Anguish of War Permeates Boston Symphony’s 2022-23 Season

BOSTON — Haunted by the horrors of the war in Ukraine, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is sounding a decidedly somber note as it prepares for its 2022-23 season.

The orchestra usually gravitates toward traditional classical music with a big focus on young and current composers of our time and a wide-ranging scope of artists. But the renowned symphony said Wednesday it’s orchestrating a season in which art will imitate life, using classical music to address the tragedies of armed conflict.

The orchestra’s next series of concerts also will include a three-week festival in March dubbed “Voices of Loss, Reckoning and Hope” — a musical exploration of racial injustice, civil rights and gender inequity.

“We look forward to welcoming audiences to a season that reflects music’s profound ability to bear witness to the social and cultural issues of our time,” said Gail Samuel, the BSO’s president and CEO.

Notably, the orchestra under the direction of Andris Nelsons will perform works by prominent Soviet-era Russian composers as it explores the themes of war, including Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 — a five-movement denunciation of Stalinism based on poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The first movement condemns Soviet revisionist history and antisemitism, invoking a Nazi massacre of Ukrainian Jews.

Omer Meir Wellber will direct the BSO in the American premiere of Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff’s “The Eternal Stranger,” which captures the hostility and rejection experienced by refugees and others who frequently find themselves on the fringes of society.

Other concerts will feature Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” with soprano Aleksandra Kurzak in the role of a mother who lost her child to war; and Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “Falling Out of Time,” inspired by David Grossman’s experimental novel about the wartime death of a son — an agonizing loss Grossman himself experienced and wrote “now permeates every minute of my life.”

Nelsons, who grew up in Latvia near the end of the Cold War, said he hopes the season opening Sept. 22 will harness “music’s power to touch our hearts and reveal the many stories and emotions that bring us together as a human family.”

Featured in the March festival will be works by three important American composers, including Julia Wolfe’s “Her Story,” which broadly speaks to the continuing struggle for women’s rights.

Also highlighted: Anthony Davis’ clarinet concerto, “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” with soloist Anthony McGill, about the emotional consequences of encounters with law enforcement; and Uri Caine’s “The Passion of Octavius Catto,” a reflection of the life of the titular 19th-century Philadelphia civil rights activist.


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