About the MET Orchestra
The MET Orchestra is regarded as the world's finest opera orchestra, but as Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times said, "Something extra happens when the enormously skilled and dedicated musicians of the Metropolitan Opera's orchestra perform symphonic programs at Carnegie—[an] ... infectious involvement and [a] sense of discovery." The MET Orchestra's Sunday afternoon performances at Carnegie Hall have been hailed by the New York Times as "luminous," with a "velvety tone," and the MET Orchestra has been ranked on "par with the Cleveland" and Boston Symphony Orchestras in the elite tier of American orchestras.
The MET's inaugural season opened in 1883, with a performance of Gounod's Faust, at its original theater on 39th and Broadway. In 1966, with the development of New York's Lincoln Center, the company moved to its current home. Today, the musicians of the orchestra maintain a rigorous schedule of seven performances a week and almost daily rehearsals. Next year, during the 32-week season, there will be 26 opera productions, with seven new productions, including the highly anticipated conclusion to Robert Lepage's thrilling new Ring cycle.
Some of the world's greatest conductors have
conducted at the MET. Arturo Toscanini
conducted nearly 500 performances; Gustav Mahler, during the relatively short time that he lived in New York, conducted 54 performances. Carlos Kleiber's only opera performances in the United States were with the MET Orchestra. Other esteemed conductors to take the podium include Leinsdorf, Szell, Reiner, Mitropoulos, Kubelik, Walter, Böhm, Solti, Bernstein, Mehta, Abbado, Karajan, Dohnányi, Maazel, Ozawa, Gergiev, Boulez, Salonen, Nézet-Séguin, Barenboim, Muti, and, most recently making his MET debut to critical acclaim, Sir Simon Rattle.
The MET Orchestra has a distinguished history of orchestra performances. Maestro Toscanini led the MET Orchestra in his American debut as a symphonic conductor in 1913. The MET Orchestra performed with many preeminent soloists of the day, including Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, Casals, Heifetz, and Kreisler.
Under the baton of Maestro Levine, the orchestra
resumed symphonic concerts resumed symphonic
concerts in Carnegie Hall in 1991. The Sunday afternoon concerts, called "historic" by Bernard Holland, have seen performances with such soloists as Perlman, Vengerov, Brendel, Kissin, Tetzlaff, along with leading MET soloists Voigt, Heppner, Borodina, Fleming, Pavarotti, Dessay, and Blythe, to name just a few. Maestro Levine has also included members of the orchestra to solo with the orchestra, and the 2011-12 season will see three solo performances by members of the orchestra. In keeping with Maestro Levine's strong belief in bringing new composers to the forefront, the MET Orchestra has performed five world premieres: Babbitt's Piano Concerto No. 2 (1998), Bolcolm's Symphony No. 7 (2002), Shen's Legend (2002), and Wuorinen's Theologounenon (2007) and Time Regained (2007). Next season will see the world premiere of John Harbison and Alice Munro's collaboration on Closer to My Own Life, with Christine Rice as soloist. In addition to Maestro Levine, Maestros Gergiev, Boulez, and recently named principal guest conductor Fabio Luisi have each taken the podium at these Sunday afternoon concerts.
Bernard Holland wrote: "I am running out of good
things to say about the MET Orchestra and its
music director, James Levine. If there is someone out there with a new repertory of complimentary adjectives suitable to this exquisite marriage of taste and heart, I would be glad to give way." Since becoming music director in 1976, James Levine has created an unparalleled and unique partnership between music director and orchestra, unheard of in other American orchestras. In celebration of his 40th Anniversary, Maestro Levine said in an interview when asked about the MET Orchestra: "These musicians are more dramatic, more lyric, more vocal, more consistent, more profoundly committed, more able to deal with the pressure than you can possibly imagine. They really are an extraordinary—a unique—group of artists, and I love them." Maestro Levine and the MET Orchestra have become a world-class orchestra and phenomenon.
A product of this successful partnership are numerous Deutsche Grammophon recordings—most notably, Wagner's complete Ring cycle. Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung won an unprecedented three Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording in 1989, 1990, and 1991. Other opera recordings include L'Elisir d'Amore, Idomeneo, Le Nozze di Figaro, Der fliegende Holländer, Parsifal, Erwartung, Manon Lescaut, Rigoletto, and six other Verdi operas. Symphonic recordings include Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition paired with Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps; Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") paired with Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished"); and Richard Strauss's Don Quixote and Tod und Verklärung. Also included in its distinguished discography are collaborations with Bryn Terfel, Kathleen Battle, and Renée Fleming.
In addition to its studio recordings, the MET
Orchestra can be heard live on the Met Opera Radio
channel on SiriusXM, with as many as three live broadcasts each week during the opera season. In addition, hundreds of archival MET broadcasts are played daily on this exclusive channel. Already having a rich tradition of live radio broadcasts, which began with a full performance of Hansel and Gretel in 1931 on Christmas Day, the MET has maintained, through its partnership with Texaco and, most recently, Toll Brothers, live Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts. These performances are not only a permanent presence throughout the United States but throughout Europe, Australia, China, and Japan. In 1977, the MET began televising its performances with La Bohème, viewed by more than 4 million people. This success turned into The Metropolitan Opera Presents, with more than 75 complete MET productions, many of which were released on VHS, laser disc, DVD, most recently, they are available for download and rental from the Metropolitan Opera website's unique MetPlayer.
The MET Orchestra has toured extensively. Maestro
Luisi, heralded by the New York Times as
"ever-impressive," led the MET Orchestra on its most recent tour to Japan and on its symphonic concert in Suntory Hall, Tokyo. The Orchestra has traveled across the United States and Europe, making its debut at the prestigious Salzburg Festival in 2002. In addition to its most recent tour to Japan, it has made five tours to Japan. Because of this strong partnership, the orchestra felt compelled to be the first major performing arts organization to travel to Japan after the disastrous aftereffects of the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011.
In addition to its demanding performance season, Maestro Levine and members of the orchestra formed the MET Chamber Ensemble in 1998, with numerous performances in Carnegie Hall's Weill and Zankel Halls. The MET Chamber Ensemble helped to inaugurate the opening of Zankel Hall in 2003. The group has performed works from Carter to Mozart, Schoenberg to Schumann.