BOSTON — On Friday the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced the details of its first full season without James Levine as music director.
Before speaking about the programming for 2011-12, Managing Director Mark Volpe addressed the maestro’s resignation.
“We felt, being Jim and me, that we needed to give him time to focus on his health,” Volpe said.
Levine has been struggling with painful herniated discs that have caused him to cancel many of his BSO appearances over the past few years.
“We’re still trying to sort out what ongoing role he may have,” Volpe said.
At the same time, Volpe acknowledged that Levine’s departure “created a wide open situation where we were able to put together a season with some pillars of the musical conducting world.” Bernard Haitink will close the year with three Beethoven symphonies. Kurt Masur, Charles Dutoit and Christoph Eschenbach are also on the bill, along with Esa-Pekka Salonen, who hasn’t performed with the orchestra in 14 years.
The full list of guest conductors, “is an interesting mix of different generations,” Volpe said. “Some are old stand-bys for us and a have a great tradition of working with the Boston Symphony. But we also have six people who have never conducted this orchestra before.”
The six are Jiří Bělohlávek, Riccardo Chailly, Juanjo Menja, Andris Nelsons, Juraj Valčuha and Jaap Van Zweden.
There are more guest conductors than usual since Levine won’t be taking his turns at the podium, and Volpe said they tried to create a balance. “If every week has a brand new face for the orchestra that could be quite jarring,” he admitted.
The lineup of music includes some “blockbuster choral pieces,” as Volpe put it, including Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9″ and the composer’s “Missa Solemnis.” That work christened Symphony Hall when it opened 110 years ago.
The season is “loaded,” according to Volpe, and that’s no accident.
“Part of it is we know what the audience has been through the last few years, and it’s hung in there for us,” he explained, “and we put this together with obviously several agendas. We are commencing our search for our new music director, but beyond that we wanted to give a great first season without Jim.”
One symbolic choice will be the season’s opener on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 featuring German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. She will perform all five Mozart concertos without a conductor on stage.
Sounds risky, but Volpe said it actually isn’t. To be clear, he said the BSO wouldn’t go maestro-less if they were performing unfamiliar repertoire — a 20th century work, for instance. But the orchestra is fully versed in the Mozart concerti.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma will return to Symphony Hall, and 13 artists will make their BSO debuts. Among them are pianists Till Fellner and Cédric Tiberghien.
The organization also announced the programming for its December 2011 West Coast tour and March 2012 Carnegie Hall performances. Originally, Levine was scheduled to lead those. Instead, conductor Ludovic Morlot will travel with the BSO musicians to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Palm Desert and Los Angeles. In New York, Masur and Eschenbach will take the stage.
Volpe is excited about the upcoming season. The past few years have been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Volpe and the rest of the BSO. When I said, “never a dull moment” to Volpe, he replied, “Actually, I would like a dull moment,” with a laugh, then added, “it’s not gonna work that way.”