strike waged over six months last season, the institution returns to Detroit's Orchestra Hall with an all-Bernstein program, soloist Joshua Bell and conductor Leonard Slatkin. The orchestra is by no means out of the woods yet; music critic Mark Stryker writes about the looming financial problems in the Detroit Free Press. However, those woes seem surmountable now with the symphony back playing concerts. The Sunday concert will be webcast on the orchestra's website.

2. Philadelphia Orchestra

Over the past three years, the young conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has become a familiar exuberant force on the podium in the U.S. His rapid rise is cemented this year, as he inherits Charles Dutoit's baton as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His arrival comes at a time when the orchestra has just exited a season-long bankruptcy. The opening concert (Oct. 18)—an easy-to-please mixture of Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Brahms and Renée Fleming singing in her Strauss wheelhouse—portends greater things to come.

3. Brooklyn Philharmonic

In a borough known for its artisanal products, from local beer to fine jewelry, Alan Pierson is experimenting with the idea of the hyper-local symphony orchestra. The Brooklyn Philharmonic continues its exploration of Kings County’s musical legacy (building upon last year’s initiatives), as well as heritage. Three different series each examine a different neighborhood such as Bedford-Stuyvesant or Brighton Beach. The orchestra, ironically, kicks off its second season under Pierson in Manhattan (Oct. 25, World Financial Center) with a pair of world premieres and a collaboration with the Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra.

4. Los Angeles Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel’s ability to drum up excitement around the Los Angeles Philharmonic is unparalleled. Though we’re rather predictably most curious about the organization’s upcoming Brooklyn Festival in April, the first concert of the season (Sept. 27) demonstrates a maverick approach to programming. What’s unusual isn't the selection of works—a number of dances—but accompanying performances by American Ballet Theater stars Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle.

5. New World Symphony

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas has adeptly navigated the orchestra’s journey into the digital age with programs such as San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score. As he inaugurates the 25th season of the New World Symphony, which he founded in Miami, he will present a tamer-than-it-sounds Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky program (Oct. 6-7). Thomas will conduct Stravinsky’s Circus Polka as a live score to a digitally animated work by Emily Eckstein, specially commissioned for the season opener.

Weigh in: What season openers are on your concert-going agenda?

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