The orchestra, with guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, wraps up its West Coast tour at Benaroya Hall with a program of Britten, Shostakovich and pianist Yuja Wang performing Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.
If there’s a word to describe the driving spirit behind the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO)’s appearance at Benaroya Hall next Wednesday (April 1) — with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting and pianist Yuja Wang a special guest — it’s “celebration.”
Thomas, who turned 70 last December, is the honoree of a special LSO tour that began March 12 at London’s Barbican Hall and has largely concentrated on America’s West Coast. The Seattle appearance is the orchestra’s last stop on an intense schedule that includes 12 cities and a slightly changeable program.
At Benaroya, Thomas will lead the ensemble through Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes,” a suite derived from orchestral passages separating scenes in Britten’s 1945 opera “Peter Grimes.”
London Symphony Orchestra with Yuja Wang
With Michael Tilson Thomas, conducting, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $98-$160 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Wang will appear for a performance of George Gershwin’s 1925 Piano Concerto in F. The concert’s second half will be taken up with Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1937 Symphony No. 5 in D minor, which the beleaguered composer wrote under pressure at the height of Stalin-era purges in the Soviet Union.
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Thomas made his debut as a guest conductor for LSO 45 years ago, the beginning of a long relationship that includes his 1988-95 appointment as principal conductor and subsequent, ongoing role as principal guest conductor.
(Thomas has also been honored this season by the San Francisco Symphony, for whom he has served as music director for 20 years.)
Thomas’ relationship with the London orchestra began May 12, 1970, when he stepped in for Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. That well-received debut led to decades of numerous LSO concerts, recordings and television appearances conducted by Thomas, about whom music critics have written for years as giving this very British institution an American sound. (A “talent for sassiness and full-throated expressiveness,” wrote Ivan Hewett earlier this month in London’s The Telegraph.)
The 111-year-old London Symphony Orchestra has its own fascinating history as an organization that has reinvented itself several times, fought for survival, been a magnet for superstar talent at all levels, and maintained a certain amount of self-governance by its musicians. (For its first 40 years, LSO was run as a cooperative, with players enjoying profit-sharing.)
More people have heard the LSO than they may realize: It was the orchestra that recorded, under composer-conductor John Williams’ baton, the scores to “Star Wars” (1977), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Superman.”
Yuja Wang, 28, has collaborated frequently with Thomas, most recently (May 2014) in San Francisco, where she played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In a Seattle Times interview last fall, Wang disclosed she hadn’t yet become familiar with the Gershwin concerto.
She wasn’t worried. Thomas, Wang said, “knows this music in his blood.”