Entertainment & Arts

L.A. Phil’s 2019-20 season: social justice, gender parity and a little Sondheim

L.A. Times classical music critic Mark Swed discusses the history of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with L.A. Times Today anchor Lisa McRee. The Los Angeles Times Today airs on Spectrum News 1, Monday-Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its centennial season last year, it was a newsworthy lineup “from the first day of the season to the last,” The Times’ Mark Swed wrote. “No orchestra has ever come close to the ambition of this centennial season.”

So the question now: How do you top that?

On Tuesday the L.A. Phil will announce its 2019-20 programming, and Chief Executive Simon Woods said in an interview that the answer is “relevance.”

The orchestra is “beginning to unpack some of the big themes that were encoded in the centennial, like relevance,” Woods said. “What our role is, in society and in the community, is something that concerns us greatly. As well as how that plays out particularly in our artistic programming.”


Toward that end, the 2019-20 season unofficially kicks off with what Woods called “a mini L.A. tour into different community environments.” L.A. Phil assistant conductor Paolo Bortolameolli will lead three preseason concerts likely taking place in Whittier, Inglewood and Lafayette Park.

The season is also about “themes of deep contemporary relevance, and about history,” Woods said. Throughout the season, the orchestra will explore the humanities, both in its core programming and related events intended to spark dialogue around the social, cultural and political themes in works performed onstage. Its Power to the People Festival, co-curated by artistic and music director Gustavo Dudamel and Herbie Hancock, addresses how music can provide solidarity and give voice in social justice movements.

Esa-Pekka Salonen will conduct two programs exploring the music and culture of Germany’s Weimar Republic. They’re paired with two weeks of related programming such as film screenings, panels and art exhibits co-organized by Los Angeles County Museum of Art senior curator Stephanie Barron and independent curator Nana Bahlmann.

“It’s about looking at history and seeing what we learned from it,” Woods said.


Dudamel, who’s heading into his second decade with the L.A. Phil, will conduct 17 programs during the upcoming season. He will explore Americana in a four-program “mini-festival” performing the work of composers Charles Ives and Antonin Dvorak.

As in seasons past, 2019-20 will include a hefty number of female conductors and composers, including the return of principal guest conductor Susanna Malkki, the debut of guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann, as well as the world premiere of a commission by Julia Wolfe. Of its 22 commissions this season, half are by women. Half of guest artists will be women.

“The whole issue of gender parity, and also thinking hard about how we reflect racial equity through our commissions, is very important to us,” Woods said.

The celebration of the orchestra’s history and future, which marked the centennial season, will continue into 2019-20. In a nod to its past, three of the orchestra’s music directors — Dudamel, conductor laureate Salonen (future music director of the San Francisco Symphony) and conductor emeritus Zubin Mehta — will take the stage on Oct. 24, the L.A. Phil’s actual 100th birthday. They will jointly lead the world premiere of a Daniel Bjarnason composition created for three conductors; each conducts his own concert later that week.

What does Woods personally look forward to most? Two very different evenings conducted by Dudamel, he said, referring to the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” marking Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday, and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder,” which Woods described as “an immense, massive piece of music for an enormous chorus and orchestra, an epic experience at Walt Disney Concert Hall.”

Dudamel will conduct two programs about American icons, pairing the music of Aaron Copland with other composers such as George Gershwin and former L.A. Phil music director Andre Previn, among others.

As part of a new recording contract, the L.A. Phil and Deutsche Grammophon will release a 32-CD, three-DVD box set of L.A. Phil recordings from the 1920s to the present.

Guest performers throughout the next season include Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Sergio Tiempo, Esperanza Spalding, Lang Lang and others.


“It’s all about our continuing to challenge ourselves and being forward looking and thinking creatively about how we engage with the world around us,” Woods said. “And that manifests in many different ways across the season.”

The full 2019-20 season lineup will be posted later Tuesday here.

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