Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic have announced their 2011-12 season. The major news, at least in my warped perspective, is that the orchestra will perform Stockhausen's Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory at the end of June, 2012. In 2008 I saw the Berlin Philharmonic play the piece at a hangar in Tempelhof; this should be a similarly heady experience. The program is ingenious, combining Stockhausen's three-orchestra conception with the multilayered Act I finale of Don Giovanni, Boulez's Rituel in memoriam Maderna, and Ives's Unanswered Question. Otherwise, the season seems a little tamer than previous Gilbert offerings, though still lively. A Carl Nielsen symphony cycle moves ahead. John Corigliano will have a new piece for Stephanie Blythe and orchestra, on a 9/11 theme. Marc Neikrug and Magnus Lindberg also receive premieres. Thomas Adès's formidable new piece Polaris comes to town. Frank Peter Zimmermann is the artist in residence, concentrating on Romantic repertory. David Zinman will lead a Beethoven cycle. A little-known young composer named Philip Glass will receive his first performances with the orchestra. The Contact! series will elicit new works from Alexandre Lunsqui, Yann Robin, and Michael Jarrell. The series has no American music this year, nor is there any music by women in the entire season.
Gruppen has been played only once in New York, in 1965, by students from the New England Conservatory. Bernstein had wanted to perform it at Carnegie Hall, but Stockhausen evidently withheld approval. The details emerge in a letter that Carlos Moseley, then president of the Philharmonic, wrote to the late critic Alan Rich, who had accused Bernstein of trying to sabotage avant-garde music instead of supporting it. The letter comes from the Philharmonic's staggering new digital archive, the first part of which went online yesterday. It is a huge trove of material, and I've had time only to scratch the surface. Among the first things I found was a pile of correspondence relating to Shostakovich. In 1942, the orchestra was so determined to bring the composer to New York that it deputized Wendell Willkie to approach "Mr. Stalin" on the matter. Shostakovich (or Stalin) said no. I also looked through a few of Bernstein's conducting scores, including his voluminously annotated copy of the Mahler Ninth and a score of Mahler's First that Mahler himself used (I believe that's his writing on p. 162). And the same file that contains Moseley's letter to Rich has testimonials in support of Bernstein's avant-garde festival of 1963-64 and his controversial lectures from the stage — I especially liked a beautifully overwrought ode to Xenakis from the New York office manager of H. Daroff & Sons, manufacturers of 'Botany' 500 Clothing. Make your own discoveries — it goes on and on.