The New York Philharmonic’s Fresh Start: A Season Spent at Home

Jaap van Zweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2012. Next season will be his first as the orchestra's music director.

Just a year ago, the New York Philharmonic seemed to be floundering. Deficits stretched back more than a decade, administrators were leaving in an exodus, and the orchestra faced the prospect of a costly, disruptive plan to renovate its Lincoln Center home.

Then the orchestra hired Deborah Borda, who ran it in the 1990s and went on to make the Los Angeles Philharmonic a wonder of the music world, to be its next leader. In recent months she has swiftly raised $50 million and successfully pushed to scrap the planned gut renovation of David Geffen Hall in favor of more modest changes.

Now, as a stabilizing Philharmonic prepares to welcome the Dutch maestro Jaap van Zweden as its 26th music director, the orchestra is focusing on its hometown. Announcing its 2018-19 season on Tuesday, the Philharmonic said that it had canceled a planned domestic tour to devote itself to strengthening its ties to New York.

In one new initiative, called “Phil the Hall,” teachers, city workers and others will be invited to buy $5 tickets to short introductory concerts in April conducted by Mr. van Zweden. Two new series outside Geffen Hall will explore new music, drawing on the city’s contemporary scene.

“I feel like we are touring in our own city,” Mr. van Zweden said in a recent interview with editors and reporters of The New York Times. “This is not just for certain people. This is for all of us, everybody.”

Ms. Borda said that forging connections would be an important part of her tenure. “I hope that people will start to perceive us as more outward-facing than frankly, I think, we have been in the past,” she said in the Times interview, sitting next to Mr. van Zweden.

When Mr. van Zweden was appointed, some critics worried that, since his reputation was based largely on performances of the standard repertory, he would give new music short shrift. His first season is carefully calibrated to suggest it should not have to be an either/or proposition.

Mr. van Zweden will conduct plenty of old favorites, including Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and works by Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Shostakovich. But he will also lead five world premieres: Louis Andriessen’s “Agamemnon,” part of a focus on that Dutch composer; Julia Wolfe’s “Fire in My Mouth,” a multimedia choral work about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; David Lang’s opera “prisoner of the state,” a take on Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and the centerpiece of a season-ending festival of “music of conscience”; and pieces by Ashley Fure, who will write a new work for opening night on Sept. 20, and Conrad Tao.

“A lot of people thought I was the guy who likes Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven — and that’s absolutely true,” Mr. van Zweden said. But he emphasized that he had been an advocate for new music as chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra from 2005 to 2013. “It’s fine if people did not recognize that,” he added. “But I’m very happy that I can bring some new works to the New York Philharmonic and to its audiences.”

The Philharmonic still faces challenges. Its musicians’ contract expired in September, and negotiations for a new agreement are underway. The question of just what to do about its widely unloved hall remains unresolved. Ms. Borda wants renovations that can be achieved in phases, so the orchestra is not left homeless for long stretches while it battles an industrywide decline in subscriptions.

The baritone Matthias Goerne, a frequent collaborator with Mr. van Zweden, will be the Philharmonic’s artist in residence next season, and several conductors will make their subscription debuts, including two women. Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who recently became the music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, will conduct Sibelius, Ravel and Dvorak. Emmanuelle Haïm, an early music specialist, will lead the orchestra in Handel and Rameau, and Matthias Pintscher will conduct the New York premiere of his “mar’eh.” Returning conductors include Ivan Fischer, Manfred Honeck, Semyon Bychkov, Herbert Blomstedt, Jakub Hrusa and Zubin Mehta, the Philharmonic’s music director from 1978 to 1991.

The orchestra is ending several new-music initiatives started by Mr. van Zweden’s predecessor, Alan Gilbert: Contact!, the contemporary-chamber-music series that took players to smaller spaces downtown and in Brooklyn; the NY Phil Biennial, modeled on art-world examples like the Venice Biennale; and, at least for the time being, the composer-in-residence position. The idea, Ms. Borda said, is to integrate new-music offerings more completely into the main season and reflect larger programming themes.

To host its two new contemporary series, the Philharmonic has tapped Nadia Sirota, a violist and the host of the “Meet the Composer” podcast. One series, Nightcap, will feature 10:30 p.m. cabaret-style concerts by guest musicians and ensembles at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center programmed by contemporary composers, including Mr. Tao, Mr. Andriessen, Gabriel Kahane and John Adams. The other, Sound On, includes three afternoon concerts at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“Any discussion of serious music, of serious art, has really slipped to the side of social discourse,” Ms. Borda said. “How do we start to bring it back to the center?”

In Other News

© 2020 US News. All Rights Reserved.