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Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2019-20 season spotlights women, Placido Domingo — and the Academy of Music

Placido Domingo will open the season with a gala concert. The orchestra will perform live-to-film with the movies "Up," "Fantasia," and "An American in Paris."

Tenor Placido Domingo
Tenor Placido DomingoRead moreRobert Millard

The Philadelphia Orchestra opens next season with Placido Domingo, performs Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor with the Westminster Symphonic Choir, returns to the Academy of Music for a week of subscription concerts for the first time since 2001, celebrates the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with all five piano concertos and a four-week cycle of his symphonies, mounts a semi-staged production of Strauss’ Elektra — and, in a significant correction to last season’s oversight, hosts dozens of women soloists, conductors, and composers.

The orchestra’s 2019-20 season, which begins in September, is Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s eighth as music director and the first to show the influence of Matías Tarnopolsky, the orchestra’s new president and CEO. Opening night with Domingo is Sept. 18, just a few days after expiration of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s current labor contract with its musicians.

The orchestra next season will also dip its toe into presenting, bringing in Nézet-Séguin and his other orchestra, the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, with mezzo Joyce DiDonato (Nov. 24); and, in a co-presentation with the Kimmel Center, pianist Evgeny Kissin for an all-Beethoven recital (May 14, 2020). Both concerts are in Verizon Hall.

The majority of the orchestra’s programs in 2019-20 include a woman composer, conductor, or soloist, and many pair works by Beethoven with scores whose ink will barely be dry.

These “works in dialogue with Beethoven” were chosen by Gabriela Lena Frank, who begins her tenure as the orchestra’s new composer-in-residence. A work she is writing as a kind of response to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 will be premiered alongside the beloved “Choral” Symphony (April 2-5, 2020).

The first subscription program of the season (Sept. 19-22) opens with an orchestra commission from Valerie Coleman, the former Imani Winds flutist. Her Umoja mixes jazz, Afro-Cuban, and classical influences.

Nézet-Séguin said what perhaps makes him most proud about next season is to be bringing so many new works to the stage.

“With Matías coming in, right away we focused on curating our first season together,” Nézet-Séguin said in an interview with Tarnopolsky from Montréal. The orchestra’s audience “is increasingly growing their appreciation and love for music of living composers, said the conductor, who turns 44 Wednesday.

When Nézet-Séguin arrived in Philadelphia, he had a vision for “an ideal world to create this zone of trust” among himself, the orchestra, and the audience “to give a sense of what is going on in the world in new music," he said. "There is definitely a crescendo here.”

Next season, he said, the orchestra presents works by 17 living composers. Not all are women, but the orchestra additionally has programmed works by women in an arc from the past that includes 19th-century Louise Farrenc, early-20th century Lili Boulanger, and contemporary elder stateswoman Betsy Jolas (she is now 92).

The orchestra sustained criticism around this time last year when it announced a 2018-19 season with no female composers. It subsequently added a few. It might now appear to be making up for lost time. But, in fact, planning for some of the 2019-20 programming of women had already been underway when the works for 2018-19 were revealed.

The 2019-20 season is also notable for who won’t be visiting the podium. Deep musical relationships the orchestra has forged with Simon Rattle, Vladimir Jurowski, Fabio Luisi, and Gianandrea Noseda will not develop further — at least, not next season. None is on the roster for 2019-20.

The entire conducting roster beyond Nézet-Séguin, in fact, is evolving. Next season is Stéphane Denève’s last as principal guest conductor, and auditions for talent to follow assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe are slated for next week.

Of Rattle, Jurowski, Luisi, and Noseda, “these remain very good friends of the orchestra. We are in regular touch with them,” said Nézet-Séguin. “It’s a moment where we can see also that conductors in general are trying to move a little away from this jet-setting life of always guest-conducting from one orchestra to the other.”

Some of his colleagues have cut their guest-conducting stints to focus on their home orchestras, he said.

What Nézet-Séguin is excited about, he said, is talent new to the orchestra, and the chance to “nurture new relationships with great artists of our time.”

He cited recent appearances by conductors Jane Glover, Emmanuelle Haïm, and Nathalie Stutzmann.

Women on the podium is “something that is important for the orchestra and for me personally to feature and to highlight,” and though it is nothing new for this orchestra, “maybe the proportion is quite new for us.”

Stutzmann and Glover return next season. Also under the banner of an enterprise the orchestra has dubbed WomenNOW, conductor Karina Canellakis makes her Philadelphia Orchestra debut.

The Curtis Institute of Music graduate — currently in town conducting the Curtis opera department’s production of Don Giovanni — leads a program of works by Lutoslawski, Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri, and one of two Beethoven piano concertos with Emanuel Ax, depending on the night (Feb. 6-8).

Also returning to the podium are Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with Raminta Šerkšnytė’s De Profundis, the Nielsen Flute Concerto with flutist Jeffrey Khaner, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 (April 23-25, 2020); and Susanna Mälkki leading A Little Summer Suite by Betsy Jolas, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, and the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham (Nov. 29 and 30).

The last Beethoven cycle the orchestra performed was in the 2005-06 season, when Christoph Eschenbach was music director. Piano soloists in the Beethoven concertos in addition to Ax are Yefim Bronfman and Daniil Trifonov.

It is Bronfman in the Piano Concerto No. 4 who joins the orchestra for its return to the Academy of Music in a program led by Nézet-Séguin, also featuring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Vivian Fung’s Dust Devils (Jan. 23-26). The Academy of Music 163rd Anniversary Concert is set for Jan. 25.

Pianist Yuja Wang alternates two concertos on different nights — not Beethoven, but Brahms. She performs the first concerto on Thursday and Friday, and the second concerto on Saturday and Sunday (May 28-31, 2020), both paired with the Sibelius Symphony No. 3, Nézet-Séguin conducting.

Nézet-Séguin leads three performances of Elektra (May 15-19, 2020) in a “symphonically staged” production by Jonathan Loy with soprano Christine Goerke in the title role, soprano Amber Wagner (Chrysothemis), mezzo Michaela Martens (Klytämnestra), bass Mikhail Petrenko (Orest), and tenor Jay Hunter Morris (Aegisth).

Instrumental soloists for the season include violinists Leila Josefowicz and Leonidas Kavakos; organist Paul Jacobs; and pianists Hélène Grimaud, Haochen Zhang, Louis Lortie, Lise de la Salle, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Lukas Geniušas.

The orchestra continues its search for a new principal oboist this season by hosting guest artists in that chair. Horn player Daniel Williams, who joined the orchestra in 1975, will retire at the end of the current season.

The orchestra will perform live-to-film for showings of Fantasia (Jan. 3-5), An American in Paris (May 7-9, 2020), and Up (June 11-13, 2020).

As for ticket prices, the cost of subscriptions next season in about a third of the sections of Verizon Hall remains the same, an orchestra spokesperson said, with one third increasing and one third decreasing. Increases and decreases vary between $2 and $15, she said, with only one section increasing by $15. Single tickets, which go on sale in August, have not yet been priced.

Details of the Sept. 18 opening-night gala at the Kimmel Center with Domingo are still being worked out, said Tarnopolsky, but patrons, he promised, are “going to have an incredible night.”

Information:, 215-893-1955.