BSO announces season without Levine

On the BSO’s opening night, Sept. 30, Anne-Sophie Mutter will lead the orchestra and perform two Mozart violin concertos. On the BSO’s opening night, Sept. 30, Anne-Sophie Mutter will lead the orchestra and perform two Mozart violin concertos. (Tina Tahir)
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / May 6, 2011

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced today the first season of performances in its new era without a music director. James Levine, whose resignation goes into effect Sept. 1, is not scheduled to appear at all next year. “We really wanted to give Jim time to focus on his health,’’ said managing director Mark Volpe in a phone interview. “Obviously we’re still hoping to engage him in two to three seasons, and hoping that out of that will develop something at Tanglewood.’’

Asked about the likelihood that Levine would conduct at Tanglewood this summer, in his final scheduled programs as BSO music director, Volpe replied only that he would know more soon. “We are still working through what is possible for Jim, with Jim,’’ he said. “There should be an announcement within the next three weeks.’’

For the 2011-12 season, many familiar guest conductors are scheduled to return, including Bernard Haitink, Charles Dutoit, Christoph von Dohnanyi, and Kurt Masur, but the season also promises a large number of Symphony Hall conducting debuts, including those of Riccardo Chailly, Andris Nelsons, Jiri Belohlavek, Juraj Valcuha, Juanjo Mena, and Jaap Van Zweden.

Details of the season will be closely scrutinized by onlookers eager for indications of whom the orchestra is considering as its next music director. How much the details will actually reveal may be another matter. Volpe explained that the BSO’s newly established search committee had no influence on this new season, and that in fact, the committee has not yet met.

It’s also probable that some of the Symphony Hall newcomers represent what amounts to last-minute substitutes in an industry in which programs are typically planned years in advance. At the time of Levine’s resignation in March, eight weeks of Levine-led programs were already on the calendar for next season. All of these had to be recast, as did the three Levine-led programs scheduled for Carnegie Hall next season.

One appearance likely to draw close scrutiny will be that of Chailly. The Italian maestro has never conducted the orchestra before, but he is now scheduled to lead two full weeks of performances next season, including Mendelssohn’s “Lobgesang’’ and a program with works by Prokofiev, Debussy, and Stravinsky (“The Rite of Spring’’).

Among the other conductors due for multi-week engagements are Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos; Ludovic Morlot, music director designate of the Seattle Symphony, who will pick up two weeks of programs conceived by James Levine; and Haitink, who leads the closing three weeks of programs. The second and final year of the Harbison symphony cycle will continue, with Morlot and Belohlavek each leading one work, and the premiere of Harbison’s Sixth Symphony, commissioned by Levine and the BSO, now falling to David Zinman. Esa-Pekka Salonen will conduct the orchestra for the first time since 1988 in a program that includes his own Violin Concerto. And both Christoph Eschenbach as well as Masur will lead the orchestra at home and in Carnegie Hall.

The BSO has reengaged two conductors who stepped in at short notice this season. The Frenchman Stéphane Denève will lead the BSO in Ravel, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich, both at Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall. And Nelsons, the Latvian conductor who filled in for Levine at Carnegie Hall in March, will lead a program featuring works by Haydn and Strauss alongside the American premiere of a piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage. BSO assistant conductors Marcelo Lehninger and Sean Newhouse will also return to the podium.

If the orchestra’s new era without a music director needed a symbolic beginning, it finds one in the opening night performance, Sept. 30, for which the orchestra will by led only by the evening’s soloist, a first for a BSO season-opener. The violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will lead and perform two of Mozart’s five violin concertos with the orchestra, and will perform the remaining three the following night.

Other soloists scheduled to appear over the course of the new season include violinists Gidon Kremer, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Leila Josefowicz, and Leonidas Kavakos (who will also conduct); cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Gautier Capucon; and pianists Yefim Bronfman, Garrick Ohlsson, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, Peter Serkin, Leif Ove Andsnes, Jonathan Biss, Till Fellner, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, and Cédric Tiberghien.

It will be a busy season for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which will participate in performances of works by Wagner (excerpts from “Die Meistersinger’’), Mendelssohn (“Lobgesang’’), Beethoven (“Missa Solemnis’’), Brahms (“German Requiem’’), and Stravinsky (“Symphony of Psalms’’). The Stravinsky appears on the season-closing program alongside Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, under Haitink’s baton.

In December 2011, the orchestra will travel to four West Coast cities — San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Palm Desert, and Los Angeles — a brief tour with a total of five performances, to be led by Morlot.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at