The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has just announced its programs for the 2024-25 season, and as we did last year, we’re here to help guide you through it. You can read the full announcement here, but the rest of this post is my own opinionated guide to the highlights and eccentricities of a season that contains some of classical music’s biggest hits—Beethoven’s Fifth, Boléro—alongside true rarities and passion projects.
Opening with a Bang
The first classical concerts of the season, in mid-September, are can’t-miss. Edward Gardner, who leads the London Philharmonic and is an admirably no-nonsense guide to the greats, presents two beloved classics that don’t get played too often in Dallas: Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Sign me up.
Fabio Luisi Conducts Really Big Stuff
Skipping ahead to the very end of the season, music director Fabio Luisi will present Mahler’s Second Symphony, one of the biggest, most epic symphonies of all time, and the classical work with the most spectacular ending ever. (If you saw Bradley Cooper’s movie Maestro on Netflix, the climax is his recreation of a historic performance of this symphony.)
A word of caution, though: critics in other cities have had bad things to say about Luisi’s Mahler Second, accusing it of self-indulgence and needless slowness. Let’s hope either he learned—the Mahler First Symphony he conducted as the DSO’s first pandemic-era concert was miraculous—or they were wrong.
But the biggest symphony isn’t big enough! No, Luisi and the DSO are going even bigger this October, with full concert performances of Richard Wagner’s cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. This titanic opera series takes up 14 hours over four nights, and if all you know is “Ride of the Valkyries,” you’ve heard just 0.9 percent of it. If you want to catch all four parts in order, you get only one shot because it’ll take the DSO most of October to get through them. (The final two portions will be presented twice.)
An Impromptu Shostakovich Festival
Dmitri Shostakovich—one of the most dramatic, gripping, and popular composers of the past century—died in August 1975, and the DSO is celebrating that 50th anniversary a couple of months early, in May. First, former music director Jaap van Zweden will return for the first time since 2018 to conduct Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a work of tragic defiance that has attracted all sorts of speculation about a hidden message of resistance against political tyranny. (The program also features Mozart from pianist Conrad Tao, who has a long history with Dallas audiences.)
Two weeks later, 33-year-old American conductor Jonathon Heyward will treat us to Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, which is as sarcastically funny as the Fifth is deadly serious. The composer’s Soviet bosses told him to write a victorious Ninth in the style of Beethoven to celebrate victory in World War II. Instead, he turned in a short, bittersweet piece full of musical slapstick, deliberate “wrong” notes, and, in the finale, peals of laughter. Circle this weekend on your calendar: it also features Benjamin Grosvenor, one of the world’s finest pianists, in Beethoven.
A week after, the Shosty Party concludes with a performance of his Violin Concerto No. 1 by guest artist Leonidas Kavakos. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Kavakos came to town to play the exact same concerto in October 2018. Normally, I complain when the DSO repeats stuff, but that Kavakos Shostakovich performance was the best performance I’ve ever heard from the orchestra, and one of the most unforgettable concerts I’ve attended anywhere. The whole audience was spellbound with attention, fully aware that magic was happening.
A Great Year for Movie Music
The DSO’s tradition of concert presentations of movies, with the orchestra providing the soundtrack, hits a high in 2024-25, with three big hits: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Elf, and The Princess Bride.
Lots of Women Composers
To time with the DSO’s annual Women in Classical Music Symposium, an early November program combines a new piece by Alisson Kruusmaa and the Dallas premiere of the masterpiece (the Piano Concerto) of America’s best romantic composer, Amy Beach. Yes, our greatest romantic composer was a woman, and no, I won’t reply to hate mail from any fans of William Henry Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony (1853) for saying so.
The inventive, ever-curious pianist Lara Downes visits later in the fall with a suite she’s arranged based on tunes of jazz great Billy Strayhorn. A January concert will start with the local debut of composer Hannah Eisendle, and March will bring world premieres from our new composer in residence, Sophia Jani, and Arlene Sierra, plus a sacred work by Julia Perry. This theme, woven through the season, winds up in April with a harp concerto by French composer Henriette Renié, a friend and colleague of Debussy and Ravel.
Solos for Everybody
Numerous DSO musicians will get solo features this year. Concertmaster Alexander Kerr takes up the ultra-romantic Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch, and the four lead woodwind players—David Buck, flute; Erin Hannigan, oboe; Gregory Raden, clarinet; Ted Soluri, bassoon—team up for a concerto featuring all of them, written just for them by Sean Shepherd. It’s the latest in a long history of newly-written music just for Dallas. The week before, we’ll get the American premiere of a trombone concerto by Andrew Norman, whose video-game-music-inspired epic Play is one of the coolest, wildest things written for orchestra this century.
By the way, Hannigan is taking a well-deserved turn as the orchestra’s face this year because she also has another solo feature: the gorgeous oboe concerto written by Richard Strauss for an American soldier just after World War II. (OK, not just any soldier: a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra whose son became Q on Star Trek.)
The One for If You’re Feeling Reflective
I think I speak for all of us when I say that I love to hear the full orchestra make big noises and go boom. But you can’t have that every week, which brings us to the program on Feb. 28 and March 1-2, 2025. The two works paired here—Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6 and Duruflé’s Requiem—are among the most calming and beautiful but also mournful in the whole repertoire. They’re a perfect pairing of moods, and you’ll leave the concert hall feeling the way you might feel after reading a particularly aching, fragile, but perfectly expressed poem.
If you’re not the fragile poetry type—well, that’s why they’re also playing Mahler, Wagner, and Elf.