Earlier this month, Lincoln Center announced with considerable fanfare that the newly refurbished David Geffen Hall is set to reopen in October, bursting with new features and amenities aimed at improved access, more diverse offerings and enhanced audience experiences. Now, the New York Philharmonic, the hall’s chief occupant, has announced details for a 2022-23 season aimed at taking advantage of what its refurbished digs have to offer, from ambitious large-scale presentations to intimate experiences in newly opened spaces.
“We emerge from the pandemic and the rebuilding process a stronger institution, transformed not only by new spaces but also by what we have learned from an ever-evolving communication with our community,” Philharmonic president and C.E.O. Deborah Borda said in a prepared statement, hailing the hall’s reopening as “the dawn of a new era” for the orchestra.
Borda referred to the upcoming season as the institution's "inaugural season" in a press conference at Lincoln Center's Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse on Monday evening.
"I don't know if you remember this, but it was two years ago yesterday that Governor Cuomo announced the complete lockdown," Borda said. "Well, the lockdown's gone — and so is Governor Cuomo," she deadpanned, earning gusts of laughter. "Both may return... we don't know."
Aspects of the new era Borda proclaimed are evident at a glance. All eight of the newly commissioned works the orchestra will premiere in the season ahead are by prominent women, BIPOC, Asian, Caribbean and South American composers. One of them, the Trinidadian-American trumpeter and bandleader Etienne Charles, was tapped by Lincoln Center to create for the Philharmonic an hour-long piece, San Juan Hill, inspired by and honoring the Black and Caribbean neighborhood displaced and razed by the arts center’s establishment during the middle decades of the 20th century.
In Monday's press conference, Lincoln Center President and C.E.O. Henry Timms cited Shanta Thake, the center's new Chief Artistic Officer, who'd called San Juan Hill the institution's "land acknowledgement."
Commitment to change also resonates in four themes the Philharmonic announced as the pillars of the season's programs. Rather than conventional celebrations of composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Clara and Robert Schumann, the Phil instead has deployed as its tent poles four buzzwords, rendered all caps in promotional materials: HOME, LIBERATION, SPIRIT and EARTH.
HOME hails the orchestra’s return to its longtime hall, whose transformation into a more inviting, inclusive space is signaled by a 50-foot digital video screen in the street-level lobby, where live performances in the hall will be simulcast free of charge. (In time, the wall also will be used for original video art and films.) The series includes a free opening-night concert (Oct. 7) for an invited audience including Lincoln Center construction personnel and frontline workers who kept the city moving during the pandemic, followed by two performances of Etienne Charles’ San Juan Hill (Oct. 8).
Elaborate new pieces by Marcos Balter (Oct. 12-18) and Caroline Shaw (Oct. 20-23), presented in concerts conducted by van Zweden, are meant to show off the reconfigured hall’s acoustic versatility. A sound-art exhibition, featuring new creations by artists like Jace Clayton, Tristan Perich and Pamela Z, similarly showcases the new public spaces surrounding the main auditorium.
LIBERATION (March 2-4) examines social justice and equity through new and overlooked pieces by Black artists, including a premiere by composer Courtney Bryan and librettist/director Tazewell Thompson. "The murder of George Floyd set off a national dialogue and questioning, which needs to continue," Borda said on Monday evening. "It cannot stop. It needs to move ahead. So we have asked Black creators and their communities to explore themes of equity and justice in their own voices."
The concerts, to be conducted by Leslie B. Dunner, will also include Adolphus Hailstork's Done Made My Vow, A Ceremony, semi-staged by Thompson, and William Grant Still's Symphony No. 2 ("Song of a New Race"). The series also marks the start of a new collaboration between the Phil and Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, including the establishment of a scholarship program established to send young artists to Interlochen Arts Academy — one of several new access-oriented partnerships the institution will initiate in the season ahead.
SPIRIT, conducted by van Zweden, emphasizes faith and resilience in two monumental compositions, Messiaen’s ecstatic Turangalîla-symphonie (March 17-19) and Bach’s solemn St. Matthew Passion (March 23-25). EARTH, also led by van Zweden, contemplates natural balance and climate change in unEarth, a newly commissioned multimedia oratorio by Julia Wolfe (June 1-3), and Become Desert by John Luther Adams (June 8-10), partly commissioned by the Philharmonic.
Pressed by Borda to reveal what he's looking forward to most in the season to come, van Zweden cited the new piece by Wolfe, whose previous oratorio, Fire in My Mouth, had proved an arresting collaboration. He also mentioned the St. Matthew Passion, a piece with which he'd had a lifelong connection — Bach, he said, "can clean you inside your soul, he can clean you and you come out and you feel like reborn."
One more highlight, van Zweden said, would be "the opening week — and then actually not only the opening week, but the opening minute. The opening minute, the opening second of hearing the first notes in the new hall, that's a very intense moment. And not just for me — that is for the members of the orchestra an intense moment."
The new season will be the next to last overseen by van Zweden, whose adventurous but pandemic-disrupted tenure concludes in 2024. His impending departure, announced late last year, now ensures that any hot prospect who mounts the podium during the fall and spring will be sized up for swipe-right potential. In addition to Gustavo Dudamel and Susanna Mälkki (who already top almost any list of potential successors to van Zweden), guest conductors slated to appear include newcomers Karina Canellakis, Klaus Mäkelä, Rafael Payare and Ruth Reinhardt, as well as two charismatic leaders who’ve recently made strong impressions here, Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Dalia Stasevska.
As always, the schedule is studded with starry soloists, including an enticing pairing of flutist Claire Chase and bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding performing together in Felipe Lara's Double Concerto (March 29-31, 2023). The unorthodox showpiece, written expressly for these soloists, is conducted by Susanna Mälkki, who led the world premiere last September in Helsinki. Other soloists appearing for the first time with the orchestra include bass-baritone Davóne Tines, countertenor Reginald Mobley and pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. Returning favorites include singers Sasha Cooke and Paul Appleby, pianists Emanuel Ax, Daniil Trifonov and Yuja Wang, violinists Lisa Batiashvili and Leonidas Kavakos, and cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Alisa Weilerstein.
Mixing up the menu for the Philharmonic's main hall, the charismatic singer, songwriter, mandolinist and, yes, public-radio raconteur Chris Thile hosts “The 65th Street Session,” a genre-blending four-concert series he’ll launch with a program of his own music (Oct. 11, 2022). Further artist-led presentations in the main auditorium include events helmed by bass-baritone Eric Owens, pianist András Schiff (the orchestra's Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence), and violinists Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell. And the hall’s new Sidewalk Studio will host the popular Nightcap late-night hangs formerly housed in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, as well as two new series: one devoted to emerging soloists and adventurous ensembles, the other, “NY Phil @ Noon,” showcasing orchestra members in casual pay-what-you-will matinee concerts.
Complete details for the New York Philharmonic's 2022-23 season can be found on the orchestra's website.