The Philadelphia Orchestra is getting back on its feet after several rough years—including declaring and working out of bankruptcy, and finding a new conductor. After seeing the great work commenced in Rochester by recently-appointed Music Director Arild Remmereit, I was intrigued to see how Philadelphia’s new conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a youthful but experienced musician, would advance the programming of the ensemble at this critical point in its history. It was, and is, a fantastic opportunity to attract new audiences by expanding its scope and repertoire.
Unfortunately, there were no surprises in his first season (2012-2013), and the recently announced 2013-2014 season is just as lacking in diverse programming. You can once again expect lots of Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Strauss, a spattering of new music by familiar names (Tan Dun, Nico Muhly), and no works by women.
David Patrick Stearns, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, spoke to Nézet-Séguin about the season—but the title of the article, “Orchestral Innovations,” seems to be rather ill-fitting. What is so innovative about the Philadelphia Orchestra performing works by an overwhelming number of dead, white men? No—innovation was what the audiences of Rochester experienced in the past season-and-a-half. Innovation is daring to break the molds and the societal expectations and unwritten rules of classical music programming, challenging listeners to expand their horizons and giving under-performed music a chance to be heard and appreciated, and to inspire others. And, while performing works by contemporary composers is quite the innovation for the Philadelphia Orchestra, to include only works by old favorites and not any new voices is playing it too safe.
With the hundreds (thousands?) of under-performed or un-performed works lying in wait for their chance to be heard, how can an all-Mozart program (to take place over the course of three days, no less!) or the pairing of Strauss with Dvořák be seen as “innovative”?
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s season preview is the first of many other season releases to come, from large and small ensembles. I can only hope that more ensembles will be willing to take the risks that the RPO did—and also reap the rewards of truly innovative programming. Though I’m sure more than a few will follow the current status quo. Case in point: the New York Philharmonic has, like the Philadelphia Orchestra, planned another season of status quo, and no representation of the works by women.