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LA Phil Overflows With Exciting Projects in 2020–2021

February 11, 2020

The Los Angeles Philharmonic can be exhausting to write and read about. And I mean that in a wholly positive, “why can’t other orchestras do this?” kind of way. Their newly announced 2020–2021 season promises to be as exciting as its recent past. Exciting and exhausting. LA Phil patrons know what I mean.

There are always new initiatives; not usually the “we’re recording the nine Beethoven symphonies” initiatives, but ones that seem to challenge basic assumptions and that do much more than gesture toward increasing inclusivity. This is an orchestra that is on the bleeding edge. Here are the three major initiatives announced last week:

•  The Pan-American Music Initiative, led by Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, is a five-year effort that delves deeply into the music of Central and South America, as well as including music by Canadian and U.S. composers. This inaugural season of the project will be curated by composer Gabriela Ortiz, responsible for 2019’s smashing Yanga. The initiative begins Oct. 1–4 with a complete performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia, with baritone/narrator Gustavo Castillo accompanying a new full-length ballet by Brazilian dance troupe Grupo Corpo.

Additional programming will include a Green Umbrella concert conducted by Lina Gonzalez-Granados, featuring works by leading artists from Latin America, including Felipe Tovar, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and Carolina Heredia, and world premieres of LA Phil-commissions from Erika Vega and Alejandro Cardona (Feb. 9), and Gustavo Dudamel conducting works by Gabriela Ortiz (Hominum) and Silvestre Revueltas (La noche de los mayas) in May.

•  “America: The Stories We Tell” will examine our national myths and stories, both the familiar and unfamiliar ones. It opens by delving into the experience of people of color, a concert that includes a world premiere from Puerto Rican-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Angélica Negrón and ends with Julia Bullock’s History’s Persistent Voice, based in the words, work, and experiences of Black American artists. This mixed-media concert features all-new commissioned music by American women of color, including Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Loggins-Hull, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery, Camille Norment, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Pamela Z. Later performances in this series include John Adams’s Girls of the Golden West, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess paired with works by Florence Price and William Grant Still, Sousa marches and responses to them by contemporary composers, and a season-long exploration of the music of Pauline Oliveros curated by Claire Chase, founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble.

•  The Seoul Festival, curated by composer Unsuk Chin, focuses on music and musicians from Korea. Los Angeles has the largest Korean-American population in the U.S., making musical connections and exchange inevitable. This weeklong festival features multiple world and U.S. premieres, showcases leading Korean performers, and includes lectures and panel discussions offering additional insight into the concert programs and the cultural context from which they emerged. Iconic works by Isang Yun, Sukhi Kang, and Byung-Dong Paik will be performed for the first time in the U.S.; the premieres include the LA Phil-commissioned world premieres of a new song cycle by Kay Kyurim Rhie, a revised version of Texu Kim’s Viola Concerto, “Ko-Oh”, and works from Donghoon Shin, Dongjin Bae, Yie-Eun Chun, and Unsuk Chin.

About these festivals, the Phil’s CEO remarked:

Gustavo has been with us for more than a decade now, and in that time, he has widened our embrace of our Los Angeles community and of the world. In the 20/21 season, we welcome new voices and new perspectives from Latin America, East Asia, and our own backyard, while inviting new audiences to experience the wonder of Mahler, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. Gustavo’s artistic vision and immense talent combined with our orchestra’s incredible openness and skill create a space in the concert hall where, for two to three hours at a time, borders dissolve, and everyone is invited.”

The LA Phil, of course, doesn’t just have Dudamel; why stop at one superstar conductor? Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen returns with for a repeat run of the groundbreaking Tristan Project, a full-length production of the opera with Nina Stemme as Isolde, directed by Peter Sellars, and with projections by Bill Viola. Salonen also gives the world premiere of Anders Hillborg’s Sound Atlas. Meanwhile, Principal Guest Conductor Susanna Mälkki leads Enno Poppe’s Fett (the U.S. premiere of an LA Phil commission), Olga Neuwirth’s Remnants of Songs…an Amphigory (U.S. premiere) with Principal Violist Teng Li, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in its original version, with soloist Isabelle Faust.

A few other highlights:

•  The Labèque sisters curate three programs, including two-piano concertos by Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly. In March they play a concert they’re calling “Don’t Fear the Light,” with a program of minimalist and electronica-influenced works by composers including Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Timo Andres, Meredith Monk, Dessner, and David Chalmin. And in Supernova, they are joined by new-music soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan and director/designer Netia Jones in an exploration of aspects of the mystical, cosmic, temporal, and mortal in music that reaches through centuries and collapses time.

•  On March 18–28, 2021, pianist Yuja Wang joins Dudamel and the orchestra to play all four of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, while the orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale perform the composer’s choral symphony The Bells, March 25–28, 2021.

•  Thomas Adès’s Dante trilogy reaches completion on April 8–10, 2021, with the U.S. premieres of Purgatory and Paradise, alongside the already-premiered Inferno, all conducted by Dudamel.

•  Dudamel also leads the premiere of a violin concerto by Andrew Norman, with Leila Josefowicz as soloist; John Adams’s Nixon in China; and the premiere of Daniel Bjarnason’s Piano Concerto, with Víkingur Ólafsson as soloist.

•  The Green Umbrella series does its usual service to new music and culminates on April 24, 2021, with another edition of the “Noon to Midnight Festival,” which includes the world premiere of Gerald Barry’s Salome, an LA Phil-commission, conducted by Barbara Hannigan, who also sings the role of the Princess.

Haven’t mentioned the orchestra opening the Carnegie Hall season, their first appearance there in 30 years, or the residency at London’s Barbican Center. This is probably the only orchestra in the world where such things would be relegated to the last paragraph. Like I said, exhausting.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.