Gearing up for a season like no other, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is hoping would-be concertgoers will migrate online for a series of newly recorded performances by the BSO and Boston Pops, as well as a novel video series with area hip-hop artists.
The digital programming, dubbed BSONOW, will include 15 hourlong concerts that feature BSO musicians playing at Symphony Hall as well as prerecorded performances of the Pops playing holiday standards.
But perhaps the orchestra’s most surprising offering will arrive Thursday, when it releases the first installment of “US: Sessions,” a seven-part collaborative series between maestro Thomas Wilkins, BSO players, and Boston hip-hop artists Moe Pope and STL GLD.
The announcement comes on the heels of the BSO’s decision to scrap live performances during the 2020-21 season — another blow to an orchestra that has already seen the Tanglewood season canceled, deep administrative layoffs, and an estimated $35 million in lost revenue.
In a joint statement, BSO leadership described its “full-on commitment to its digital platform.” They added that the orchestra intends its online offerings as a complement to live performances, which were abruptly canceled last March as the pandemic’s first wave washed over the region.
“All of us at the Boston Symphony hope that our virtual offerings will provide the orchestra’s music community a deep sense of sustenance, joy, and beauty,” they said.
Virtual concerts featuring the full orchestra kick off Nov. 19 with conductor Ken-David Masur leading a program that includes Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question,” and Florence Price’s String Quartet in G.
Price, a 20th century American composer, is one of several Black artists the BSO is featuring after calls in recent years for the orchestra to diversify its programming.
Wilkins will follow up on Nov. 26 with a program featuring works by a number of Black composers, including Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst,” William Grant Still’s “Out of the Silence,” and Duke Ellington’s “New World A-Comin’.”
The third installment will arrive on Dec. 3: a recording that features conductor Giancarlo Guerrero leading works by Aaron Copland, Joan Tower, and Samuel Barber.
The BSO began recording the digital concert series, known as “Music in Changing Times,” at Symphony Hall Wednesday morning on a stage that’s been expanded to accommodate social distancing.
In a nod to uncertainty born of the coronavirus, the orchestra said it would announce future recordings on a “rolling basis,” which will be released on select Thursdays through April.
Each new recorded concert will include artist talks about the program and will be available on the symphony’s website for 30 days after its release.
“The BSO is now moving beyond an immediate response to the pandemic and enthusiastically embracing the online content model,” said orchestra leadership, adding that some 13 million people have been “interacting with the orchestra’s digital content” over the past six months.
The BSO will release its Holiday Pops program on Dec. 10, which this year will feature new recordings of conductor Keith Lockhart leading the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall and Fenway Park. The online concert will include seasonal melodies, a virtual performance by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and local personalities reciting portions of “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” known popularly as “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
In advance of these more traditional offerings, however, the BSO will deliver the first installment of its new video podcast, “US: Sessions,” on Oct. 29. The seven-part series, which launches with a music video by STL GLD featuring BSO string players, includes Wilkins and orchestra musicians in conversation with STL GLD, Pope, and other artists such as Julia Easterlin, Cliff Notez, and Najee Janey.
“The sheer joy of sharing our music with each other could certainly have sufficed,” Wilkins said in a statement, “but what we learned about and from each other deepened our friendship in fresh and profound ways.”
Pope added that although his dream of hearing hip-hop at Symphony Hall has been derailed for now, he is excited to offer the podcast, which will be released over the next two weeks.
“It feels especially fitting to share this now, considering how divided we are,” he said. “My hope is that this serves as an example of how two different genres can unite, and merge into something beautiful, powerful, and innovative. Times have evolved, so should music, so should people.”
The BSO is making the “US: Sessions” available free of charge. The complete BSONOW series will be offered on a complimentary basis to 2019-20 BSO subscribers, as well as College Card holders, essential workers, and select others.
“We are grateful for the essential role our online and recorded content continues to play, side by side, as a complement to the live experience — a role that has become powerfully more meaningful during this time of performance hiatus,” leadership said. “[W]e hope our online offerings will lift everyone’s hearts and spirits and inspire well-being, especially over the holiday season.”
Available Thursday via www.bso.org/STLGLD
MUSIC IN CHANGING TIMES
Launching Nov. 19 via www.bso.org/NOW
BOSTON POPS 2020 HOLIDAY CELEBRATION
Available Dec. 10 via www.bso.org/NOW