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Baltimore Symphony's 2014-15 Season Features Themes of 'Spirituality and Transcendence'

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Baltimore Symphony's 2014-15 Season Features Themes of 'Spirituality and Transcendence'

Music Director Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) announce the Orchestra's 2014-2015 season, its eighth under the direction of Maestra Alsop. The full schedule and details about each production follow.

Throughout the 2014-2015 season, the BSO explores themes of spirituality and transcendence in eight programs at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and The Music Center at Strathmore. Issues of faith, beliefs and values have inspired some of the most awe-inspiring, uplifting music over the ages - from Mozart's late 18th century "Great" Mass and the early 19th century humanism of Beethoven, to Mahler's great symphonic outpourings and Bernstein's own music wrestling with "the 20th century's crisis of faith," to new perspectives from contemporary composers, Jennifer Higdon and Christopher Rouse.

"Our season," says BSO Music Director Marin Alsop, "captures the transformational power of music and aspires to offer a transcendental connection for people beyond their own worlds. Spirituality is an extremely personal journey and that is the profound beauty of music: its message is always an individual, personal one."

On September 18, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore and September 19 & 21 at the Meyerhoff, Marin Alsop opens the subscription season with a program featuring Mahler's Symphony No. 4. Soprano Tamara Wilson will perform the solo in the work's fourth and last movement. Also on this program is Baltimore native and acclaimed violinist, Hilary Hahn, who will join the BSO to perform Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

Incorporating a German lullaby, "Das himmlische Leben," the final movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 presents a child's vision of Heaven. Composed shortly after the death of his young daughter, this work is considered to be one of Mahler's most metaphysical, and attempts to articulate the existence of God and the afterlife through the eyes of a child. One of the most lightly scored, the musical texture tends to be light and serene, with some playful moments, which attempt to articulate the hope that a father can find solace after tragedy.

On September 26 & 28, 2014 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and September 27, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore, the BSO will feature the BSO premiere of Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral, along with Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1, Korngold's Violin Concerto and John Williams' Theme from Schindler's List, featuring Canadian violinist James Ehnes.

Composed after the loss of her younger brother, Andrew Blue, Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral became a musical representation of "the place our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience" after losing a loved one. "Blue," says Higdon, "[is] like the sky... where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals...a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression...serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky."

Marin Alsop conducts the BSO in two themed works: Christopher Rouse's Rapture and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, October 23, 2014 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and October 26, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore. Also on the program is Richard Strauss' autobiographical tone poem, Ein Heldenleben.

Composer Christopher Rouse describes his piece, Rapture, as a way "to convey a sense of spiritual bliss, religious or otherwise. The entire work inhabits a world devoid of darkness -- hence the almost complete lack of sustained dissonance." The BSO has collaborated with the Baltimore-based composer more than 50 times since 1985.

Alexander Scriabin was a Russian mystic symbolist drawn to religion and philosophy. Scriabin professed that the emotion of ecstasy was, "the most highly evolved of all the human emotions." His symphonic poem, The Poem of Ecstasy, sought to use art as a gateway, a point of departure to other planes of existence beyond the material world. The Poem of Ecstasy is based on an actual poem, but Scriabin suppressed it from performances, preferring the experience of the music to be absolute, unmediated by words.

Illustrating a nexus between the Christian and Judaic liturgical traditions, Bernstein's First Symphony ("Jeremiah") and the Chichester Psalms will be performed November 21 & 23, 2014 at the Meyerhoff. Also on the program is Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, written during a time of profound spiritual introspection by the composer and the final piece Bernstein conducted before passing away in 1990. Joining Marin Alsop and the BSO, will be the soloists and members of the Washington National Cathedral Choir, the BSO's first-ever collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based choir. Jennifer Johnson Cano performs the mezzo-soprano solos in the Bernstein symphony.

Chichester Psalms was Bernstein's first composition after his 1963 Third Symphony ("Kaddish"). While both works have a chorus singing texts in Hebrew, the Kaddish Symphony has been described as a work often at the edge of despair, while Chichester Psalms is joyous and at times serene. Musically, Chichester Psalms is true to Bernstein's personal style - jazzy and contemporary, yet accessible. Bernstein characterized this work as "popular in feeling," with "an old-fashioned sweetness, along with its more violent moments."

With Bernstein's Symphony No. 1, "Jeremiah," Bernstein not only established himself as a major American symphonist, but he began a musical and dramatic exploration of a theme of faith that would continue to inspire many of his major works. "The work I have been writing all my life," he said in 1977, "is about the struggle that is born of the crisis of our century - a crisis of faith." While his Symphony No. 1 offers only consolation and not a solution to this crisis, Bernstein's creative journey led him to a profound conclusion - that "a renewal of faith in modern times requires a return to innocence... and a fundamental belief in our common humanity." These performances of the Symphony No. 1 will be recorded for release on the Naxos label.

In what turned out to be his final performance, Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. He was noted by John Rockwell in The New York Times to have conducted the Seventh Symphony, "with a special mastery. Those who had seen and heard Bernstein perform innumerable times over the years will never forget the sovereign authority of that interpretation, grave and noble, yet passionate." He also noted that, "One also remembers [Bernstein's] look of gasping, pained exhaustion as he walked effortfully toward the wings after accepting the ovations of the audience. He was very ill, as his agonized expression telegraphed."

On January 2 & 4, 2015 at the Meyerhoff, and January 3 at Strathmore, BSO favorite Nicholas McGegan will lead the Orchestra in Beethoven's final symphony with the well-known "Ode to Joy," along with Beethoven's rarely performed Opferlied, his King StephenOverture, and Haydn's The Storm.

Beethoven was a fervent believer in the values of the Enlightenment, and found ways to express those beliefs in many of his compositions, especially later in life. One of the reasons for the nearly universal appeal of his Ninth Symphony is that it exemplifies the human value: "all men shall become brothers." The words sung in the final movement, were taken from the "Ode to Joy," a poem written by Friedrich Schiller, that proclaims, "Be embraced, ye millions! ... Brothers, above the starry canopy there must dwell a loving Father."

The 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World winner, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society Women's Chorus andPeabody's Children's Chorus join Marin Alsop and the BSO in Mahler's Symphony No. 3, January 29 & 30, 2015 at the Meyerhoff and January 31 at The Music Center at Strathmore.

Often called Mahler's "Nature Symphony," Mahler's Third Symphony comes closest to realizing his belief that a symphony, "should be like a world. It must embrace everything." He stated that the entire symphony describes "all stages of evolution in a step-wise ascent, beginning with inanimate nature and ascending to the love of God", embarking on a journey that starts with an expansive hymn to the pagan woodland god Pan, leading to worlds with flowers, creatures and then man, and culminating in the final two movements in the depiction of angels and love.

Founder of the renowned Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki makes his BSO debut leading an all-Mozart program, including the fifth Violin Concerto with Augustin Hadelich. The University of Maryland Concert Choir and soloists join forces in the first BSO performances since 1995 of Mozart's "Great" Mass in C minor, March 13 & 14, 2015 at the Meyerhoff and March 12 at Strathmore.

Written in gratitude to his young wife Constanze after the birth of their first child, the C minor Mass, or "Great" Mass, occupies a very personal place in Mozart's canon. Suffused with melodies and intricate harmonic structures, there is an operatic quality to the music, with its dramatic settings and aria-like soprano solos. Although left unfinished because of upheaval in the composer's life, it is widely considered to be of the most revered examples of a Mass, a pinnacle form in the world of sacred orchestral music.

On June 11 at The Music Center at Strathmore and June 12-14, 2015 at the Meyerhoff, Marin Alsop will lead the BSO in a semi-staged version of her mentor Leonard Bernstein's acclaimed operetta Candide with Tony Award-winning Patti LuPone, Broadway stars and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

"The music of Leonard Bernstein," says Marin Alsop, "embodies our season theme; every piece he wrote was an exploration of faith and spirituality and he, like Beethoven, believed in the ultimate power of humankind to transform our world. Candide is the perfect vehicle for Bernstein to share this philosophy with us. A story filled with improbability, humor, tragedy, and joy, it is a fable about optimism and authenticity. In the end, joining hands with each other to focus on the simple and genuine tasks of living a good life brings the most joy. "

Marin Alsop's dry wit and encyclopedic knowledge of classical repertoire have been the winning combination behind the popular Off the Cuff series. Now in its seventh season at the Meyerhoff and fifth at Strathmore, the series is averaging more than 80% capacity at the Meyerhoff and 90% at The Music Center at Strathmore. With its unique, shorter concert format, generally featuring one masterwork - theOff the Cuff series is attracting a devoted following of classical music aficionados and newcomers alike. These audiences share a desire to delve deeper into the themes and meanings of major works and the lives of the composers who wrote them. Due to popular demand at both of the BSO's venues, the BSO will add a fifth Off the Cuff Program to its schedule in the 2014-2015 season.

In his autobiographical, Ein Heldenleben ("A Hero's Life"), Strauss expresses his devotion to his wife Pauline. Ein Heldenlebenis a tone poem that is known for its innovative use of the modern orchestra, and is considered one of the great symphonic works. Audiences can learn more about this favorite orchestra showpiece on October 24, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore andOctober 25, 2014 at the Meyerhoff.

More than 75 years ago, Shostakovich set out to write his now legendary Fifth Symphony. The result was a score full of contradictions and hidden messages. Marin Alsop explores the story behind this piece in this BSO Symphonic Play™ directed by BSO Playwright-in Residence Didi Balle. These performances are November 14, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore and November 15, 2014 at the Meyerhoff. The Philadelphia Orchestra originally commissioned Balle to write and direct this Symphonic Play™ for actors and orchestra, dramatizing Shostakovich's harrowing life during Stalin's murderous reign in 1930s Russia.

One hundred years ago, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring sparked a riot in the streets of Paris, but would go on to leave an indelible mark on jazz, minimalism and other contemporary music and art. Marin Alsop guides the audience through the complexities and elements of this Russian masterpiece on January 9, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore and January 10, 2015 at the Meyerhoff.

Considered a true Bach and Baroque specialist, Nicholas McGegan, returns for a guest appearance to explore seminal works by Johann Sebastian, Johann Christian and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and their respective legacies that put them at the forefront of Baroque music. These performances are February 13, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore and February 14, 2015 at the Meyerhoff.

"If Beethoven's Fifth is Fate knocking at the door," wrote a commentator, "Tchaikovsky's Fifth is Fate trying to get out." Marin Alsop, and a cast of characters directed by BSO Playwright-in-Residence, Didi Balle, guide audiences through Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony in a special Symphonic Play™ performance on April 10, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore and April 11, 2015 at the Meyerhoff.

On Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 8:30 p.m., the BSO will host its annual gala concert at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The theme is "Celebrating Baltimore," featuring music and artists with Baltimore connections.

2014 marks the 200th Anniversary of the "Star Spangled Banner," composed in Baltimore during the height of the bombardment of Fort William McHenry. Ferde Grofé composed his Ode to the Star Spangled Banner in honor of this momentous turning point in the War of 1812. The full orchestral score, which currently exists only in the manuscript he prepared for the piece's debut at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in December 1932, is being restored by the Library of Congress, and will be performed for the first time in more than 80 years by the BSO at this event.

Marin Alsop will lead the orchestra in Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait joined by Center Stage's Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah as narrator, and Old American Songs performed by the Morgan State University Choir.

Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of an "eminent American" and decided to use material from speeches and letters of Abraham Lincoln, and interlaced these quotes with folk songs of the period, including "Camptown Races" and "Springfield Mountain."

Also on the program will be Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and special appearances by the BSO OrchKids and members of the BSYO.

On the 10th anniversary of the BSO at Strathmore, February 5, 2015, Marin Alsop and the BSO present a special concert featuring piano great Garrick Ohlsson performing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto and two orchestral showpieces by Respighi, The Pines of Romeand Church Windows. Additional activities celebrating the anniversary will be announced at a later date.

In the late 1990s, the BSO Board of Directors determined that a second home complementing Baltimore would secure the long-term stability of the BSO as one of the nation's top full-time orchestras. Situated in an economically growing part of the state in North Bethesda, Montgomery County, the venue is renowned for its elegant architecture and world-class acoustics. Audience capacity has consistently averaged or exceeded 80% in all of its first nine seasons, and, as a result of demand, the BSO is increasing by six concerts to 37 the number of presentations in the 2014-15 season, including a new five-concert Sunday 3 p.m. matinee series. In addition, the new Music Box series of six 30-minute Saturday morning programs, each repeated at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., expands the range of offerings for family audiences. The BSO remains the only orchestra in the country to enjoy two year-round homes.

As a result of high demand and record attendance at The Music Center at Strathmore, the BSO will expand its offerings in the 2014-2015season to include a brand-new five-concert Sunday matinee series. For the first time in its nine-year history, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will present concerts in North Bethesda, Md. at 3 p.m. The expanded offerings will represent the full-concert repertory of the accompanying Off the Cuff series, performed Fridays at 8:15 p.m. By increasing its concert offerings to 37 presentations in the next season, the BSO at Strathmore has underlined its commitment to bringing the best in classical music to Montgomery County and the Washington, DC area.

Edward Polochick leads the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale in their annual performance of Handel's Messiah, December 5, 2014 at the Meyerhoff and December 6, 2014 at Strathmore. Leading the orchestra onstage from his harpsichord, Maestro Polochick has brought his nuanced interpretation of Handel's oratorio to Baltimore audiences for more than 30 years.

Jack Everly, tap-dancing Santas, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Orchestra and guest vocalists perform carols, classical favorites and sing-alongs in six holiday pops programs. December 11 at Strathmore and December 12-14, 2014 at the Meyerhoff.

The BSO's full-length productions of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, featuring dancers from the Baltimore School for the Arts, have quickly proved to be both a critical success and audience favorite at The Lyric Modell for the Performing Arts Center. The BSO again presents this holiday tradition for the whole family in four performances, December 21-23, 2014 (tickets available May 1, 2014 via Ticketmaster).

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