WSO’s 2013-2014 season

by Tom Ingram

It’s finally been announced. The current season, when it was announced last year, appeared to be packed full of crowd-pleasers, many of which turned out to be disappointing. This program, on the other hand, is smaller and full of oddities and surprises, with just enough tentpole works (i.e., Beethoven and Mahler) to keep everything running smoothly. Let’s take a look:

Laplante plays Rachmaninov

Program: Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor (Andre Laplante, piano); Holst, The Planets

The season opens with a guaranteed success. I’m not sure when they last played The Planets, but it wasn’t that long ago. It could use a rest.

James Ehnes

Program: Khatchaturian, Violin Concerto (James Ehnes, violin); Brahms, Symphony no. 1 in C minor

I’ve never heard the Khatchaturian violin concerto and know nothing about him as a composer aside from the sabre dance that everyone knows. It’s nice to see something so unusual and surprising being brought out. As for the Brahms symphony, I’ve always found it rather strange and, to be perfectly honest, unpleasant. This concert could be a colossal failure, but it’s good to see them taking the risk.

Tchaikovsky Festival

Program: Tchaikovsky, 1812 Overture, Rococo Variations (Denise Djokic, cello), Symphony no. 4 in F minor

I’m not very familiar with the Tchaikovsky symphonies. I think I’ve only heard number 4 once. The 1812 overture is a crowd-pleaser, but it should be pleasant. The Rococo Variations is an astounding showpiece for cello and orchestra. It looks like it will be a successful concert, but it does favour the populist cartwheeler side of Tchaikovsky. He was a genius—a minor genius, but still a genius—and this concert takes the stuff that will get guaranteed applause over the more heartfelt, thoughtful, obscure works.

Tchaikovsky Festival Finale

Program: Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major (Ilya Yakushev, piano), Symphony no. 6

I’ve always found the Pathetique symphony a little lumbering and dull, so I haven’t listened much to it. What’s exciting about this program is the second concerto, a work that I thought I might never see performed. It is long and difficult both for performers and audience, but it is one of his greatest accomplishments and it proves indisputably that there was a serious musical intellect at work in his composing.

Umi plays Chopin

Program: Part, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten; Chopin, Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor (Umi Garret, piano); Mozart, Symphony no. 41 in C Major

This is a strange combination. I’ve never heard anything by Arvo Part, so I can’t comment on it. The Chopin piano concertos are dull, lifeless, and brainless works, so I’m not expecting much—though I’m willing to be surprised. The soloist is a thirteen-year-old child prodigy. And Mozart is Mozart. All music should be by him.

Four Horns and Beethoven

Program: Mendelssohn, The Fair Melusina Overture; Schumann, Concert piece for four horns and orchestra (WSO horn section as soloists); Beethoven, Symphony no. 3

Every year has to have at least one Beethoven symphony, and this time it’s the third, one of my favourites. I have a good feeling about this program—three pieces of solid, vigorous early Romantic German music. Schumann is one of those much-loved composers who really has nothing going on, and pieces with more than one soloist tend to be failures, but this little-known four horn piece is a risky programming choice that could pay off well if the piece is successful.


Program: Frank Zappa, G-Spot Tornado; Boulez, Notations IV-VII-II; Owen Pallett, Violin Concerto (Karl Stobbe, violin); Jonny Greenwood, 48 Responses to Polymorphia; Arvo Part, Litany (Hilliard Ensemble)

Ugh. Lou Reed was right when he said of Frank Zappa, “He’s a two-bit pretentious academic, and he can’t play rock’n’roll, because he’s a loser. And that’s why he dresses up funny. He’s not happy with himself, and I think he’s right.” As for Pallett, suffice it to say that he released an indie rock album entitled He Poos Clouds. This is the bad kind of stunt programming.

Richter and Silvestrov

Program: Max Richter, Vivaldi Recomposed; Valentin Silvestrov, Requiem for Larissa

This sounds like the more appealing kind of “new music” program—something interesting and collage-like, and something heartfelt but modern. I expect it to be less popular than the Hilliard concert because it’s not programmed with the freak show carnival barker attitude.

Bruckner 8

Program: Mozart, Violin Concerto no. 2 in D Major (Gwen Hoebig, violin); Bruckner, Symphony no. 8 in C minor

True story: my first ever concert as an orchestral performer was with a Bruckner symphony. He is classical music’s best-kept secret: a composer Mahlerian in scope, Mozartian in his sense of form, and Scriabinian in his spirituality. He is not performed nearly as much as he ought to be, and if he occupied the place in the repertoire that Mahler currently does, the whole world would be better. That said, I’m not familiar with the eighth symphony. I have to rectify that.

Mendelssohn and Mahler

Program: Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto in E minor (Augustin Hadelich, violin); Mahler, Symphony no. 4

It was inevitable that we’d have a Mahler symphony. But this time the deal is sweetened by the presence of Mendelssohn’s great E minor violin concerto (he wrote an earlier one in D minor, but it’s so little-known that we don’t give it a number). I was there last year when Augustin Hadelich played the Barber concerto, and it was a sell-your-soul revelation. I eagerly await hearing him again.

Verdi Requiem

Program: Verdi, Requiem

Verdi is by far the most appealing of the Italian opera composers. He keeps all the sweetness of Rossini et al but comes off as vastly more intelligent. If any of them can write a grand sacred work and not have it sound blasphemous, it’s him. This looks like it will be an event to remember.

Carnegie Hall!

Program: Derek Charke, Thirteen Inuit Throat Song Games; Vincent Ho, The Shaman (Dame Evelyn Glennie, percussion); R. Murray Schafer, Symphony no. 1

This is the program that the WSO is going to present at Carnegie Hall for the Spring For Music festival next year. Only a few other orchestras are playing at the festival, among them the New York Phil and the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati symphonies. This is a pretty big deal for them. The program is not to my liking, though what I’ve heard of Vincent Ho and of R. Murray Schafer is surprisingly bearable, and Evelyn Glennie is always entertaining.