A concert season thrives on adventurous contrasts, provocative juxtapositions, and wide-ranging goals and intentions. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2024–25 season links milestones of the repertoire with the fresh approaches of today’s most innovative composers; connects beloved classics with newly unearthed discoveries; and places favorite artists alongside today’s brightest new soloists and conductors.
Music and Artistic Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Jeff Fusco
It also includes one of the most daring concert opera performances ever attempted, and it highlights an almost unprecedented degree of diversity of artists, conductors, and composers—including a premiere by a Black composer from the time of Mozart whose existence was, until recently, virtually unknown to the public. No fewer than nine women composers are represented, two presenting newly commissioned works.
“Come with us as we bring fresh perspectives to masterpieces by Beethoven, Mahler, Verdi, and more,” said Music and Artistic Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin about the 2024–25 season, which will be his 13th as music director. “We will continue to restore and celebrate brilliant but forgotten works by composers such as Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still, Florence Price, and Louise Farrenc,” he continued, “as we build an artistically broad, inclusive musical vision.” Last year the Orchestra extended Yannick’s contract through 2030. “It's a winning team,” he told WRTI Radio’s Susan Lewis of the extension. “And who wants to stop a winning team?”
Engagement with living composers has been an integral part of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s identity since its founding, and the Orchestra continues to pursue this with vigor. The season will include local premieres of Missy Mazzoli’s Orpheus Undone and Julia Wolfe’s Pretty, which is a Philadelphia Orchestra co-commission, and the world premiere of former Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank’s Picaflor (Hummingbird), a programmatic retelling of a Peruvian creation myth.
Opening Night features the world premiere of an orchestral suite from Terence Blanchard’s path-forging opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones, which Yannick presented to Metropolitan Opera audiences in 2021. A co-commission between the Orchestra and the Met, this suite is another example of how the two organizations, both under Yannick’s leadership, have worked together on projects that expand the orchestral and operatic repertoires.
Program from the world premiere of William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 2 (“Song of a New Race”)
Other works by living composers include Lassus ricercare and bTunes for piano and orchestra by the Franco-American composer Betsy Jolas; the United States premiere of Guillaume Connesson’s Cello Concerto (with cellist Gautier Capuçon); Songs for Murdered Sisters, Jake Heggie’s acclaimed 2015 cycle focused on gender-based domestic violence; and Agnegram by conductor-composer Michael Tilson Thomas, which he will lead on a program that also includes Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony.
Additionally, an Orchestra sometimes finds estimable works that have been performed only once or twice and then forgotten—and often remain buried in the footnotes of music history until someone dusts them off for performance. Leopold Stokowski gave the world premiere of William Grant Still’s Second Symphony (“Song of a New Race”) with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1937, declaring him “one of our greatest American composers.” Stokowski continued to champion Still’s music for many years. The Symphony No. 2, performances of which are part of a multi-year exploration of the composer’s works by Yannick and The Philadelphia Orchestra, will finally appear for a second time on Orchestra programs.
That same program includes Margaret Bonds’s The Montgomery Variations, a transcendent tone poem inspired by critical events of the Civil Rights movement—including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young Black girls in 1963.
Former Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to conduct Verdi’s Requiem in October 2024. Photo by Silvia Lelli
Four large-scale landmarks anchor the 2024–25 season, beginning with Yannick’s performances of Mahler’s massive Third Symphony, featuring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Former Music Director Riccardo Muti presents a work dear to his heart, the Verdi Requiem, with four international opera stars as soloists. In the spring, in a special return to the Orchestra’s former home, the Academy of Music, Yannick leads performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; that concert will also include the Piano Concerto of Florence Price (featuring Lara Downes), the Black musical pioneer who, in recent years, has begun to be recognized as one of the primary voices of the 20th century and whose works have been a priority for Yannick and the Orchestra.
The final milestone of the season will be concert performances of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, featuring two of the leading Wagnerian vocalists of our time: soprano Nina Stemme and tenor Stuart Skelton. “It’s one of those big, audacious projects that presently only this Orchestra could take on, at this level,” said Jeremy Rothman, chief programming officer. “It’s a kind of ‘destination experience,’ at least for those on the East Coast.” These concerts are a nice nod to the Orchestra’s history, as it gave the United States premiere of the uncut version of the opera, in fully staged performances at the Academy of Music in October 1934, under Fritz Reiner’s direction.
Pianist Yuja Wang appears with Yannick and the Orchestra in January 2025. Photo by Elizabeth Lippman
The Orchestra highlights a series of masterworks throughout the season, including Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 with Yannick, Saint-Saëns’s “Organ” Symphony led by Roderick Cox, Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite with David Robertson, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique with Stéphane Denève, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6 conducted by Xian Zhang, Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 led by Yannick, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 featuring Nathalie Stutzmann, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 with Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, who also performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.
Newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor Marin Alsop makes her first appearances since assuming that title with the Orchestra. She’ll lead the annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and a week of subscription concerts featuring the previously mentioned Picaflor, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Randall Goosby, and Brahms’s Haydn Variations. Guest conductors for the season are some of the finest among established artists and rising talents and include Rafael Payare, Daniele Rustioni, Masaaki Suzuki, Fabio Luisi, Tugan Sokhiev, and Dalia Stasevska.
Women composers are well represented in the 2024–25 season. In addition to those listed above, the Orchestra presents “La Nuit et l’amour” (Interlude) from Ludus pro patria, a cantata by the French-Irish composer Augusta Holmès (1847–1903); Kaija Saariaho’s Graal théâtre for violin and orchestra (with soloist Carolin Widmann); and the Symphony No. 1 by Louise Farrenc (1804–75), a significant and, until recently, greatly under-appreciated French composer of 19th-century Romanticism.
The husband-and-wife team of Ludwig and Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld originated the roles of Tristan and Isolde in the premiere of Wagner’s opera in 1865.
The roster of returning guest artists is a virtual who’s who in the classical music world: pianists Seong-Jin Cho, Yuja Wang, Hélène Grimaud, Yefim Bronfman, and Emanual Ax; violinist Leonidas Kavakos; cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason; and two of the Orchestra’s own, First Associate Concertmaster Juliette Kang and Principal Viola Choong-Jin Chang.
Among notable non-subscription concerts are The Music of James Newton Howard (featuring violinist Gil Shaham, who also appears on subscription concerts performing the Dvořák Concerto, and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet), hosted by M. Night Shyamalan and conducted by the composer, who scored nearly all of Shyamalan’s early cinematic masterpieces; the Orchestra’s traditional holiday offerings, including two programs led by Yannick, a new event titled Yannick’s Holiday Mixtape in Concert and the annual performances of Handel’s Messiah; and The Music of Joe Hisaishi, with music by the celebrated Japanese film and anime composer, to be conducted by Hisaishi himself. The Orchestra also hosts three Spotlight Recitals this season featuring pianists Daniil Trifonov and Lang Lang, and violinist Hilary Hahn.
“This is a phenomenal season in which the creativity and brilliance of Yannick and the musicians will shine,” said President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. “The extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra will perform some of the high points of the orchestral repertoire—the great symphonies of Mahler, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Verdi’s Requiem. They will also perform important works by William Grant Still, Florence Price, Gabriela Lena Frank, Terence Blanchard, and more. Join us for a truly inspiring season!”
Paul J. Horsley is performing arts editor for the Independent in Kansas City. Previously he was music and dance critic for the Kansas City Star and program annotator and musicologist for The Philadelphia Orchestra.