The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2018 season, with world-renowned Australian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton making a return after last year’s Das Lied von der Erde and Anne-Sophie Mutter making her Melbourne debut among the many highlights.

“One of the tasks I relish most as MSO’s Chief Conductor is planning a season in which all guest artists are matched with repertoire for which they have a special affinity,” said MSO Chief Sir Andrew Davis. “Our opening gala includes two internationally renowned stars: Nelson Freire, who will perform Beethoven’s majestic Emperor Piano Concerto, and Stuart Skelton will join us to sing music by Wagner and Verdi. Stuart returns the following week to perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, and later in the year we perform Berlioz’s beautiful, touching L’Enfance du Christ with a cast of great international stars. It’s quite possibly our most exciting season yet.”

Stuart Skelton, Melbourne Symphony OrchestraAustralian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton. Photo © Sim Canetty-Clarke

Following the gala, Sir Andrew will be hitting the ground running with two hard-hitting programmes in March. Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, in which Skelton will sing alongside mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, bass Nathan Berg and the MSO chorus, is a must-see, says Davis. “I first heard this work at the age of 14 and it made the deepest impression on me,” he said. “It’s with great joy that I bring it to the MSO.”

Mahler’s all-encompassing Ninth Symphony will follow on the Elgar’s heals, a week later. “It’s a transcendental piece and I’m thrilled that we are performing this right after Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius,” said Davis. “The two works take us beyond the world and it is quite extraordinary to play these two pieces next to each other in a season.”

The other big-hitter on the programme for the 2018 season is Berlioz’s oratorio L’enfance du Christ in June, for which Davis will be joined by mezzo Sasha Cooke, tenors Andrew Staples and Andrew Goodwin, baritone Roderick Williams and basses Shane Lowrencev and Matthew Brook.

Eva-Maria WestbroeckEva-Maria Westbroek

Davis will present some more Wagner in August, with soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, tenor Frank van Aken and bass Daniel Sumegi singing the first act of Die Walküre, Davis sticking around to cap off the month with a programme that sets the world premiere of Composer-in-Residence Carl Vine’s Eighth Symphony alongside Holst’s The Planets.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter heads the list of international guests joining the orchestra next year, performing Tchaikovsky’s well-loved Violin Concerto in June in what will be her first ever performance in Melbourne. Mutter is just one of a suite of international violin stars who will guest in 2018, including English violinist Tasmin Little, who will join Davis and the orchestra for the Last Night of the Proms in March. Canadian violinist James Ehnes will join the orchestra in April for the Australian premiere of the MSO commissioned Aaron Jay Kernis Violin Concerto – conducted by Muhai Tang on a programme with Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony – before German violinist Kolja Blacher performs Britten’s Violin Concerto in July with Simone Young conducting. Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov also returns, both for the East Meets West Chinese New Year concert – conducted by the MSO’s new Assistant Conductor Tianyi Lu – as well as another programme in December.

Conductor Xian Zhang. Photo © B. Ealovega

In September Beijing-born maestro Xian Zhang will return to Australia to conduct Schumann’s Piano Concerto – Benjamin Grosvenor as soloist – and Dvořák’s New World Symphony, on a programme that will also see the world premiere of Australian composer Richard Mills’ new Island Signal Island Song. Then in November, conductor Karina Canellakis will make her MSO debut, with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Dvořák’s The Noon Witch and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, with Mayu Kishima as soloist.

Karina Canellakis. Photo © Todd Rosenberg

In another world premiere on the 2018 season programme, violist Christopher Moore and cellist David Berlin will perform Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s brand new Double Concerto in April, with Jun Märkl conducting, alongside Debussy and Brahms.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and the MSO will celebrate with two concerts in August, conducted by Bramwell Tovey – who stepped in for the legendary conductor in 1986 at the opening of the Bernstein Festival. “‘He was so interested in people, that when he was writing music he wrote for the audience,” Tovey said. “There’s something about the music that is extremely contagious. His music puts a spring in your step. His music makes you feel better. It just makes you glad to be alive. I have never met anybody in my life who was more thrilled to be alive than Leonard Bernstein.”

Tovey’s first programme will feature Bernstein’s Symphony No 1 and Chichester Psalms while the second will include songs and excerpts from Bernstein’s shows Wonderful Town, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Fancy Free and, of course, West Side Story.

Benjamin NortheyBenjamin Northey

In addition to the mainstage season, MSO Associate Conductor Benjamin Northey’s popular Melbourne Town Hall series will return with four programmes featuring Australian guest stars soprano Emma Matthews and violinist Harry Bennetts as well as pianists Andrea Lam and Piers Lane. The Metropolis New Music Festival returns in April, this year highlighting a number of works by South Korean composer Unsuk Chin and the orchestra will ring in the holiday season with Handel’s Messiah.

The Full Programme