Gershwin & Mozart dominate DSO 2016-2017 season

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-2017 season will explore the influence of popular music on classical composers, with none other than George Gershwin as the guide — which should be big fun.

Add to that a three-week long Mozart Festival, the return of soprano Storm Large in Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins,” and the premiere of a work by DSO Jazz Chair Terence Blanchard commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit riots, and you’ve got a year brimming with interest.

The season kicks off Sept. 29 with “Hilary Hahn & Beethoven!” with the visiting violinist performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto in a program that also includes Gershwin’s “Lullaby.”

Gershwin gets the tour-guide honors with the season’s theme, “Gershwin and His Children: The Influence of Popular Culture on Classical Music,” not just because his music rocks. He also was the first to formally introduce jazz to the classical repertoire at a concert that’s gone down in musical history — the 1924 “An Experiment in Modern Music” at New York’s Aeolian Hall.

That’s where Gershwin premiered his jazz-inflected “Rhapsody in Blue,” written in just six weeks and, so the legend goes, partly improvised on the spot — all very jazz-like.

DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin is inclined to believe improvisation was involved.

“I believe it,” Slatkin says, “because he barely had time to write the piece. But that would hearken back to what Mozart did,” he adds, nicely connecting two key elements in the coming season, “writing cadenzas on the spot.”

Slatkin breaks the Mozart, which like the upcoming Brahms Festival, will take place in February (The 2016 Brahms Festival starts Feb. 11), into two parts.

The first will feature “the mature Mozart,” and his last six symphonies. “The final three were written over about three weeks,” Slatkin adds. “We don’t know why.”

The other half of the Mozart Festival will spotlight his double concerti and concerti for winds and orchestra, performed by 15 DSO soloists, including four horn concertos by four different DSO players.

“It’s amazing and astonishing that we can do that,” Slatkin says.

Concertmaster Yoonshin Song is particularly looking forward to Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat for Violin and Viola, which she first performed in concert at 12.

“I still remember the white dress I wore,” she says with a laugh. “I looked kind of ridiculous. But it’s a memorable piece for me, and this time I’m really excited to play with our new principal viola, Eric Nowlin, who’s wonderful.”

Those who caught Jazz Chair Blanchard’s “Requiem for Katrina” this year at the DSO won’t want to miss the premiere of the piece he’s composing about the 1967 disturbances in Detroit, title still in flux.

That will be one of three world premieres in 2016-2017. Spanish composer Ferran Cruixent will debut “Big Data,” which mixes instruments with technology. And American composer Michel Camilo will perform his Concerto for Jazz Trio & Orchestra.

Guest artists across the season will include superstar pianist Lang Lang, 2013 Sphinx Competition winner Christine Lamprea, and pianist Sara Davis Buechner, who will perform what Slatkin calls “two Gershwin rarities” — his Second Rhapsody and the ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations for Piano and Orchestra.

Finally, Large will reprise her roles as Anna I and Anna II in Weill’s jazzy “Seven Deadly Sins,” which the DSO took to Carnegie Hall in 2013.