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Yannick’s Vision of 40/40

November 06, 2014

40/40 is the signature project of Yannick’s third season as music director. The season-long theme presents 40 pieces of repertoire—from Mozart to Nico Muhly—that have not been heard on subscription concerts in at least the last 40 years. Vice President for Artistic Planning Jeremy Rothman shares the genesis of this idea and how the final works were selected.

From the moment Yannick arrived in Philadelphia, he began a tradition of talking with audiences at the end of every concert. Through those intimate question-and-answer sessions—a tradition that continues this season—he soon discovered that Philadelphia audiences had a huge appetite for a wide variety of repertoire. During those post-concert conversations hosted by Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore, I would listen intently from a back corner of the hall as the subject of repertoire inevitably arose every night. Audience members would raise their hands, project their voices toward Yannick onstage, and enthusiastically deliver their pitch for their favorite pieces.

 

Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Photo by Chris Lee

“When will we hear Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony?” inquired one listener.

“Roy Harris. I love his Symphony No. 3,” pleaded another.

And a frequent refrain, what seemed like every night, called for “Bach’s St. Matthew Passion!”

When the Orchestra performed the St. Matthew Passion over Easter weekend in 2013, it was a direct result of that regular feedback from audiences. The Orchestra’s programming continues to be informed by these requests received in person, via e-mail, by phone messages, and even through Yannick’s casual interactions on the street walking between his Rittenhouse Square home and the Kimmel Center.

When Yannick was named the Orchestra’s next music director in June 2010 he took an immediate interest in Philadelphia’s historical repertoire and programs. He wanted to know as much about works that had been performed, as those that hadn’t. I provided him with long lists of pieces that received premieres in Philadelphia, composers that performed their music here, and extensive compilations of repertoire performed over the last 10-20 seasons. He would highlight and notate these lists in great detail, modeling programs for years to come.

In June 2012, before Yannick officially took up the post, he led a week-long celebration at the Academy of Music for former Music Director Leopold Stokowski. It was an important moment honoring the centenary of Stokowski taking the helm of the Orchestra. It was also a key opportunity to dig back into Stokowski’s very first programs. Pouring over decades of yellowed program books from the 1910s through the ’30s, we carefully noted the works he programmed regularly, the unusual style he often employed in programs, and the risks he took in staging the Orchestra. It became an inspiration for a style of programming in each of Yannick’s seasons.

As Yannick studied the more recent performance history of the Orchestra, there were some obvious gaps that he quickly filled. Mozart’s Requiem hadn’t been played since 1991. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, not since 1985. There was limited representation from early Classical and Baroque eras. Haydn, Bach, and Handel now have a more regular presence on the Orchestra’s seasons.

In one of the early meetings with the season planning team, consisting of Vulgamore, Vice President of Marketing Janice Hay, and me, Yannick expressed a vision to continue pushing the boundaries of what audiences were hearing during the 2014-15 season. He wanted to build on that enthusiasm expressed at post-concert conversations.

Yannick always designs a main idea to connect the journey of a season, and he wanted this year to be about discovering a lot of new musical gems. This wasn’t just about contemporary repertoire, but also unearthing some of those beloved works that have been absent for so long from subscription programs. He came up with the idea of doing 40 works that hadn’t been heard on subscription concerts in at least 40 years. The 40/40 theme would include Rossini and Rachmaninoff as well as Jongen and Janáček. 

Look for this icon next to the works that are part of the 40/40 Project.

Why 40 years? With Yannick’s 40th birthday on March 6, 2015, he thought that this concept would be a beautiful gift—not for him—for his audiences in Philadelphia. Plus, we figured, if The Philadelphia Orchestra hadn’t played a piece on a subscription program in the lifetime of its music director, it was probably due to be heard.

And why 40 pieces? Yannick felt very strongly that identifying 40 made a statement of true commitment to this theme. “Let’s really go for it all the way,” he said. And 40/40 had a nice ring to it.

With some searching and filtering, I pulled together a list of about 1,500 pieces that fit the criterion. The hefty document was 60 pages long. Yannick eagerly took the print-out into his studio and studied it quickly. A couple of days later, he returned it to me, highlighted and notated.

We spent a couple hours together narrowing down the list further to a few hundred. It was surprising what we found. Obviously there were many delightful works of the 20th century that hadn’t yet been performed in Philadelphia, not to mention countless works from the Baroque or early Classical eras. But there were also some really beloved treasures that hadn’t been played on subscription programs in a long time, or never at all. There were many works, so popular and well-known that they often found their way onto summer or Family concerts, but never into the main season. Rimsky-Kosakov’s Capriccio espagnol. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suites. Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Gershwin’s Catfish Row Suite from Porgy and Bess hadn’t been performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra since Gershwin himself performed the world premiere of the piece with the Orchestra in 1936.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol has been performed on every conceivable type of Philadelphia Orchestra concert over the years (summer, tour, education, Academy Anniversary, pension, etc.) but until November 28-30 of this season hasn’t been heard on a subscription concert since January 1931.

From that lengthy list Yannick picked many works he wanted to conduct himself. A few major pieces were targeted for specific concerts right from the start:  Bernstein’s MASS; Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto; and of course the Vaughan Williams Fourth requested by that audience member. There were contemporary works by Jennifer Higdon, Michael Daugherty, Julian Anderson, Stephen Paulus, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Magnus Lindberg, Bramwell Tovey, John Williams, and the world premiere of a piece by Nico Muhly that also would be part of the 40/40 theme. There was the multi-week organ celebration that would include two organ concertos receiving their Philadelphia premieres—by Stephen Paulus and Alexandre Guilmant—plus the Joseph Jongen Sinfonia concertante that had been commissioned for performances with Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1920s but never presented on a subscription concert.

With that solid foundation, the guest conductors selected the rest of the 40/40 works. Each one received a copy of that same list that Yannick had marked up. Each were asked to select pieces from that list to include on their programs as part of the 40/40 theme. The responses were immediately enthusiastic. Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève was particularly interested in presenting music of John Williams on subscription for the very first time. Cristian Măcelaru, the Orchestra’s conductor-in-residence, was eager to present music of his homeland with Enescu’s First Romanian Rhapsody. Alan Gilbert had the perfect pairing of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass with Sibelius’s Night Ride and Sunrise. Paul Goodwin had a unique version of the Mozart “Posthorn” Symphony he wanted to bring.

As we built the season, we quickly got to 20 … 25 … 30 … 35 of the 40/40 works.

When we got to 37, we had to choose those final three pieces from a long, remaining list. That’s when Yannick turned back to those historic Stokowski programs for inspiration. Stokowski often ended his seasons with an audience choice program, for which the public voted to select the works. What better way to kick-off the 40/40 theme than by asking our audiences what to perform? After all, this whole idea started with audience members making their requests at those post-concert chats. Therefore, it was only appropriate to give the loyal fans of The Philadelphia Orchestra the final word.

By the way, that 60-page list of un-performed works, now dog-eared and coffee-stained, still sits on the shelves in Yannick’s studio backstage. And any time he starts to plan a new program, it’s always close at hand.

 

Below is a complete list of the works included in the 40/40 Project during the 2014-15 season.

Saint-Saëns “Bacchanale,” from Samson and Delilah

Borodin In the Steppes of Central Asia

Williams Essay for Strings

Glazunov “Autumn” from The Seasons

Khachaturian Piano Concerto

Sibelius Night Ride and Sunrise

Janáček Glagolitic Mass

Anderson The Stations of the Sun

Buxtehude/orch. Chavez Chaconne in E minor

Jongen Symphonie concertante, for organ and orchestra

Guilmant Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra

Paulus Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra

Janáček Jealousy

Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnol

Debussy Rhapsody No. 1, for clarinet and orchestra

Rossini Introduction, Theme, and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra

Tovey Songs of the Paradise Saloon, for trumpet and orchestra

Gershwin Catfish Row: Suite from Porgy and Bess

Glazunov “Winter” from The Seasons

Tchaikovsky Suite Nos. 1 and 2 from The Nutcracker

Rachmaninoff/orch. Stokowski Prelude in C-sharp minor

Turnage Piano Concerto

Shostakovich Selections from Suite from the film The Gadfly

Walton Selections from As You Like It

Debussy/orch. Stokowski “The Sunken Cathedral”

Higdon Violin Concerto

Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 4

Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute, Suite No. 2

Daugherty Reflections on the Mississippi, for tuba and orchestra

Mozart Symphony in D major, after the “Posthorn” Serenade

C. Stamitz Viola Concerto in D major

Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf

Poulenc Selections from Les Animaux modèles

Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals

Williams Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Lindberg Graffiti, for chorus and orchestra

Bernstein MASS

Ligeti Romanian Concerto

Enescu Romanian Rhapsody No. 1

Muhly Mixed Messages