It’s no surprise that the USA has one of the biggest classical music scenes in the world, but with around 1,200 orchestras to its name, the sheer amount of music-making going on in the country still beggars belief. Here at Bachtrack, though, we’re able to take a close look at what’s coming up. We have 2013/14 season listings for some 40 of the US’s top orchestras in our database, and we’ve been taking a keen interest in what they’re all up to. So here are a few of the highlights from the busy season of concerts ahead: we may only be scratching the surface, but there’s certainly plenty to talk about.

Alan Gilbert conducts the NY Phil © Chris Lee
Alan Gilbert conducts the NY Phil
© Chris Lee
In terms of general season highlights, there’s plenty going on from coast to coast. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra have a number of enticing projects planned including a Beethoven piano concerto cycle with Yefim Bronfman, a new piece by Osvaldo Golijov called Azul featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the first-ever NY Phil Biennial in May–June 2014. Extending beyond Lincoln Center, this festival of new music takes its inspiration from the tradition of biennials in visual art and will likewise present an eclectic mixture of recent artistic adventures. The centrepiece will be NY Phil composer in residence Christopher Rouse’s Fourth Symphony, to receive its world première under Alan Gilbert.

Bronfman is a busy man next season, and his cycle of Beethoven concertos is stopping off in Boston as well as New York. The Boston Symphony Orchestra have an impressively varied season in store, with conductor Robert Spano returning with Golijov’s St Mark Passion thirteen years on from its successful première, guest appearances from the likes of Thomas Adès and Anne-Sophie Mutter, and music-director-to-be Andris Nelsons visiting for a concert performance of Salome. As fate would have it, you can catch another concert Salome the other side of New York next season from the Philadelphia Orchestra, who will be enjoying Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s second season at the helm with music old and new. Look out for a miniature Mozart festival in April 2014, a three-week Tchaikovsky celebration, and new commissions galore too. They’re also opening the Carnegie Hall season.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra © Jessica Griffin
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra
© Jessica Griffin

Over on the west coast, San Francisco Symphony eclectically mix a focus on J.S. Bach (with renowned Bach conductor Ton Koopman) with stacks of Britten to conclude his centenary, as well as close looks at contemporary composers Mason Bates and Thomas Adès. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas is in for a busy time of it – he’s also in charge at the New World Symphony in Florida – but there’s a lot to enjoy in SFS’s season. Further south, San Diego Symphony have big plans for the season as well, under music director Jahja Ling for the tenth season, with guests including Lang Lang, Itzhak Perlman and conductor Christoph von Dohnányi – a mentor of Ling’s whose two orchestra debut concerts will feature Emanuel Ax as soloist in both of Brahms’ piano concertos. A Carnegie Hall debut in October will be another season highlight for them.

The top performers

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Which conductor is playing with the most US orchestras next season? If our data is representative, then the answer is a surprising one: the 79-year-old Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is scheduled for performances with thirteen different orchestras in the US, from Detroit to Houston, and taking in repertoire from Haydn’s First Symphony (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in December 2013) to Marc Neikrug’s Bassoon Concerto, which is to be given its world première by Boston Symphony Orchestra in November 2013. Among other itinerant conductors, Semyon Bychkov chalks up an impressive number, as do Stéphane Denève and the ever-busy Michael Tilson Thomas, but for number of orchestras visited, Frühbeck is the easy victor.

As for soloists, there’s a clear winner again: in our listings, Yefim Bronfman is down to play more than twice as many concerts as the next busiest pianist. We’re listing an impressive 57 US appearances for him coming up. He is performing each of the Beethoven concertos with piano (including the Triple Concerto) at least six times – we’ve already mentioned his cycles with Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. But we’re listing him with eight different orchestras over the course of the season, and he is also slated for Bartók’s Third, Tchaikovsky’s First and Magnus Lindberg’s Second Concertos – the latter was written expressly for him.

Even Bronfman, though, isn’t playing with as many different orchestras as Kirill Gerstein, whom we are listing with nine US orchestras next season. Amidst a sea of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, you can also catch this versatile young pianist in Liszt’s First Concerto (with Detroit Symphony and, of course, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos) and Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto (with Cincinnati Symphony). Hélène Grimaud is also in for a busy time of it in the States, playing Brahms with five orchestras and visiting two more for Beethoven and Ravel.

Gil Shaham © Luke Ratray
Gil Shaham
© Luke Ratray
Gil Shaham is the busiest of the violinists, according to us; among his highlights are Bright Sheng’s concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Erich Korngold’s ever-popular concerto all over the place, from Carnegie Hall to twice in Texas (with Houston and Austin Symphonies). Joshua Bell can also be found across the country, and he’s touring the Sibelius concerto especially hard. Look out for young violinist Augustin Hadelich as well, who is making a debut with Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra, and returning to San Diego Symphony, all before the end of this year.

Two violinists, however, stand out for their repertoire choices: firstly, Christian Tetzlaff, who is playing Mozart in Philadelphia and Schoenberg in Los Angeles, as well as Jörg Widmann with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and Brahms’ friend Joseph Joachim with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. And secondly, Leila Josefowicz – it’s no surprise to see this violinist doing something interesting, given her renown for seeking out adventurous repertoire, but this season is a good one for her. As well as playing John Adams’ concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra, she’s playing Stravinsky’s gorgeous neoclassical concerto with four different orchestras across the country – as well as Esa-Pekka Salonen’s concerto, with the composer conducting both the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics.

Brett Dean © Mark Coulsen
Brett Dean
© Mark Coulsen
Of other concerto soloists, cellist Daniel Müller-Schott is notable for his advocacy of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto Grosso for three cellos, which he and conductor Charles Dutoit are taking to both the New York Phil and Boston Symphony (after a recent appearance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms). Brett Dean is the soloist in his own Viola Concerto with Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and their chief conductor David Robertson, and there are a couple of new woodwind concertos in Philadelphia: a new Flute Concerto for Philadelphia Orchestra principal flute Jeffrey Khaner by Behzad Ranjbaran, and a Bassoon Concerto by Philadelphia native David Ludwig for principal bassoon Daniel Matsukawa.

The top composers

Who’s the most performed composer in the USA next season? No prizes for guessing – it’s Beethoven. But the most performed work might come as a slight surprise: despite its monumental scale, the Ninth Symphony is, at the time of writing, Beethoven’s most performed work in the US for the upcoming season. What’s always interesting about this piece is what it’s programmed with: it tends to dwarf any other piece on the bill. There’s a fascinating range of approaches taken here: the Florida Orchestra are prefacing it with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, San Diego and Seattle Symphonies both with Brahms’ St Anthony Variations, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on their trip to Carnegie Hall with Schoenberg’s perplexing Friede auf Erden.

John Adams © Margaretta Mitchell
John Adams
© Margaretta Mitchell
Other orchestras have found new pieces to sit alongside it: there’s a Nico Muhly piece before the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s brand new Frieze before the New York Phil’s, and a piece by Roberto Sierra before the Dayton Philharmonic’s. Perhaps most curious of all is Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s decision to place John Adams’ 9/11 tribute On the Transmigration of Souls before their performance. It will be interesting to see if any of these pieces stand up effectively to what comes next. Beyond the Ninth, and Bronfman’s sterling work with the concertos, another pick is a Missa Solemnis at Carnegie with the Orchestra of St Luke’s and Sir Roger Norrington.

It’s Richard Strauss’ 150th anniversary year in 2014, but there are not so many tributes in the concert hall programmed yet. The tone-poem Also Sprach Zarathustra leads the way – look out for it as part of the New York Phil’s “Film Week”, as well as performances in Tampa, Houston, Pittsburgh and Austin – and the Burleske for piano and orchestra is surprisingly close behind, largely thanks to Emanuel Ax, who is touring with the piece.

On the other hand, Benjamin Britten looks set to enjoy a resurgence in the US even after his 2013 centenary has passed. Two major concert performances of Peter Grimes are lined up for the season ahead: first with Saint Louis Symphony (both in Saint Louis and at Carnegie Hall), and then in June 2014 with San Francisco Symphony. Common to both casts is contralto Dame Ann Murray as Auntie. There are also scores of War Requiem performances marked in for this November.

Pascal Roge © Mary Robert
Pascal Roge
© Mary Robert
Even without an anniversary, it’s looking like a good year for Tchaikovsky is afoot, with a focus on this composer in both Seattle (the Symphony is running a two-day “TchaikFest!” with all his concertos over the course of two days) and Philadelphia. Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto is in for a flurry of performances as well, including a Dayton Philharmonic performance with Pascal Rogé, and Jeffrey Kahane directing the NY Phil from the piano. And the most performed Bruckner symphony is the Ninth – and it’s a real sign of pedigree, as well: of the traditional “Big Five” US orchestras, only The Cleveland Orchestra is not performing it.

Among new music scheduled, the NY Phil’s Biennial, already mentioned, is a likely highlight. And John Adams, unsurprisingly, is in for a particularly good season as well: his new Saxophone Concerto is touring with soloist Timothy McAllister, and there is the usual range of orchestral pieces being played by him as well. Tan Dun has various bits and pieces scheduled as well including a new piece “for 12 micro films, harp and orchestra” in Philadelphia, and Christopher Rouse’s significance is confirmed by the fact that his works are travelling beyond New York: performances in Houston, Albany and Cleveland show that his music is spreading across the country.

Whatever your tastes, though, the USA is full of classical music this coming season. Whether you’re looking near you or further afield, we’re sure there will be something to suit your tastes. Get browsing...