With a commitment to Russian and German masterworks and a collaboration with the historic Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-18 season will build on the passions that music director Andris Nelsons has demonstrated in his time here.
The BSO’s two-time Grammy-winning “Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow” cycle on Deutsche Grammophon will get its newest installments as Nelsons conducts Symphonies No. 4, 11, and 14, the latter with soprano Kristine Opolais and bass Bryn Terfel. Opera will continue to be a fixture at Symphony Hall, with a performance of Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” featuring Camilla Nylund as Isolde and superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann in his first appearance as Tristan. The orchestra will also mark the centennial anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth by performing two of his symphonies with Nelsons conducting, and by dedicating its Frederica von Stade-hosted opening-night gala to his music.
It looks to be a season of firsts in other areas, too. This will be Nelsons’s first season directing both the BSO and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The multiyear trans-Atlantic alliance will kick off with “Leipzig Week in Boston” in February, including lectures, chamber music performances, and the BSO performing a program of Leipzig-associated works. The orchestra will make its first Nelsons-led tour to Japan in November. French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a longtime BSO favorite guest, comes aboard as the orchestra’s first “artist in residence” to perform in three season programs and one Boston Symphony Chamber Players concert. Speaking by phone from Amsterdam, Nelsons praised the “sunshine that comes out of [Thibaudet’s] playing” and his mastery of the French orchestral tradition.
Though some may doubt that a conductor can be truly invested in two full-time directorships, Nelsons is optimistic and excited about the partnership between the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the BSO, which has planned events for years into the future.
“I assure I will give absolutely everything that I have to Boston as I have done so far,” he said, noting that he would do little guest conducting elsewhere in the seasons to come, focusing his attention on strengthening his relationship with his two “musical homes.”
Other Nelsons-led programs in the 2017-18 season will include two symphonies by Mahler (1 and 3), Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.
One thing that’s nearly missing: premieres. In contrast to the many premieres and commissions of the 2016-17 season, the new season features only two: a world premiere from American composer Sean Shepherd and an American premiere from German composer Jörg Widmann. Nelsons explained that “some seasons we can do it more,“ and he stressed the importance of repeat performances of new pieces to ensure they don’t disappear after their premieres.
Contemporary music is not absent from the lineup; the season will include works by New England native John Adams, Derek Bermel, and Arlene Sierra, the season’s only female composer to be performed. BSO artistic partner Thomas Adès, in the second of his position’s three years, will conduct a program including his own suite from the opera “Powder Her Face” and make his debut as a BSO soloist in Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for three pianos alongside Thibaudet and Kirill Gerstein.
Guest conductors will include BSO conductor emeritus Bernard Haitink, Charles Dutoit, Christoph von Dohnányi, François-Xavier Roth, Alan Gilbert, and Tugan Sokhiev, who will make his BSO debut. Among visiting soloists are violinists Gil Shaham, Leonidas Kavakos, Leila Josefowicz, and Hilary Hahn; pianists Emanuel Ax, Benjamin Grosvenor, and Paul Lewis; and vocalists Susan Graham, Camilla Tilling, and Julia Bullock. Yo-Yo Ma will perform Strauss’s “Don Quixote” with BSO principal violist Steven Ansell, a longtime friend of his.
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus will feature in multiple large-scale works in its first full season under the direction of James Burton, among them Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe” and Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust.”
Nelsons, now in his third season as music director, remarked on how fast his time at the BSO seemed to be moving.“It feels that each season, we are kind of digging deeper,” said Nelsons. “Every season allows us to go deeper and deeper understanding each other.”