Music: It sounds better in the original German

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (as we called it at The Gazette; it calls itself the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, even in English) unveiled its 2009-2010 season yesterday, its fourth under Kent Nagano, yesterday.

During his first season, a wise observer said the Nagano method, in its Montreal application, seemed to consist of “serious exploration of the Germanic repertoire; unflagging commitment to 20th-century works and new commissions; and a newcomer’s fascination for Canadiana.” And indeed it continues to be so. Nagano has commissioned noted Canadian-born Hobbit soundtracker Howard Shore to write a new something or other, and Yann Martel, Stephen Harper’s literary advisor, is on deck to put new words to some Beethoven. There are also new compositions of a less populist bent by an assortment of Canadian, European and American composers.

But the core of the season (dubbed “A Season In The Mind of Kent Nagano,” in the intriguing/goofy way he seems to like) is straight-up German: Mahler, Strauss, and especially Bach and Beethoven. He’ll conduct all nine Beethoven symphonies in nine days, and the young pianist Till Fellner will return for another concerto performance (the orchestra’s main recording project these days, I learn, is a Fellner/Nagano cycle of the five Beethoven piano concertos, on the almost inconceivably cool ECM label).

Le Devoir‘s man is disappointed to see in all this “the most hidebound of conservatism.” I’m less sure. I think Nagano wants to show what he and the band have accomplished with a German repertoire they played less often under Charles Dutoit (before last year the Orchestra had never recorded a Beethoven symphony). Nor is he leaving the other stuff behind. As for hidebound conservatism, all I can say to the Le Devoir guy is, you don’t live in Ottawa, buddy.

Speaking of which, after two years away I’ve subscribed to the NAC orchestra again for next season. Pinchas Zukerman is sometimes a persuasive conductor and often a wonderful violinist, but I’m not the only Ottawan who values his Rolodex most of all. The five concerts I picked are a Nov. 17 solo recital (Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Beethoven) by Angela Hewitt; a February guest visit by a young guy and his Dutch orchestra; an April visit by Leonard Slatkin, conducting John Adams’ brilliant Violin Concerto; a June concert conducted by Zukerman with pianist Yefim Bronfman; and another two weeks later with the young guy conducting Mahler (the “Symphony of 1,000” in, um, chamber version, with “only” about 300 musicians onstage).

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