Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year, and to honor his centennial, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is pulling out the stops.
In an unprecedentedly wide programming initiative, the BSO has organized its entire 2018 Tanglewood season around a celebration of Bernstein. It will feature an array of Bernstein scores from across the many genres in which he was active, standard repertoire with which he was closely associated as a conductor, a gala tribute on his actual birthday, an archival exhibit, a colloquium on his political activism, and even a new program honoring the legacy of his Young People’s Concerts, to be hosted by his daughter Jamie Bernstein.
“In a way, we can’t not do all of this,” said BSO artistic administrator Anthony Fogg, in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Bernstein is a figure who looms large in the musical firmament for all of us. Yet his association with Tanglewood, spanning a 50-year period, was the most prominent of his career — this was the one place to which he returned most often. If any place was going to host a major celebration like this, it had to be Tanglewood.”
Bernstein’s stage and film works will be particularly well-represented, with Shed performances of “On the Town” (with the Boston Pops); “West Side Story” (the film version with orchestral accompaniment); and “Fancy Free” (with the BSO and members of the Boston Ballet). In Ozawa Hall, audiences will have the opportunity to hear “Trouble in Tahiti” (to be directed by Jamie Bernstein), “Facsimile,” “A Quiet Place,” and “Candide.”
BSO music director Andris Nelsons will lead a total of 13 programs next summer, with Bernstein’s music represented on several of them. He’ll also participate in the summer’s culminating Bernstein gala performance (Aug. 25), alongside conductors Keith Lockhart, John Williams (who has written a new work for cello and orchestra, to be heard elsewhere in the season), Michael Tilson Thomas, and Christoph Eschenbach; the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Midori; and vocal soloists Thomas Hampson, Isabel Leonard, and Susan Graham.
That gala program, to be hosted by Audra McDonald, will feature the BSO joined by members of ensembles Bernstein conducted: the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. Also performing will be musicians from two music festivals Bernstein founded: Pacific Music and the Schleswig-Holstein festival.
A running theme of the summer will also be standard repertoire and operatic works with which Bernstein was closely associated. In that vein, Nelsons will lead Mahler’s Third Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, and Shostakovich’s Fifth as well as a complete performance of Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
This summer BSO artistic partner Thomas Adès will also step into a curatorial role, as he directs for the first time Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music (July 26-30). On the bill will be works by Harrison Birtwistle, Gyorgy Kurtag, Andrew Norman, Conlon Nancarrow, Per Norgard, Poul Ruders, Witold Lutoslawski, and himself. As a conductor, Adès will lead the BSO in a Shed performance of a suite from his opera, “Powder Her Face,” to be heard alongside two Sibelius works, the Fifth Symphony and the Violin Concerto, with soloist Christian Tetzlaff.
Additional guest conductors to appear include Herbert Blomstedt, Bramwell Tovey, Juanjo Mena, and Charles Dutoit. Tilson-Thomas will conduct (Mahler, Rachmaninoff, and his own music) and he will also moderate the colloquium on Bernstein’s activism.
Finally, it should also be a season of high-caliber pianism, with the roster of soloists to include Leon Fleisher, Kirill Gerstein, Igor Levit, Yuja Wang, Paul Lewis, Emanuel Ax, Lang Lang, Garrick Ohlsson, and Jeremy Denk.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler