Season Preview 2020

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2020 season with an impressive line-up of conductors old and new and, less surprisingly, a year-long Beethoven celebration in honour of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Currently without a Chief Conductor as such, the orchestra will field a triumvirate of maestros: Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis, who will head the Mid-Season Gala, Principal Guest Conductor Xian Zhang, and Principal Conductor in Residence Benjamin Northey who will helm concerts at both Melbourne Town Hall and Hamer Hall. In addition, the MSO has bagged leading international violinist Nicola Benedetti to be its 2020 Soloist in Residence while Deborah Cheetham will be Composer in Residence.

Melbourne Symphony OrchestraSoloist in Residence Nicola Benedetti

Not unafraid to make a political point, the MSO’s Beethoven commemorations will include participation in “The Beethoven Pastoral Project”, an undertaking timed to coincide with United Nations World Environment Day on June 5. On this date, orchestras all across the planet will come together to address the challenge of climate change. Much-loved octogenarian maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy will lead the orchestra in a reading of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, a work chosen to highlight the composer’s love of nature and an awareness that for much of the natural world time is running desperately short.

Before that, the February Season Opening Gala will see Benjamin Northey conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony alongside performers from Circa Contemporary Circus in an attempt to render Beethoven’s ideals of joy and brotherly love in physical form. The performance will be preceded by the world premiere of Deborah Cheetham’s Dutala (Star-Filled Sky), a work specially composed to complement the Beethoven. And if that isn’t enough Beethoven Nine for you, the symphony will be back again at the end of the season. This time it will be conducted by Xian Zhang and paired with The Nine, a new composition by MSO Artistic Ambassador Tan Dun co-commissioned with the Philharmonic Society of London, the organisation who originally commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth.

Other Beethoven year highlights will include Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performing the Fourth Piano Concerto, Jonathan Biss joining the orchestra for the mighty Emperor, and James Ehnes playing the Violin Concerto.

Jonathan Biss. Photo © Benjamin Ealovega

The MSO’s commitment to new music will see them perform works by many Australian composers (including seven MSO commissions) with pieces by Brett Dean, Matthew Hindson (his Violin Concerto), Lachlan Skipworth, Deborah Cheetham, and Jordan Moore (the MSO Cybec Young Composer in Residence). Dean’s new work sounds particularly intriguing: Gneixendorf Music – A Winter’s Journey is Dean’s answer to Jonathan Biss’s commissioning of five composers over five years to respond to Beethoven’s five piano concertos. The last in the series, Dean’s concerto is an attempt to enter Beethoven’s mind as he wrestled with family problems and failing health towards the end of his life.

Four leading female conductors – Xian Zhang, Gemma New, Dalia Stasevska and Tianyi Lu – head an impressive maestro roster that includes the MSO debuts of Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Scheherazade), Pietari Inkinen (Mahler Symphony No 1) and Cristian Măcelaru who will conduct Gil Shaham in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Other returning conductors include Alexander Shelley (Strauss’s Alpine Symphony alongside the world premiere of  a new work by Gordon Hamilton inspired by his Antarctic voyage), André de Ridder (with trumpet virtuoso  Håkan Hardenberger), Stanislav Kochanovsky (with Jonathan Biss in Beethoven’s Emperor), and Ludovic Morlot, whose concert of American music will feature  Thomas Hampson singing Copland’s Old American Songs.

New Zealand-born conductor Gemma New. Photo © Fred Stucker

Guest soloists include pianists Joyce Yang and Simon Trpčeski, cellists Daniel Müller-Schott, Harriet Krijgh and Li-Wei Qin, violinists Karen Gomyo and James Ehnes, and singers Katie Noonan, Shenyang, Simon O’Neill and Camilla Tilling.

Finally, as well as the opening Beethoven Nine Gala, there will be two other Gala events. Sir Andrew Davis will lead the Mid-Season Gala featuring Deborah Cheetham’s new Yirramboi (Tomorrow), Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Nicola Benedetti in the Elgar Violin Concerto. And then there’s the Season Finale Gala in which Andrea Molino will conduct Stravinsky’s Petrushka and the MSO Chorus, the National Boys Choir of Australia, and soloists including Emma Matthews, Kanen Breen and Christopher Magiera in Orff’s blockbuster Carmina Burana.


MSO Season 2020 subscriptions are available from 7pm, Wednesday August 7 with single tickets released later in 2019.

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