CSO’s Langrée too busy planning and making music to say farewell … just yet

Eleventh and final season announced

“It’s not a farewell,” insisted Louis Langrée when we spoke about Wednesday’s announcement of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops’ 2023-2024 seasons.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Louis Langrée
Photo by Chris Lee

But, of course, it is a farewell. Next season will be Langrée’s 11th and final season as music director of the CSO. It’s been a time of imaginative collaborations, daring forays into music history and – even as the nation sank into a time of turmoil, negativism and pandemic – Langrée’s time will best remembered for its optimism and good heart, not to mention some exceptional music-making.

As for Langrée’s hesitation to call this a farewell, it’s true that he is not going anywhere, just yet. His final concert – May 12, 2024 – is 15 months away. He still has a lot to share with us. The season he announced Wednesday is sprinkled with musical recollections of earlier triumphs of his tenure. But if you were hoping for a “best-of-Louis” season, this is not it.

This is the sort of season we have come to expect from Langrée; robust, occasionally quirky or challenging, but filled with countless musical riches, both old – Beethoven’s 7th anyone? – and new, including numerous premieres and collaborations.

“We will perform some of the music I have memories of from the last 10 or 11 years,” said Langrée. “But I didn’t want the season to celebrate my legacy. This season should be a promise to the future. My closing concerts shouldn’t be a requiem. There are enough egos with conductors. Instead, we’ll have a world premiere, an orchestral song cycle by Anthony Davis.”

He will also complete what he calls his “Diaghilev trilogy,” a salute to the partnership of composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Over the course of four years, 1910-1913, Stravinsky wrote three masterful ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: “The Firebird” (1910), “Petrushka” (1911) and “The Rite of Spring” (1913). Langrée and the CSO have already performed the last two. But his final concert will feature a performance of the full score of “Firebird,” joined by the towering puppets of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, created and directed by Janni Younge. Conductor Christian Reif will open the coming CSO season with “Rite of Spring,” creating a set of Stravinsky ballet bookends.

Langrée will kick off his final season Oct. 13-14 with Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” and symphonic suite from “On the Waterfront,” Florence Price’s “Symphony No. 1” and Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

You may recall that Langrée’s debut with the CSO also included “A Lincoln Portrait,” with Maya Angelou as the narrator. This time, Langrée will host actor/activist George Takei as the narrator.

“We know him as an actor, of course,” said Langrée. “But he symbolizes the fight for human rights for Asian people because of what happened during World War II. Remember that ‘A Lincoln Portrait’ was composed right after Pearl Harbor. Also, he is a great advocate for LGBT rights. He has a different story, a different background. But I think George Takei is the perfect heir of Maya Angelou.”

Among the season’s other notable performances:

  • Dec. 12-13; Case Scaglione, conductor
    – Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Mahler: Symphony No. 5
  • Feb. 2-3, 2024; Cristian Macelaru, conductor, Kian Soltani, cello
    – Lutosławski: Cello Concerto and Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11: “The Year 1905”
  • Feb. 9-11, 2024; Louis Langrée, conductor, Joélle Harvey, soprano, Will Liverman, baritone, with May Festival Chorus
    – Brahms: “Ein Deutsches Requiem”
  • March 1-2, 2024; Matthias Pintscher, conductor, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
    – Messiaen: “Des canyons aux étoiles” (“From the Canyons to the Stars”)
  • May 3-4, 2024; Louis Langrée, conductor, Alice Sara Ott, piano
    – Bryce Dessner: “Mari,” Piano Concerto (CSO co-commission, U.S. Premiere), “Song for Octave” (U.S. Premiere) and Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

And then there are the Nov. 17-19 performances of Ambroise Thomas’ opera “Hamlet.” Langrée could barely contain his enthusiasm as he spoke about this production. The reason? The French opera is a co-presentation with Ópera Comique from Paris, where Langrée has been the director since November 2021.

“At last, I will introduce my two groups to each other,” he said. As you might expect, he will conduct the 1868 opera, based on Shakespeare, which will bring the May Festival Chorus together with Jodie Devos (Ophélie), Stéphane Degout (Hamlet), Laurent Alvaro (Claudius) and Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Gertrude).

“But this is unusual for me,” he explained, saying that conducting his not his primary responsibility as the leader of the Ópera Comique. “There, I focus principally on my job as a general manager. I deal with salaries and our costs for electricity and gas, which is a fortune. It’s challenging. But it’s a new world for me. And I’m learning a lot.”

So does that mean that, at the age of 62, he is finally ready to slow down, to reduce his hectic schedule of guest conducting?

“I will conduct a little bit, but COVID already slowed us down,” he said, noting that the only guest engagements he has scheduled this year are Sao Paolo, Dresden and Budapest. “But I have a theater to take care of in Paris. We have more than 110 permanent employees. And hundreds of others who come in to work with us. So, no, I don’t think I would call this slowing down.”

And then, of course, there is Cincinnati.

“We still have a busy year ahead of us in Cincinnati,” said Langrée. “So I can’t think about saying good-bye now. We can do that next year, maybe. But now, we will be too busy making music.”

Cincinnati Pops

Cincinnati Pops Conductor John Morris Russell
Cincinnati Pops Conductor John Morris Russell
Photo by Tina Gutierrez

Cincinnati Pops Conductor John Morris Russell will lead four of five subscription programs, including “Defying Gravity: An Evening with Stephen Schwartz & Friends”; “Holiday Pops,” featuring internationally-renowned vocalist Capathia Jenkins; “The Doo Wop Project,” with stars of Broadway’s “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical”; and “The Dream of America,” featuring composer Peter Boyer’s theatrical and multimedia production “Ellis Island: The Dream of America.” Pops Principal Guest Conductor Damon Gupton will conduct “Disney in Concert: The Sound of Magic,” celebrating a centenary of Disney music, animation and memories, complete with original film footage. 

The Pops will also present six special events, including a one-night-only performance with Audra McDonald, winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, and the National Medal of Arts.

To browse the season, plus CSO Proof, Classical Roots, Youth Concerts and more, visit …


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