Big names, new works, and a few Dutch treats on Otto Tausk's first and VSO's 100th season

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      Big names, new commissions, and major new movies in concert abounded on the programming as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra announced its much-anticipated 100th anniversary season this afternoon.

      Incoming new Dutch maestro Otto Tausk was in town to unveil the 2018-19 season—his first program as VSO music director. Among the big names coming to help celebrate the VSO’s centennial are opera superstar Renée Fleming for the grand September 20 opener, violin legend Itzhak Perlman on January 23, 2019, and violin virtuoso James Ehnes for the June 11, 2019, 100th anniversary gala, which celebrates Canadian talent—all under Tausk’s baton. The VSO will also provide live accompaniment, for the first time, to screenings of La La Land (November 17), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (July 5 to 7), and Star Wars: A New Hope (July 11 to 13 this summer.)

      Having seen four airports the previous day, the VSO’s in-demand new music director said he woke himself up this morning with a seaside run, only to be joined by a seal who swam alongside him. “I thought, ‘Oh! Can it be that even the animals are welcoming me here?” he quipped.

      As expected, Tausk put his personal touch on the programming, first of all bringing in several Dutch stars. Among them, wunderkind Netherlands brothers Arthur and Lucas Jussen take on Poulenc’s great Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor on September 21 and 22; the same program features Tausk at the podium, as well as a world premiere commission by Dutch-Canadian composer Edward Top. “The opening concert will also be with the full version of Stravinsky’s Firebird,” Tausk enthused. “It’s a piece that shows what the musicians are all about….It’s a chance for every musician to show what they have to say.”

      The Netherlands' Jussen brothers take on Poulenc here next season.


      Other Dutch treats include cellist Harriet Krijgh and a North American premiere by composer Michel van Der Aa.

      The season announcement also reveals some of Tausk’s favourite composers, including a Valentine's Day 2019 performance of Romeo and Juliet. “One of my big loves is Prokofiev,” Tausk said. “It’s Romeo and Juliet but not the suites that we usually hear.”

      When he was named the replacement of longest-serving VSO music director Bramwell Tovey, Tausk had emphasized to the Straight his commitment to new-music programming. That’s played out in the new season with a strong 2019 New Music festival, cocurated with local composing bright light Jocelyn Morlock, and featuring world premieres by composer Emily Doolittle and by Montreal sensation Nicole Lizée, who will craft a piece for VSO percussionist Vern Griffiths.

      The 2019 Spring Festival, titled Music & Power, meanwhile, reflects Tausk’s interest in what he calls “music in relationship to society. How does it influence society, and actually, why does music matter? Music can say something about a society.” His fest programming includes a provocative juxtaposition of the music of Felix Mendelssohn next to that of Richard Wagner on April 4 2019. “In the time of the Nazis, Wagner was of course the favourite composer, and Mendelssohn was forbidden to be played,” Tausk observed. Another concert he’ll conduct will feature Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk: Suite. “He had a very difficult relationship with the regime and the big moment of his life was his opera Macbeth,” Tausk explained, “until one person named Stalin came to see it and didn’t like the music—and from then on it was forbidden.” The same April 12 program features another Dutch classical talent, violinist Rosanne Phillippens, performing Prokofiev’s Violin Concert No. 2 in G Minor.

      Working with the staff, board, and musicians, Tausk is also launching a program called Inside the Symphony, an intimate new three-concert series aimed at engaging audiences. “They’ll be shorter concerts, starting a little bit earlier, and they’re an opportunity to meet the musicians and meet the conductor,” Tausk explained. “They’re slightly more informal and I think it’s important for an orchestra’s members to reach out to the community in this way.”

      Other outreach includes the Free Day of Music, all day on January 26, 2019, which marks the 100th anniversary of the VSO’s first concert, with activities and concerts by the orchestra, its school of music, the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra, and many other music organizations in the city. Tausk has a passion for music education and outreach to children and youth: “If we reach out to young people it’s not only the future of music but what’s really fantastic is you feel the immediate reaction from the audience, whether young people are playing or watching the performance,” he said, praising the high level of talent at the VSO School of Music.

      In his new role as music director emeritus, Tovey returns in February to conduct a new piece by the first composer he commissioned when he was at the helm, Kelly-Marie Murphy; she’s crafted a piece featuring former principal cellist Ariel Barnes and harpist Heidi Krutzen. Tovey will also direct the world premiere of his own Concerto for Orchestra to mark the 100th anniversary in May.

      VSO president Kelly Tweeddale pointed out the new season’s soloist roster reaches virtual gender parity, featuring 24 women and 25 men, as well as two female conductors: Tania Miller and Xian Zang.

      Maestro Xiang Zhang is one of two female conductors set to take the podium in 2018-19.

      Amid other names joining the VSO next season are piano stars Marc-Andre Hamelin, Yefim Bronfman, Louis Lortie, Andrew von Oeyen; and violinists Karen Gomyo, Baiba Skride, and Mayuko Kamio.

      And in a nod to its storied past, the VSO will also bring back its former maestro Kazuyoshi Akiyama as conductor laureate; he’ll lead a program of Bach, Mozart, and more pieces from his first concerts as music director in 1972.

      A subscription renewals campaign runs from March through April 27, with new subscriptions available March 14 starting at noon by phone (604-876-3434).

      Single tickets don’t go on sale till August 20 at 10 a.m. Fleming and Perlman concerts are available exclusively to subscribers till June 19 at 10 a.m., while VSO at the Movies in Concert sell separately: La La Land—In Concert goes on sale March 13 at 10 a.m.; Harry Potter on March 20 at 10 a.m.; and Star Wars March 27 at 10 a.m. See more details here.

      Opera goddess Renee Fleming helps kick off the VSO's 100th season.