Sir Andrew Davis embraces the Bard while a host of starry soloists add to Melbourne’s imaginative line-up.

A significant Shakespearean anniversary and a tribute to the great film composers form the imaginative centrepiece of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s culturally diverse 2016 season. The continuation of Chief Conductor Sir Andrew Davis’s Mahler cycle, an impressive line-up of international soloists and some particularly innovative programming at this year’s Metropolis new music festival are all part of the eclectic mix adding to the creative buzz. Rather than concentrating on a big name headliner, the programme released today is long on ingenuity with a broad cross-section of music from a wide range of genres and a sparkling collection of conductors, pianists and string players. “Buoyant Bach, fabulous films, mesmerising Mahler, shattering Shakespeare – the sheer breadth and variety of our concerts is amazing!,” said Davis of the launch. “And I’m particularly proud of the way we reach out to the very young, through our ever increasing education and family programmes. We truly reflect the great diversity of cultural life in our great city and enrich it. Join us in the adventure!”

Sir Andrew Davis

Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the MSO are going all out across the season to bring a wide range of Bard-themed musical works. Sir Andrew Davis gets the ball rolling with Vaughan Williams’ sublime Serenade to Music, which sets the rapturous love scene from The Merchant of Venice. Conductor Diego Matheuz offers Prokofiev’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, to which Sir Andrew responds with Berlioz’s take on the same work coupled with a new commission from James Ledger entitled Shakespeare’s Kings. Other works include music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Strauss’s Macbeth and Walton’s stirring wartime film music from Olivier’s Henry V.

Alfred Hitchcock

On the subject of film music, the movies will be in the air in other ways as the MSO present the work of the musicians who have made contributions to the form over many years. One of the great director/composer pairings will be celebrated in a Hitchcock and Herrmann night, described as “a musical and visual play between light and darkness”, and will be conducted by Benjamin Northey, the MSO’s associate conductor who appears a fair few times on the programme this year. A screening of The Godfather will be accompanied by the orchestra playing Rota’s iconic score live, and then there will be performances of some of the great orchestral works that influenced film composers like Holst’s Planets and Respighi’s Pines and Fountains of Rome.For connoisseurs of new music, the Metropolis Festival has become a leading Australian go-to event in recent years and with American conductor/composer/pianist Robert Spano at the helm it looks to have been programmed in style with a slew of works on the theme of cities. American composers like Unsuk Chin, Michael Daugherty, Jennifer Higdon and Steve Reich rub shoulders with Euro contemporaries Oliver Knussen and Heiner Goebbels and then compare to their predecessors in the form of Berio, Copland, Messiaen and even Orlando Gibbons in a celebration of the restlessness of the metropolis itself. And there’s a new work by Australian composer Barry Conyngham.

Robert Spano

Chief Conductor Sir Andrew Davis will be continuing his epic Mahler cycle with that composer’s contrasting Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. And larger-than-life seems to be the order of the day for Davis who in 2016 will also conduct Richard Strauss’s grandiose Alpine Symphony, Ives’ multi-thematic Fourth Symphony and, for the first time, Beethoven’s sprawling Missa Solemnis.

Paul Lewis

Other conducting names include Simone Young (who will conduct a performance of Bruckner’s valedictory Ninth at the end of the year paired with excerpts from Wagner’s final masterpiece Parsifal starring Stuart Skelton no less, one of the finest Parsifals on the circuit), Chinese composer Tan Dun who with cellist Li-Wei Qin will lead the Lunar New Year concert with a performance of Tan’s The Map and Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd who with Paul Lewis will tackle all five of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos in pairings with Haydn and music of the Second Viennese school.

Stellar soloists include pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard (the Ravel left-hand concerto), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini), Jonathan Biss playing Mozart, Nelson Freire (Schumann), violinists Ray Chen (the Tchaikovsky Concerto), Vadim Gluzman (Brahms’ Concerto), James Ehnes (Richard Strauss and Bach), Richard Tognetti (The Lark Ascending), violist Laurence Power who will play the Bartók concerto and cellist Alban Gerhardt who plays the Dvořák.