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Andris Nelsons Returns to Conduct Final Five Programs of the BSO's 2023–2024 Season

The final five programs of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2023–2024 season, led by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, celebrate the commissioning legacy of Serge Koussevitzky, highlight some of the greatest living composers of our time, and bring acclaimed soloists back to Symphony Hall, including Yuja Wang and Hilary Hahn.

Music for the Senses Festival

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Music for the Senses Festival (March 31–April 14) invites audiences to expand the way they experience music through pieces that experiment with color, light, sound, and time, anchored by two weekends of BSO performances.

The first of these (April 4–6) is a program inspired by color: it opens with Anna Clyne’s Color Field, inspired in part by the vibrancy of a Mark Rothko painting, and concludes with Alexander Scriabin’s epic Prometheus, Poem of Fire, for piano, color organ, chorus, and orchestra. Scriabin’s spectacular vision for a color organ, which bathes the performance space in colored light corresponding to the music played, will be actualized for the first time in Symphony Hall by Tony-award winning lighting designer Justin Townsend in collaboration with researcher and musicologist Anna Gawboy, Ph.D. Esteemed pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus join to bring this synesthetic work to life. Also on the program are Franz Liszt's symphonic poem Prometheus, providing an additional musical interpretation of the Greek myth, and Richard Wagner’s ecstatic Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, a work suffused with the sensual and one that helped expand ideas of musical time.

The following weekend features one of the most exciting performances of the 2023–2024 season: superstar pianist Yuja Wang, winner of a 2024 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo, playing Olivier Messiaen’s epic Turangalîla-symphonie. Commissioned by Koussevitzky and premiered in 1949 by the BSO with Leonard Bernstein conducting, the colossal work is inspired by human love as embodied by the same medieval legend portrayed in Wagner’s influential opera Tristan and Isolde, music from which is programmed the prior week. Performing the 10-movement Turangalîla-symphonie is a massive undertaking that requires the orchestra to immerse itself in Messiaen’s highly individual sound-world. The piece calls for a large percussion section as well as solo piano and the ondes Martenot, an early, uniquely timbred electronic instrument here played by Cécile Lartigau. Messiaen was inspired by a range of Asian philosophies and music, including music of the Indonesian gamelan. Gamelan Galak Tika, led by Gusti Komin, artistic director, gives live gamelan demonstrations prior to each Turangalîla performance.

Additional festival offerings include intimate chamber concert experiences and enriching panels with researchers at the forefront of music, science, and the humanities. On March 31, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players are joined by pianist Garrick Ohlsson to perform Messiaen's spiritually powerful Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen composed the piece while in German captivity during World War II, tailoring the instrumentation to the skills of his fellow prisoners. Like Turangalîla-symphonie, Quartet for the End of Time reflects Messiaen's fascination with birdsong, spirituality, and mortality. Mr. Ohlsson performs keyboard music of J.S. Bach to open the program. Messiaen's music is also featured in a short concert for ticketholders before the BSO performance on April 6 as flautist Anne Chao and pianist Cynthia Tseng perform his Le Merle Noir (followed by a panel How We Hear – the evolution of music perception). Concluding these additional offerings is a free discussion panel on Wednesday, April 10 Composing the Future of Health that explores the emerging field of music as medicine, followed by a chamber music concert featuring BSO Assistant Conductor Samy Rachid, the Callithumpian Consort, [nec]shivaree, pianist Joseph Vasconi, Carduus chamber choir, and the Lydian String Quartet performing music of Messiaen, Feldman, and Boston-based composers Marti Epstein and Tod Machover. For more details on these panels and concerts, including the full list of panelists and their affiliations, see the complete program details below.

To broaden the scope of our Music for the Senses programs, the BSO asked Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) to suggest artworks that have relevance to the music performed in these concerts. These include Jackson Pollock’s Troubled Queen, works of John Singer Sargent, and photographs of Hindu sculpture, the latter reflecting the Asian influences on Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie. The imagery will appear on and in our program books.

Hilary Hahn performs the Brahms Violin Concerto

From April 18–20, international star Hilary Hahn, winner of the prestigious 2024 Avery Fischer Prize, joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO to perform one of the most beautiful and virtuosic works in violin repertoire: Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Brahms composed this rich, lyrical work in 1878 for, and with the advice of, his friend Joseph Joachim, a towering virtuoso of the age. Hahn has an impressive history with the piece, from winning a Grammy Award in 2003 for her recording with the Academy of St. Martin In the Fields to performing the concerto to great acclaim at last summer’s opening weekend of the Tanglewood season. A musician committed to sharing her process (as notably exemplified by her viral Instagram campaign #100daysofpractice), Hahn joins the BSO to offer audiences a unique window into the collaborative work of preparing the concerto at an Open Rehearsal on the morning of April 18.

Opening the program is W.A. Mozart’s charming Symphony No. 33, last performed at Symphony Hall in 1995. It is followed by the Boston premiere of Anna Thorvaldsdottir's monumental recent work Archora, a recording of which was named among the best of 2023 by the Boston Globe, New York Times, and NPR.

Enduring Legacy of Koussevitzky

Concerts from April 25–27 highlight the BSO’s longstanding commitment, established by Koussevitzky in 1930, to playing and commissioning works by living composers. The program begins with eminent composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Wrath of God, a dramatic work composed in 2019 and dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven. Andris Nelsons recorded the piece with the Gewandhausorchester as part of a 2021 Deutsche Grammophon album of Gubaidulina’s music, but it will be the first time the BSO has performed the piece.

Following Gubaidulina’s piece is another recent work by a prominent contemporary composer: Detlev Glanert’s Trumpet Concerto, performed by BSO principal trumpet Thomas Rolfs. The eclectic concerto was commissioned for Rolfs by the BSO, and he premiered it with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in summer 2019. Both Glanert and Rolfs are former Tanglewood Music Center fellows, a program founded by Koussevitzky in 1940. A staunch advocate for both music education and contemporary composers, Koussevitzky commissioned and premiered the program’s final piece, Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4, in 1930, in honor of the BSO’s 50th anniversary the following year. These performances feature the rarely heard original version of the Fourth, which Prokofiev later expanded and revised.

Closing the Season, Berlioz Roméo et Juliette

For the final performance of the 2023–2024 BSO season, Andris Nelsons leads one of Berlioz’s most vibrant works, Roméo et Juliette, featuring mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass-baritone John Relyea, alongside the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Inspired by his passion for Shakespeare, Berlioz called Roméo et Juliette a “symphony with choruses,” highlighting the importance of the orchestra and of the work’s overall form. These performances celebrate the role of French repertoire in the BSO’s rich history; the complete symphony and movements from it were frequently programmed by Pierre Monteux, Koussevitzky, Charles Munch, and Seiji Ozawa.

For more information, download the complete release.

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