A formidable musician and a powerful communicator” (New York Times), Marin Alsop launches the new seasons of two major European orchestras over the next two weeks, conducting live, televised opening-night concerts in two of the world’s foremost musical capitals. With the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, where she inaugurated her tenure as Austria’s first female Chief Conductor last season, Alsop leads “Welcome Back!” (Sep 4). Juxtaposing Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony with Kurt Schwertsik’s Sinfonia-Sinfonietta, a Vienna RSO commission, this celebratory opening-night performance will air live on Austrian national television and on BBC Radio 3. Just five days later at the Paris Philharmonie, Alsop opens the Orchestre de Paris season with a program pairing Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, featuring Khatia Buniatishvili (Sep 9 & 10). This too will air live, on France’s Mezzo TV, while streaming live to audiences worldwide at medici.tv. Performed with live audiences, in keeping with all the latest Austrian and French health and safety protocols, these high-profile season-opening events mark the MacArthur award-winning conductor’s first live orchestral appearances since before the pandemic.
When Alsop conducted the Orchestre de Paris in a program of Poulenc, Dvořák and John Adams last season, Concerto.net reported: “Alsop deserved the applause she received from the musicians, who were obviously no less won over than the public.” The conductor herself explains:
“I love working with the Orchestre de Paris because they’re extremely musical and very individualistic. They all have a point of view. Their new hall, the Philharmonie, is spectacular and I’m happy to have this ongoing association with them.”
As for Alsop’s relationship with the Vienna RSO, “the chemistry seems right,” affirmed the Wiener Zeitung, when she began her tenure with the orchestra last season. The review continued, “The committed cooperation between the conductor and well-disposed orchestra could be felt, right down to the back rows of the hall.” Combining the Sinfonia-Sinfonietta by contemporary Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, an enduring symbol of triumph over adversity by one of Vienna’s most famous residents, “Welcome Back!” celebrates the special rapport between Alsop, the orchestra and their Vienna audience in an especially meaningful reunion. Alsop reflects:
“The pandemic has had an enormous and in many instances devastating impact on virtually every aspect of our lives, and the orchestra world has been hit particularly hard. To return to Vienna at this time to make music with the RSO, with whom I already share such a rich and rewarding relationship, is a privilege and source of joy I can hardly put into words.”
The opening night program kicks off a full fall with the Vienna RSO. At the ORF’s 53rd annual MusikProtokoll festival in Graz, Alsop conducts an evening of Austrian premieres by Kaija SaariahoPhilipp Maintz and Jorge Enrique López (Oct 9), before returning to Vienna for concerts at the orchestra’s RadioKulturhaus home, the Vienna Concert House and the Musikverein, where she leads Mahler’s ultimately triumphant Fifth Symphony (Oct 16). These upcoming programs also see Alsop and the orchestra continue their ongoing explorations of Schumann’s four symphonies, as reorchestrated by Mahler, and the music of Hans Werner Henze, with performances of Schumann’s Third and Fourth Symphonies (Oct 21 & 23) and of Henze’s Los Caprichos (Oct 16) and Englische Liebeslieder, in a collaboration with cello soloist Narek Hakhnazaryan that marks the work’s Austrian premiere (Oct 23). Alsop says:
“It is a tribute to Austria that because of its deft management of the pandemic, the Vienna RSO will be able to perform works for large orchestra – including symphonies by Schumann and Mahler – that the pandemic has silenced in most concert halls around the world. Under these circumstances, the knowledge that we will be sharing this music-making widely through television and radio broadcasts will no doubt invest these concerts with an emotional resonance beyond anything we could have imagined when we planned these programs many months ago.”
In addition to their live concert lineup, Alsop and the Vienna RSO are currently at work on four recording projects, all of which combine material captured live in concert and rehearsal with that of new studio sessions. Listeners can look forward to the release of a Hindemith compilation, an account of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Blood on the Floor, a Henze collection that includes both works featured in concert this fall, and a complete Schumann symphonic cycle, all in Mahler’s reorchestrations. It was Alsop’s live leadership of the NDR in the composer’s arrangements of Schumann’s First and Second Symphonies that prompted Online Merker to marvel:
“Alsop was absolutely convincing. The ORF RSO orchestra shone as a collective and in all solo challenges! One had the impression that the chemistry between the orchestra and the boss was 100% right. … The first woman at the head of the orchestra approaches the works and thus the artistic task with open ears, an open heart and a keen mind. The cheers signaled: To many more great concerts!”
While in the Austrian capital this fall Alsop continues to give masterclasses at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW), where she serves as Artist-in-Residence. She also currently holds positions as Conductor of Honor of Brazil’s São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the first Chief Conductor and Curator of Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, where she looks forward to curating and conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at its annual summer residencies. Now in the final season of a game-changing 14-year tenure as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony, she is, as the New York Times put it, “a conductor with a vision.”