Judicious hits of new music, including one world premiere, a lineup of top-notch guest soloists and Herculean helpings of symphonic classics are the three pillars of the Lansing Symphony’s 2018-’19 season, announced to subscribers at Friday’s year-ending concert.
The most stellar of the soloists is Yolanda Kondonassis, arguably the world’s most badass (and most adventurous) harpist, coming Jan. 11.
Kondonassis combined with maestro Timothy Muffitt and the orchestra in 2011 for a stinging performance of Alberto Ginastera’s harp concerto, among the most galvanizing moments of Muffitt’s 12-year tenure in Lansing.
Muffitt agrees with that assessment. “She’s a fireball of a performer,” he said.
“I’ve been waiting for an excuse to do something with her again, because our audience responded so strongly to her, and so did the musicians.”
But there aren’t a lot of harp concertos out there this side of Handel, so they’ll play a new concerto by one of the foremost American composers alive, Jennifer Higdon, written specifically for Kondonassis.
Higdon’s services don’t come cheap, so the music was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, including Lansing’s, making it a shared world premiere and a win-win deal: The orchestras split the commission, and the concerto gets multiple performances, which are sometimes hard to secure for new music.
Another season highlight is the world premiere of a new trombone concerto by MSU faculty composer David Biedenbender, written for LSO principal trombonist Ava Ordman, who will do solo honors Nov. 15.
In the past several years, Muffitt has been cycling through the orchestra, giving one or two first chair players a concerto spotlight each year, and it was a bit early to come back to Ordman.
But Muffitt went for it on Ordman’s word that she and Biedenbender are cooking up something special.
“She’s a force of nature,” Muffitt said.
In 2014, Ordman tore through one of the wildest modern works the LSO has ever tackled, a barking-mad concerto by Donald Erb.
There’s no score yet, only the promise of something brand-new. “That’s all you have when you go with a world premiere,” Muffitt said. But it’s the kind of thing that really spices up the maestro’s job.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how exciting this is,” he said. “To have our orchestra being critical in creating these new pieces by important composers — it’s awesome.
Especially when a significant amount of our audience embraces it as fully as they do.”
Muffitt said it’s an “unstated mission” of the LSO to bring back musicians with local roots who have made good in the wider world, like the Cleveland Orchestra cellist Tanya Ell and the Berlin Philharmonic principal horn David Cooper. Melissa White, a Lansing native and guest soloist Oct. 18, played the Mendelssohn concerto with Muffitt and the LSO in 2011. She’ll appear with the orchestra Oct. 18.
“She’s a phenomenal musician.
It was a great experience to work with her,” Muffitt said.
White is co-founder of the Harlem Quartet, a frequent soloist with orchestras across the country, and an adventurous musical mind: she toured the world with jazz greats Chick Corea and Gary Burton in 2012.
Pianist Daniel Hsu, who will solo on a Mozart concerto with the symphony at the May 10 closer, was another big crowd pleaser when he appeared in Lansing as a Gilmore Young Artist in 2016.
“Daniel is exciting to bring back because he’s moved to another level of his career,” Muffitt said. Hsu was awarded the bronze medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn competition and received two other awards, one of them for performing new music. “If we’re going to feature emerging artists with the Gilmore, let’s see what happens after they emerge,” Muffitt said.
The 2018-’19 season is anchored by some massive symphonic pillars, including Schubert’s “Great” (Ninth) Symphony Jan. 11, Brahms’ magisterial Third Symphony Nov. 15 and a kaleidoscopic program of lush, Spanish-influenced tone poems Oct. 18, culminating in Respighi’s thunderous “Pines of Rome.”
Muffitt wanted to let a “good 10 years” go before tackling the biggest work of the season, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, out of respect for his predecessor, longtime LSO maestro Gustav Meier, who conducted it as his swan song in 2006. The Sixth, set for March 30, 2019, is famous for its planet-crushing presto and slow decay to oblivion and is one of the biggest symphonic masterworks Muffitt hasn’t yet done with the LSO.
“I waited until everything was just right, and it’s time to do this piece,” he said.
After a dozen years with the LSO, Muffitt shows no sign of waning enthusiasm.
“I feel like this orchestra, every month, we put a program together and it’s just — wow,” he said. He said the orchestra’s mastery has gotten to the point where he could deliberately stay away from some parts of last week’s closer, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” until the final rehearsal.
“I just knew they could do it and it would be better to leave it and let it be fresh, rather than beat it to death,” he said. Muffitt threw a lot of music at them that night, including an epic Rachmaninoff concerto and a complicated new piece by MSU composer Zhou Tian.
“It’s very difficult, and they came in ready to go at the first rehearsal,” he said. “What fires me up the most is hearing how magnificently they’re playing right now.”
For the full 2018-’19 LSO lineup, including chamber series, pops, and jazz, see www.lansingsymphony.com