Eight world premieres, a winter festival devoted to French music, and a rousing season finale with Puccini’s “Turandot” will be among the standouts in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-2018 classical season.
This will also be Leonard Slatkin’s 10th and last season as full-time music director. Starting in 2018-2019, he will move into a new position as music director laureate — still intimately involved with the orchestra, but on a reduced schedule.
The 2018 French Festival, which will run from Feb. 8-24, marks an intriguing departure from its predecessors, like the Mozart Festival currently running, which focused on the work of just one composer.
“I decided I wanted to do a country instead this year,” said Slatkin Friday, “and one that is not so well known for its symphonic repertoire.”
The French Festival will dovetail nicely with DSO history, he noted, since “French music is what the orchestra made its early reputation on,” under the great French-born music director Paul Paray, from 1951-1962.
Among other highlights will be a rare all Saint-Saëns program, said Slatkin. Included in that will be both the composer’s “Marche Heroique” and the piece that’s probably his best-known in this country, thanks largely to old cartoons on TV — the “Danse Macabre.”
The festival will also feature a newly edited version of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” which benefited from the discovery of hitherto lost material, including the original tuning for the taxi horns that punctuate the work.
Paired with the Gershwin, fittingly, will be Milhaud’s “A Frenchman in New York.”
Even better, Slatkin says Offenbach’s “Gaîté Parisienne” performance will include actual can-can dancers on stage.
One of Slatkin’s signatures throughout his time in Detroit has been a focus on American composers. This year he’ll take that in a slightly different direction, featuring eight premieres by young Americans who are relative unknowns.
Slatkin explains that he thought of commissioning pieces from composers he knows, like Jared Miller or Cindy McTee, “but what I ended up doing was to go to seven of them and say, ‘I want to do a work by one of your students.’ So these will all be composers I don’t know.’”
Soloists to look for throughout the season will include the celebrated pianist-twins, Michelle and Christina Naughton, during the French Festival, and Olga Kern playing Barber’s Piano Concerto on opening night, Oct. 12.
To round out his last season as music director, Slatkin said he wanted to “present some things that have special meaning to me, but may not have been done in Detroit — Olga Kern with the Barber Concerto is an example of that. I’ve been looking,” he added, “for that one pianist.”
Finally, the season will conclude with Puccini’s “Turandot” in June 2018.
“I’ve had such success with opera presentations,” Slatkin said, “and decided to go for the jugular and do ‘Turandot’ as a concert piece,” which will be performed in partnership with the Michigan Opera Theatre.
“ ‘Turandot’ is just spectacular,” the maestro said. “We’ll have the stage as full as possible with as many people as I can cram on there.”
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