Choral and movie blockbusters, plus top soloists headline the 2017 season, while Sir Andrew Davis conducts Thaïs.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has announced an eclectic mix of large-scale events, new music and starry soloists who will be headed to Victoria in 2017. A new Choral series is set to feature some of the giants of the repertoire such as Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Ninth, Messiah, The Creation and Mozart’s Requiem. There will be a slew of live film scores with Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood, the classic Amadeus, and a John Williams fest with Jurassic Park and the first two Harry Potter films. And, for the first time under Chief Conductor Sir Andrew Davis, the MSO will present an opera in concert – a Davis speciality: Massenet’s sumptuous, erotically charged Thaïs.

Speaking with Sir Andrew ahead of the launch, he was keen to point to what he referred to as “a bit of a creation theme” going on – not just with Haydn’s popular oratorio, but with other works dotted throughout the season. Paul Stanhope’s The Heavens Declare is one obvious example, a work that Davis himself will conduct. “Interestingly enough, it’s an older piece, but Paul’s reorchestrating it because, as he said, ‘I’ve learnt a bit about orchestration since then,’” Davis laughs. “So that’s kind of exciting.”

Among the other items on a diverse agenda, Davis is especially thrilled to be presenting Massenet’s Thaïs (or “Massenet’s Thighs,” as he jokingly likes to call it) in concert next August. “I happen to be very fond of it, and I happen to be very fond of Massenet” he explains. “But if you’d ever told me when I was an organ scholar at Cambridge that I was going to become an apostle for Massenet operas, I wouldn’t have believed you. When you’ve got a national opera company here, you want to do something that isn’t Bohème or Marriage of Figaro, but yet is important. For me Massenet’s a very important opera composer and Thaïs is one of my favourites. And it’s a great vehicle for a wonderful soprano.”

Davis has done the work in Chicago with the likes of Renée Fleming, but for Melbourne he’s bringing back another of his favourite singers, Canadian soprano Erin Wall, as the reformed prostitute Thaïs alongside Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey as the passionate, conflicted monk Athanaël.

Stuart Skelton: Photo Sim Canetty-Clarke

Meanwhile, Davis’ applauded Mahler series strides on with Symphony No 7. “Mahler’s Seventh has traditionally been the ugly ducking,” Davis admits, “but I think it’s marvelous. Of course the second and fourth movements are absolutely extraordinary, but I also have a great soft spot for the finale, which I think is the most schizophrenic movement ever. It turns on a dime and goes from one crazy thing to the other – and I love the ending where there’s this sort of dominant thirteenth!”

He also conducts Das Lied von der Erde with two of his very favourite singers: Australian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton “who of course is wonderful, and did a great recording of Gerontius with me,” Davis enthuses, and British mezzo soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, “who is a great singer,” he adds. “I’ve done many things with her over the years, so I’m very excited she’s coming to Melbourne.”

Other stellar soloists headed the MSO’s way include German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott who plays Don Quixote with Sir Andrew and violinists Maxim Vengerov, who will play the Tchaikovsky Concerto at the MSO’s opening night gala, and Alina Ibragimova who plays Bartók. Pianists include the fascinating French pianist (and wolf conservationist) Hélène Grimaud – who recently thrilled audiences playing with the Australian Youth Orchestra – Jayson Gillham who returns to play Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who plays Ravel, and Russian star pianist Daniil Trifonov who plays Rachmaninov’s First Concerto. “I haven’t conducted him before,” says Davis. “I’m really looking forward to that very much, it’s going to be a terrific programme I think.”

Daniil Trifonov

Other big beasts in Davis’ sights include Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, and in a break with his own tradition, he plans to introduce the work to audiences with a substantial pre-concert talk. “I think it will be interesting – I hope!” he explains. “I don’t like to talk a lot in general, but we decided that this might be an exception, and it wouldn’t just be a little introductory chat, but something that would actually explore Bruckner’s sound world, his time and his relationship with Wagner and all that.”

And then there’s The Creation – not a regular Davis masterwork, that features a fine line up of singers including rising international star Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg and a pair of British singers: tenor Andrew Staples and baritone Neal Davies. “I’ve probably only done it about three times before – which is not a lot in a career that’s now beginning to span a long time…” he laughs. “I adore it. I think it’s the most extraordinary piece and we are going to do it in English as it was at first. I’m always rather proud that Haydn was popular in London and that we English were responsible for 12 of his symphonies!”

In another fresh idea, the MSO will have its first ever Ensemble in Residence (the Australian String Quartet) and a new Composer in Residence in the person of Elena Kats-Chernin. “We’re doing several of her existing pieces as well as two new pieces – so she has a significant presence in the season,” Davis says. “We’re all very excited about this.” That shock of the new will be felt all the way across a season that contains 18 Australian works, five Australian premieres, nine world premieres, nine commissions / co-commissions, 33 Australian artists, 39 international guest artists and three new recordings. And talking of new, the Metropolis Festival will be back featuring the oud (courtesy of Joseph Tawadros) and the harpsichord (the remarkable Mahan Esfahani directing and premiering a concerto by Kats-Chernin).

Elena Kats-Chernin

Last but not least, it’s an impressive line up of conductors with Australian star maestro Benjamin Northey enjoying the lion’s share of concerts alongside Sir Andrew, but also significant appearances by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra chief Nicholas Carter, Richard Egarr (conducting a whole festival of Mozart), Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting Messiah, Jakub Hrůša, Andrew Manze, and an Ears Wide Open series with the ever-informative Richard Gill.

MSO 2017 subscription packages are available now with single tickets on sale October 24