Last September, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was voted the “World’s Favourite Orchestra” in a Bachtrack poll of readers. Does the World’s Favourite Orchestra have a favourite composer? Judging by next season’s programme, Brahms would be a strong contender! Paul Dukas was an early detractor, dismissing Brahms as “too much beer and beard”, but there is a wealth of beautiful music which can be far from stodgy. Next season features a feast of his music. His German Requiem, composed after his mother’s death, can be heard in March, conducted by Simon Halsey. Brahms’ work is sacred but non-liturgical, with texts in German, although the composer felt the title “A human requiem” may be more appropriate.

Brahms spent years agonising over his First Symphony, dogged by the shadow of Beethoven (indeed, it was unkindly dubbed ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’). By contrast, the Second came easily, a sunny work more in the spirit of Schubert. Leverhulme Young Conductor in Association Frank Zielhorst programmes it alongside Dvořák’s melodic Cello Concerto at the start of the season. Christoph König conducts the Third Symphony – a much more nostaglic, autumnal work – in January. Of Brahms’ concertos, the epic Piano Concerto no. 1 is tackled by Louis Lortie, while Vilde Frang performs the Violin Concerto, a mighty work, with a gypsy-style finale full of fierce double-stopping.

Dmitri Shostakovich is another composer well represented, with two concertos and two symphonies included in the season. Steven Isselis and Valeriy Sokolov are featured soloists in the First Cello and First Violin concertos, both furiously demanding works.

Shostakovich’s relationship with the Communist Party was always difficult. In the wake of the denouncement in Pravda of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, he withdrew his Fourth Symphony before its first performance, keeping it under wraps until a brief cultural thaw in 1961. One of his most popular symphonies is the Tenth, conducted by Andrew Litton next April. Composed in 1953, it is seen as Shostakovch’s personal response to Stalin’s death, the second movement being a fierce caricature. Shostakovich’s own musical signature (D, E flat, C, B natural corresponding to D,S,C,H in German notation) appears in the finale, like a personal triumph over Stalin.

The Eleventh is a very different work, depicting the first Russian Revolution of 1905, particularly the events of 9 January when unarmed demonstrators were fired upon by the Imperial Guard as they marched towards St Petersburg’s Winter Palace. The music is almost like a film score, full of descriptive detail. James Gaffigan conducts, pairing it with Prokofiev’s brief, sparkling First Piano Concerto.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is no stranger to opera, playing for Grange Park Opera in the last few seasons. Opera in concert is rarer, but Kirill Karabits brings Strauss' Salome to the Lighthouse, Poole, and to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, with American dramatic soprano Lise Lindstrom in the title role – a real coup for the BSO and likely to draw audiences who relished her gleaming soprano as Turandot at the Royal Opera last season.

Tchaikovsky fans have two opportunities to hear his Violin Concerto next season, performed by Augustin Hadelich and Yossif Ivanov. A diabolical pairing of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain should put shivers down audience spines in February, both depicting witches’ sabbaths. Former Bolshoi supremo Alexander Vedernikov conducts a programme which also includes Scriabin’s Piano Concerto with soloist Yevgeny Sudbin.

Neat programmatic pairing is also at play in Kirill Karabit’s ‘Great Britons’. Alongside James MacMillan’s Little Mass, is Elgar’s popular Enigma Variations. Sandwiched between them is Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. Mendelssohn can be considered an honorary Briton, favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, but a theme from overture is quoted by Elgar in his 13th variation, which depicts an unnamed lady who had departed on a long sea voyage.

It’s always interesting listening to how foreign conductors approach Elgar. In ‘Elgar Unmasked’, Vassily Sinaisky conducts the Second Symphony, a work full of nostalgia, dedicated to the memory of the late King Edward VII. Sinaisky is an experienced Elgarian, with years at the BBC Philharmonic, so this concert should be a treat.

Ever since the great Paavo Berglund was its Principal Conductor, the BSO has had a special pedigree in the music of Jean Sibelius, so it is only to be expected that the orchestra’s marks the 150th anniversary of the Finnish composer’s birth. Sibelius largely ceased composing for his final few decades. The one movement Seventh Symphony and the rugged tone poem Tapiola were among his final large scale works. Both are included in Kirill Karabits December concerts, to which Grieg’s evergreen Piano Concerto in A minor is added, featuring Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen. The concert marks a fitting end to this anniversary year.

Bournemouth now has a premier league football team to match its premier league orchestra! Catching the BSO in action is easy: if you’re somewhere in the southwest of the UK, they’re bound to come somewhere close by. When not at their Lighthouse base in Poole, the orchestra visits Basingstoke to Bristol, Yeovil to Exeter. Check out the full listings to plan your BSO concert-going.


This article was sponsored by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.