The Philadelphia Orchestra has mapped out its virtual concerts through the end of the season — and added a major new voice to its artistic team.
Nathalie Stutzmann, the much-loved French contralto and conductor, will take up the post of principal guest conductor this fall at the start of the next season, the orchestra announced Tuesday.
Stutzmann has been a repeat visitor to the orchestra’s podium since a 2016 debut leading Handel’s Messiah, and the new appointment deepens her relationship here. She expects to conduct about three weeks each year in the main subscription series, plus additional concerts at the orchestra’s summer homes in Vail, Colo., Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and on tour.
“For me it’s such a wonderful thing, it’s already like a family feeling with the orchestra and Yannick [Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra’s music director],” said Stutzmann, 55, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The orchestra’s entire artistic team, she said, “is also wonderful. I think we are on a track that is complementary.”
Stutzmann starts her three-year deal beginning with the 2021-22 season. She follows Stéphane Denève, principal guest since 2014, whose scheduled final appearance in the post last season was thwarted by the pandemic shutdown.
Orchestra president and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky said that one of the things that makes Stutzmann “so special is that she comes to conducting from an extraordinary career as a singer on the world’s great opera stages and concert halls. The way she makes music is so organic. Like Yannick, it comes from a very deep place.”
Stutzmann’s next appearances come via the orchestra’s series of virtual concerts — one to be streamed in January and a second program yet to be scheduled. The orchestra on Tuesday also announced details of more than a dozen new online productions between January and June, one streaming about every two weeks. That’s half the frequency of the group’s fall online schedule, which Tarnopolsky said was a “level of activity we can’t keep up with.”
Among the highlights of the rest of the pandemic-altered season are the first concerto appearance with the orchestra by new principal oboist Philippe Tondre, a collaboration with Brian Sanders’ JUNK dance troupe, and the May performance of Vigil in tribute to Breonna Taylor. Audiences will also hear the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performances of Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement, Gershwin’s original jazz band version of Rhapsody in Blue, and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in a chamber orchestra reduction started by Schoenberg and finished by Rainer Riehn.
Additional concerts this season, including special events and encore presentations of fall productions, are likely to fall into place at a later date.
The continuation of the orchestra’s Digital Stage series likely means that by spring the ensemble will have been separated from an in-person audience for a year and counting. Repertoire continues to tend toward smaller ensembles in which distancing players on stage is easier. The prospect of resuming concerts before live listeners anytime this season seems to be dwindling.
“It’s too soon to tell, but it does look like that,” said Tarnopolsky. “But we are committed to getting back on stage in front of a live audience as soon as it’s safe to do so. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could start welcoming audiences to live performances later this spring or summer?”
But, he added: “Who knows?”
The orchestra had been expecting a few hundred ticket buyers a night for its Digital Stage concerts, said Tarnopolsky, but “routinely gets between 1,000 and 1,500 listeners.” Even after the hoped-for waning of the pandemic and resumption of live concerts, the orchestra expects to continue its online productions. “The Digital Stage is here to stay,” he says.
The ticket price goes up a smidge starting in January — to $17 from $15 — but concerts will be available for a week rather than 72 hours. The orchestra’s move to online concerts since the pandemic has been heavily underwritten by philanthropy.
Stutzmann’s next online concert (Jan. 28-Feb. 4) features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus.
She remembers the first time she heard the orchestra was as a teenager. That performance was led by Riccardo Muti, before he was music director while still a guest.
Her first concert singing with the orchestra was in 1997 at the Academy of Music, as a vocalist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Simon Rattle conducting. Much later, he turned out to be a pivotal force in her career.
“Simon was watching videos online, where I was conducting some Brahms and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. Then he wrote to me a marvelous email saying ‘You are the real thing, you must go for it and I would love to support you.’”
It was the beginning of what Stutzmann calls “an amazing relationship, a mentorship.” The two still talk about music.
“It also helped me to get some invitations when I started,” she says. “People trust in the words of such a fantastic maestro.”
These are the orchestra’s newly announced programs, beginning in January.