BSO unveils plans for its 2020-21 season in Symphony Hall

Works by Shostakovich and Beethoven will be featured, and essential workers will receive discounted tickets

Andris Nelsons and the BSO plan to open their season on Sept. 16.
Andris Nelsons and the BSO plan to open their season on Sept. 16.Marco Borggreve/Boston Symphony Orchestra

Looking optimistically toward the future, and despite a shuttered hall, a partly furloughed staff, and unclear prospects for this summer’s Tanglewood festival, the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced its full 2020-21 subscription season on Thursday afternoon.

Assuming the COVID-19 crisis recedes enough for the orchestra to proceed as planned, its major artistic projects will include performances of Shostakovich’s opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” and a complete cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies led by music director Andris Nelsons. “I find it absolutely essential to look forward to the future when we will all gather again as a community,” Nelsons said as part of a larger statement that accompanied the announcement.


The presentations of “Lady Macbeth” (April 6-10, 2021 in Symphony Hall and April 14, 2021 at Carnegie Hall) will be the BSO’s first-ever performances of the complete opera, and will feature soprano Kristine Opolais in the title role. The opera caps a season in which the BSO — with its scheduled performances of Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 13 — will complete its multi-year project of performing and recording all 15 of the composer’s symphonies.

The Beethoven cycle will begin the season, with pianist Lang Lang on hand to perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 on opening night (Sept. 16) alongside the orchestra’s performance of the Symphony No. 1. The Beethoven survey, undertaken to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, will then proceed in order, from the First to the Ninth Symphony over the following five weeks of all-Beethoven programs. At the other end of the season, Nelsons and the orchestra will return to Beethoven with the Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 to be performed by soloist Mitsuko Uchida (April 22-27, 2021).

Next season Nelsons will also conduct works by Scriabin, Holst, Mahler, and Stravinsky as well as six works by Strauss. Additionally, he will lead selections by Detlev Glanert, Arvo Pärt, and Joan Tower as well as the American premiere of a BSO co-commission by Sofia Gubaidulina.


Other commissions or co-commissions on the schedule include a new work by Julia Adolphe; Bernard Rands’s “Symphonic Fantasy”; and Julia Wolfe’s “Her Story,” written to honor the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and featuring the Boston-based Lorelei Ensemble (Nov. 5-7).

BSO artistic partner Thomas Adès will lead one program (Feb. 11-13, 2021) reprising his Piano Concerto with soloist Kirill Gerstein alongside works by Prokofiev, Ravel, and Janacek. Adès’s score “Polaris” will also be on BSO assistant conductor Anna Rakitina’s Symphony Hall debut program (Nov. 24-28). Thomas Wilkins, the orchestra’s artistic adviser for education and community engagement, will lead a Harlem Renaissance-themed program with works by Ellington, Gershwin, and William Grant Still (Jan. 28-30, 2021).

Additional visiting soloists will include pianists Daniil Trifonov, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, and Paul Lewis; violinists Frank Peter Zimmermann, Alina Ibragimova, Augustin Hadelich, and Gil Shaham; and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus will continue celebrating its 50th anniversary with several appearances over the course of the season in a wide range of repertoire.

The orchestra plans to step up its multimedia offerings, with scenic, video, or lighting design incorporated into three of its subscription programs. Also coming next season will be a new educational series called TLI in Boston, after the Tanglewood Learning Institute, which opened at the festival in 2019. Over the course of the new season, essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis will be offered complimentary tickets for designated concerts, plus a season-long 50 percent discount on other programs.


Season subscriptions will be available starting May 11 via 888-266-1200 or www.bso.org. Individual tickets go on sale in August.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeremy.eichler@globe.com, or follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.