The oldest of the “big five” U.S. orchestras, the New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842, which makes 2017 a “big anniversary”, its 175th. The 2016-17 season also marks the end of Alan Gilbert’s eight year tenure as Music Director of the NY Phil (so far, Gilbert is the only native New Yorker to hold the post) before Jaap van Zweden takes over as Music Director Designate in 2017-18.

Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic © Chris Lee
Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic
© Chris Lee

Music Directors of the big American orchestras shoulder more of the daily conducting duties than most of their European counterparts, and Gilbert is no exception, conducting over sixty performances at the Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall during the season, as well as touring to London, Vienna, Hamburg (at the new Elbphilharmonie) and others. The New York concerts include two significant birthday celebrations. March 9-11 sees a celebration of John Adams’ 70th with his popular Harmonielehre (described by us as “an appealing combination of accessibility and mysteriousness” and known to a younger generation as part of the score of the computer game Civilization IV). Several of Adams’ works feature through the season, including such crowd pleasers as Short Ride in a Fast Machine and The Chairman Dances.

Leonidas Kavakos © Marco Borggreve
Leonidas Kavakos
© Marco Borggreve

Before that, on February 23rd, Gilbert conducts his own 50th birthday celebration: the programme hasn’t yet been announced, but it’s the place to go if you’re looking for an all-star roster of performers, with Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Lisa Batiashvili, Yefim Bronfman, Renée Fleming and more.

If you think that “oldest major U.S. orchestra” equals “tediously traditional”, think again: 2017 sees a raft of world and U.S. premières. Spanning the year end, from December 28th to January 3rd, is the world première of Wynton Marsalis’ Symphony no.4 “The Jungle”, possibly the hottest ticket of the whole season. Marsalis may be most famous as a jazzman and educator, but he also has impeccable classical credentials, dating from as far back as his definitive 1983 recording of the Haydn trumpet concerto. His own compositions are eclectic, so this should be a fascinating evening.

The Marsalis première is rapidly followed by a première from another composer of uncharacterisable style: on January 5th, Emanuel Ax is the soloist for HK Gruber’s Piano Concerto, with Gilbert conducting (the programme also features Weill’s Dreigroschenmusik, one of Gruber’s favourites – perhaps he can be tempted onstage for a Weill encore).

The last world première of the season comes on March 1st: the NY Phil have commissioned Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach to write a violin concerto for Leonidas Kavakos (the programme also includes Mahler  4 – as usual, Gilbert is conducting). Kavakos is a current Artist-in-Residence with the orchestra; he also performs the Brahms Concerto in May as well as giving a chamber recital on February 8th with Yuja Wang.

Esa-Pekka Salonen © Chris Lee
Esa-Pekka Salonen
© Chris Lee

Amongst all the works the NY Phil have ever commissioned, the biggest hit by far is miles ahead of the nearest competition: Dvořák’s New World Symphony. This season’s high profile performance has already passed (it was the gala opening in September), as has the Symphony no. 6, but the New World is expected to feature in the NY Phil's 2017 Concerts in the Parks, and there’s more Dvořák left:  the Violin Concerto in May, a full matinée’s worth of as yet undisclosed items on January 21st. And as you’d find in most US seasons, there is a lot of Beethoven: four of the five piano concerti are still to come, as are Symphonies nos. 7, 8 and 9. The Concerts in the Parks, by the way, are free, as is the Annual Concert for Memorial Day at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine; the Philharmonic Free Fridays programme also offers 13-26 year olds 100 free tickets for each of the Friday evening subscription concerts.

Gilbert may be taking the lion’s share of the conducting duties, but there’s no shortage of star guests. Semyon Bychkov conducts a Tchaikovsky Festival in January and February, Manfred Honeck makes the short trip from Pittsburgh to conduct a Mahler 1 (featuring outgoing Artist-in-Residence Inon Barnatan), Herbert Blomstedt makes the longer trip from San Francisco to conduct Beethoven 7 and 8. Esa-Pekka Salonen features both as conductor (Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra paired with the US première of a new work for four horns by Tansy Davies) and as composer: Salonen’s Cello Concerto will be played by Yo-Yo Ma in New York, London and Hamburg, while Kavakos will play his Wing on Wing.

© Chris Lee
© Chris Lee

Following from September’s Film Week, the Spring Gala is a true movie lover’s schmalz-fest with Henry Mancini’s score from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, while opera lovers are served by a concert performance of Das Rheingold featuring an impressive roster of mostly American singers.  That will be Gilbert’s penultimate programme, to be followed on June 8-10 by the Season Finale: the list of guests who will join Gilbert and the orchestra remains a closely guarded secret, as does the programme they will be playing.


This article was sponsored by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra