Early music – and earlier start times – for RTÉ NSO’s new season

Orchestra celebrates 70th anniversary with a wide-ranging concert programme

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra has announced details of its new concert season, which will run from September 8th to May 25th, 2018.

French conductor and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, announced earlier this year as the orchestra's principal guest conductor, formally takes up her new role on September 29th in a programme that offers the very different first symphonies of two musical giants, Beethoven and Prokofiev. German violinist Veronika Eberle is the soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Stutzmann's five concerts include more Beethoven. The Fifth Symphony is on February 23rd, when German cellist Alban Gerhardt returns to play the Elgar Cello Concerto, and the Choral Symphony is in the season's closing concert, when the evening opens with a rare opportunity to hear Brahms's Nänie, a consolatory setting of Schiller.

Brahms’s First Symphony is paired with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto (soloist not yet announced) on April 20th, and Mozart’s Requiem is coupled with Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration on December 1st. The choir for all the choral works is the RTÉ Philharmonic.


The orchestra's traditional Good Friday afternoon engagement with Bach will be conducted on March 30th by Nicholas Kraemer, though the soloists for this performance of the St John Passion are also not yet announced.

Musical sandwich

The orchestra is delving further into the world of the 18th century on February 2nd, when early music specialist Harry Bicket conducts an intriguing musical sandwich of Rameau, a giant of the French baroque, and Mozart. Rameau is a composer I cannot ever recall the orchestra having played before, and suites from his operas Platée and Les Boréades frame the Serenata Notturna and a selection of Mozart arias with soprano Anna Devin.

Another development is the orchestra's Culture Night programme on September 22nd, which this year is conducted by Robert Trevino and includes Grieg's Piano Concerto, with Paul Lewis as soloist, and Australian composer Matthew Hindson's 1996 "techno-piece" for orchestra, Speed. The programme is being given twice, at 7pm and 8.45pm, and all tickets will be free.

Hindson's work is featuring in the orchestra's repertoire for the first time. Other firsts include Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen's Phenomenon on April 27th; the programme also includes Storm Large – yes, the Pink Martini Storm Large – in Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins.

An extended version of Deirdre Gribbin's piano concerto The Binding of the Years, with Finghin Collins as soloist, is at the heart of a concert celebrating the orchestra's 70th anniversary on February 16th. The work is framed by Wagner and Prokofiev, and the conductor is Czech maestro Tomás Netopil.

Australian composer and viola player Brett Dean, a former member of the Berlin Philharmonic, is the soloist in his own Viola Concerto on January 19th under Olari Elts. The first Irish performance of Gerald Barry's Organ Concerto is conducted by Thomas Adès on May 4th; also in that programme are Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, and the Irish première of Lutoslawski's Third Symphony. And Cork composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin gets the opening concert all to himself on September 8th.

Swedish trumpeter

Other programmes of note will see Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger conduct the spectacular brass writing of Janácek's Sinfonietta on October 6th (when fellow Swede Roland Pöntinen will be the soloist in Stravinsky's Capriccio for piano and orchestra). Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio tackles two piano concertos, Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand under Carlos Miguel Prieto on November 10th. And there's more doubling up on November 24th when Danish-Israeli violinist Nikolaj Znaider is both soloist and conductor in Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

Only two of the concerts announced will be heard outside of Dublin. A programme of Stanford (First Irish Rhapsody), Saint-Saëns (the First Cello Concerto with Richard Harwood) and Suk (the Asrael Symphony), will be heard in Limerick on Thursday, October 26th (and in Dublin the following night). And the Christmas Gala, with Egyptian soprano Fatma Said (winner of last year’s Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition) and tenor William Davenport will be heard in Wexford (December 13th), Dublin (December 14th) and Drogheda (December 15th).

The management upheavals in RTÉ’s music department have meant that the current general manager of the NSO, Anthony Long, took up his new position at the end of March, when he moved over from a similar role with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Programming thrust

Much of the new season would already have been planned at that stage, so it will be some time before it is clear what Long’s programming thrust turns out to be. The season brochure cuts some corners, to the point of omitting the actual cost of season tickets (just the amount of the savings is given), and background on music and musicians – a major selling point in most season brochures – is mostly non-existent.

One major innovation is a change in starting time. The choice of a 7.30pm starts breaks a tradition that goes back to the mid-20th century and for the first time creates a series of events that departs from the National Concert Hall’s own norm of 8pm. The reason given is the desire to “align our concert start time with cultural institutions such as the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and Abbey Theatre”, and although Long says “key stakeholders” were consulted, I have spoken to long-standing season subscribers to whom the development came as a surprise.

It seems likely that one person’s gain will be another person’s loss, so it will be interesting to see what change, if any, the move has on attendances. Booking for full season subscriptions is now open at nch.ie; for part-season subscriptions it opens on June 2nd, and for single concerts on June 9th.  mdervan@irishtimes.com