Shakespeare, Strauss and spirituality are among the highlights of a 2014-2015 classical season announced Friday by the Minnesota Orchestra. The highly anticipated program, which is the first full season since 2011-2012, features 10 weeks of concerts led by music director Osmo Vänskä.
Guest artists include Renée Fleming, André Watts, Alisa Weilerstein and Gil Shaham. There will be New Year’s Eve concerts for the first time since 1998.
The season, with 25 weeks of subscription concerts, was put together by Vänskä and musicians.
“There was a time when we did this many concerts, and in those years we had the most revenue from classical that we’ve had in the last 10 years,” said principal cello Anthony Ross, who chaired the artistic committee.
Vänskä and Fleming headline a season-opening gala Sept. 5. After a free concert at Lake Harriet and a residency in Bemidji, the classical season begins the weekend of Sept. 26 with Barber’s Cello Concerto (with Weilerstein) and Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (with mezzo Adriana Zabala and the Minnesota Chorale).
The 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’ birth will occupy three weekends in October, and will involve conductors Andrew Litton (with cellist Ross), Vänskä (with Minnesota pianist Andrew Staupe) and former music director Edo de Waart.
The next two weeks will be given to Russian masterworks, with piano concertos by Shostakovich and Prokofiev played by Kirill Gerstein (Nov. 6-8). Jonathan Biss follows the next week with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in a program that includes Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.
The bassoon section gets to be front and center Nov. 21-23 in a program directed by Eiji Oue featuring Dietter’s Concerto for Two Bassoons. Over the holidays, the orchestra will perform Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 12-13), and then do its first concert with the Rose Ensemble (Dec. 14). Vänskä will lead two New Year’s Eve concerts with soprano Sylvia McNair.
The Orchestra’s major programming initiative is a five-week “Shakespeare Winterfest.” Conceived by Vänskä, the festival (Jan. 22-Feb. 21) features music inspired by Shakespeare. Vänskä will conduct the Fantasy-Overture from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” suite and the symphonic dances from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” (Jan. 30-31). Shaham is featured Feb. 12-14 in Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto, on a program that includes Mendelssohn’s overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Vänskä will conclude the festival with selections from Sibelius’ “The Tempest.”
“We had never done ‘The Tempest,’ which is a lot of shorter pieces, and when we did that, we realized there were so many other things inspired by Shakespeare,” Ross said. “It was nice to tie a few weeks together.”
A two-week “Spirit and Spring” meditation (April 2-11) will include music of Olivier Messiaen, Vaughan Williams and Ottorino Respighi. Mark Wigglesworth conducts Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 and Mahler’s “Das Lied Von Der Erde.”
Burt Hara, principal clarinet in Minnesota for 25 years before leaving for the L.A. Philharmonic, returns to play Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (April 30-May 2). Eric Whitacre will conduct the orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale (May 8-10), and Sarah Hicks will be on the podium for a semi-staged production of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” (March 19-22).
Two Grammy-winning pianists perform on consecutive weeks in May. Garrick Ohlsson appears May 21-23. Watts plays Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 the following weekend.
Vänskä concludes the season with Sibelius 6 and 7 and Mahler 1 June 5-6.
For more information call 612-371-5642 or visit minnesotaorchestra.org.