Sydney Symphony Orchestra 2009

Next year’s season for the SSO has been announced for a while now.

This is the first season of Ashkenazy’s tenure as principal conductor.  That was announced April last year, though that is more a matter of publicity than fact, as Ashkenazy gives away by mentioning in his introduction to the brochure that the season has been “nearly two years in the making.” 

Probably the features of the season (allowing for my own prejudices) are:

  1. The Prokofiev series, conducted by VA, at the end of the year;
  2. Donald Runnicles conducting with Victoria Mullova, violinist;
  3. Stephen Hough, playing the rarely-heard Tchaikovsky 2nd concerto;
  4. Shostakovich 10th Symphony (VA)
  5. the visit of the Leipzig Thomannerchor (unheralded and tucked away in the 6.30 series and a weekday matinee);
  6. Hickox conducting Vaughan Williams;
  7. Simone Young returning with her chum Cedric Tiberghien, who plays Bartok 2 (making up for this year’s cancellation) – also tucked away in the 6.30 series (the big piece is Ein Heldenleben);
  8. Imogen Cooper and Leslie Howard in the Piano recital series;
  9. Belshazzar’s Feast and The Creation (Cantillation rather than the Philharmonia gets this gig).

That’s not an exhaustive list – you can’t include everything in a list of “features.”

But perhaps the most striking feature is a negative rather than a positive one: there is absolutely no Mahler.  How times have changed!

There is an attempt to revive the (presumably flagging) fortunes of the three Angel Place series – “Mozart in the City”, “Discovery” and “International Piano” by offering subscribers 20% off for their first year of a new subscription to any of these.

I have been to the “Discovery” series once and wild horses wouldn’t drag me back. You have to like Richard Gill to like the series because so much of the presentation is always about Richard. And he conducts symmetrically with both hands at once. Gill has his following but obviously I am not part of it.

I am tempted to the “Mozart in the City” series though I chafe at the 7pm start and the short program. Apparently this is attractive to others, and it seems to have been quite well supported with people for whom this apparently is not a problem. The programming is inventive, though next year’s has taken a more cautious approach than in the last two years.

I already go to the piano series. Its subscriber base has clearly dwindled over the years, and I blame the orchestra management for this, over and above the effects of changing public taste. They have taken their public for granted with the calibre of the artists on offer and then toyed with them by, for example, shifting Thibaudet’s recital to the Concert Hall a few years ago before, inevitably, losing another chunk when they shifted the entire series from Tuesday to Monday night.

Actually, if the orchestra wants to tempt people to multiple subscriptions, I don’t see why it shouldn’t offer more permanent cumulative discounts than these introductory offers. That’s self-serving of me, I know, but the principle between series is not really so different from the principle within a series. Of course it would be open to abuse if existing subscribers used their subscriptions to buy tickets for friends, but that in itself is not so undesirable, given that the big problem is to make a ticket sale at all, and getting a new bum on a seat would be a bonus – as to which see also Yvonne Frindle’s musings here.

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