It is only mid-August, but the summer is nearly over for me as the 13-14 MSO season approaches a month away. Having a few precious free weeks with my family in Boulder, Colorado, is a great time to get a head start on some of the bigger scores for the season. Part of my job with the MSO is not only learning the sizeable amount of repertoire I am conducting over the season, but also learn every single piece being performed throughout the year in case I should have to step in for another conductor. What this leaves me with is a three foot stack of scores (probably around 50 hours of music) that I will need to have prepared.

Now in my third season, it is finally starting to feel manageable. Basically, it is a matter of prioritizing. For instance, several of the works this season are already in my repertoire – i.e. Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Brahms’ Second Symphony. Then there is a collection of works that I want to refresh, but won’t take too much time – i.e. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. Most importantly, however, is recognizing “the Bad Boys” – those works that will cause massive amounts of mental pain and stress if not dealt with early on. That’s what I’ll be focusing on the next month. So as part of previewing our next season, I thought I would give you an insight into some of the more challenging works this season.

Category I – “Wish I had another five years to prepare this”

January 17-18, 2014 – Brahms/Schoenberg: Piano Quartet No. 1 arranged for orchestra

I don’t know why Schoenberg decided to arrange one of the most complex pieces of chamber music for a whole orchestra. The two composers are a perfect fit, but there’s a host of other chamber works by Brahms! At any rate, the work that once gave me nightmares as a pianist now returns to haunt me as conductor. It’s an incredibly intricate work, beautifully arranged – and I have no doubt that under Maestro De Waart’s guidance, this will be one of the most spectacular concerts of the season.

May 2-3, 2014 – Mahler Symphony No. 6

If Mahler had written a ten minute orchestral work (he didn’t), conductors would lose sleep over it. How much worse is it to face the Everest-like Sixth Symphony at eighty minutes long? I guess I’ll find out. On the positive side, once you jump in and start working on it, there are few things I would rather do than study such a magnificent work no matter how intimidating.

Category II – “Going through the bee’s nest to get the honey” (aka: shorter works that pack a punch)

January 31 – February 1, 2014 – Lukas Foss: Time Cycle

A short work can sometimes cause the most problems especially when it is as complex as Lucas Foss’ Time Cycle. I chose this work for my subscription week next season to pay homage to the former MSO music director who was known as a composer and close friend of Leonard Bernstein. Winner of the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award in 1961, this work for soprano and orchestra championed by Bernstein is rarely performed these days although well-known among modern music enthusiasts.

March 28-30, 2014 – John Adams: Chamber Symphony

Composers don’t usually realize when they’ve written something very challenging. When they do recognize it, it’s probably virtually unplayable. Here’s what Adams wrote about the Chamber Symphony: “Despite all the good humor, my Chamber Symphony turned out to be shockingly difficult to play… But therein, I suppose, lies the perverse charm of the piece.” Uh oh…

Category III – “Better now, than later”

Sepember 27-28, 2013 – Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe

Most audiences will be familiar with the Second Suite from Ravel’s knock-out-beauty of a ballet. I am very excited that the MSO will present the ballet music in full this fall – but it does mean that I have another 200 pages of music to learn beyond the Suite. As with all Ravel, the orchestration is a study in perfection and deserves the hours that every conductor most devote to it.

I could give some more examples, but all this musing about the Bad Boys is stressing me out. Time to hit the desk. Looking forward to seeing you all in a month at opening weekend!


About Francesco Lecce-Chong

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