There is a new chief executive in Michael Elliott, a new music director in Peter Oundjian and a new principal guest conductor in Thomas Sondergard, but the basic format of the RSNO's season remains largely unchanged, while the musical content, also by and large familiar, might even be described as resolutely populist.
This is the case, agrees Michael Elliott, stating categorically that there is no revolution in the RSNO next season. But evolution and change will come, says the chief executive, once the "one-off, transitional season" announced today runs its course.
First the meat: what's on and who's doing it? The new season of 21 concert programmes is dominated by the titled conductors – the house team. Between them they will take 14 of the concert programmes, creating a decisive presence for the top two: music director Oundjian and principal guest conductor Sondergard. Oundjian will take seven programmes, Sondergard three. Assistant conductor Christian Kluxen, entering his final season, will also have three, while conductor laureate Neeme Jarvi has a single programme as usual. That leaves space for just a handful of new names and one or two of the regular guests, including Sir Andrew Davis.
But it's the new team of Oundjian and Sondergard who dominate the schedule at the start of the season. Look at the pace of events: Oundjian kicks off his first season as music director in October in a manner akin to his footballing days with a Russian spectacular that races off with Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla, powers into Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with a return of the great Vadim Gluzman, and rolls into Shostakovich's 11th Symphony – The Year 1905. It's a striker's programme if ever there was one. Oundjian stays the following week with a programme featuring Britten's Four Sea Interludes, Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with pianist Natasha Paremski and Brahms's First Symphony.
The week after that Sondergard takes over with a superb programme including Sibelius's Second Symphony and Roderick Williams singing Mahler's Wayfarer Songs. The following week, at a run, which is his way, Oundjian roars back in with the full orchestral and choral forces for a programme of Ades and Vaughan Williams that culminates in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. The next week it's Sondergard's turn again as he moves into Naked Classics format with Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. By this time the season is already heading into late November; and you see what I mean by "resolutely populist"?
There's time for just one new conducting face, Kazushi Ono, to direct bits of Prokofiev's Cinderella, Mozart's K488 and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, before Christian Kluxen gets his first shot with Tchaikovsky's First Symphony and John Lill playing the Grieg concerto.
Oundjian returns in early February with the first of a two-part series he's calling An American Festival. The opening strand features Bernstein's Candide, Gershwin's Concerto in F with pianist Jon Kimura Parker and John Adams's Harmonielehre. His second strand, in April, apart from Copland's Appalachian Spring, will venture into less familiar territory with piano concertos by both Copland and Samuel Batber, alongside John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony.
Meanwhile, Christian Kluxen has been back conducting a Vlalentine's concert and the complete Firebird in Naked Classics, Dima Slobodeniouk has conducted an all-Beethoven programme with the Eroica Symphony and the Third Piano Concerto with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder, Jarvi has stormed in with a powerhouse programme featuring Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony and Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with the amazing Nikolai Lugansky as soloist, while music director Oundjian has also been back for a long night in the Royal Concert Hall with all five symphonic poems that form Smetana's epic Ma Vlast – My Country – which will be intriguingly presented in a multi-media format with photochoreography by James Westwater.
Sir Andrew Davis returns for an unabridged performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah with a stellar cast of Lisa Milne, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, tenor Barry Banks, baritone Hanno Mueller-Bachmann and the full RSNO and Junior Choruses.
Sondergard is back one more time conducting Truls Mork playing Dvorak's Cello Concerto along with Stravinsky's Petrushka before Oundjian rounds off his first season as music director with a finale that includes Nicola Benedetti playing The Lark Ascending and Saint-Saens's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, while the concert concludes with another intriguing element: a performance of Walton's music for Henry V in an event which has been dubbed A Shakespeare Scenario and will feature, it is said, a big-name actor, yet to be announced. (When Oundjian did it with Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the actor was Christopher Plummer.)
The diehard regular favourites, the Phil and Aly show and Christopher Bell's Christmas special hold their places. But the shock to many will be that the annual Messiah moves from New Year to Easter while the annual New Year Viennese Gala is gone. The Messiah is as viable at Easter as New Year, but there is another reason for the change, says the chief executive. The RSNO is in negotiations which, if they conclude successfully, will result in the orchestra being out of the country over New Year with their music director on some major international venture: strictly no details while in negotiation. But Michael Elliott has had to clear the decks at New Year.
Otherwise, the new team's first season is pretty much wall-to-wall classics, including, not yet mentioned, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, Dvorak Eight with Andrey Boreyko, and the Orchestral Adventure concocted out of Wagner's Ring, which Philippe Bach will conduct in a Naked Classics presentation.
Attendances in the current season have rocketed on all fronts, exceeding 80% in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with subscription bookings for the whole season having doubled in Glasgow and increased by 61% in Edinburgh, while the various youth ticket schemes have led to 11% of the RSNO audience now being aged 25 and under.
So what's this about 2012-13 being a "transitional" season? "Peter and I have come in here lateish in terms of a planning cycle," explains Michael Elliott. "The best thing to do is recognise the format and populate that format. So there will be no meddling with the familiar structure for next season. It's 'steady as she goes' with just a few indications of change." That presumably refers to the multi-media presentation of Ma Vlast and the Henry V element in the closing concert of the season. "Some of the things do need refreshing," asserts Elliott, revealing that, while the new music director is here this week, he, the chief executive and the key administrators will sit down to begin thrashing out a strategy for evolution that, says Elliott, "will need to move with some pace after September 2013". Watch this space.
Tickets for the RSNO 2012/13 season are on sale to subscribers now. Single tickets go on sale on May 1. Visit www.rsno.org.uk.