The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is regarded as one of the world's finest orchestras. From the time of the company's inception in 1883, the ensemble has worked with leading conductors in both opera and concert performances, and has developed into an orchestra of enormous technical polish and style. The MET Orchestra (as the ensemble is referred to when appearing in concert outside the opera house) maintains a demanding schedule of performances and rehearsals during its 33-week New York season, when the company performs as many as seven times a week in repertory that this season encompasses 26 operas.
In addition to its opera schedule, the orchestra has a distinguished history of concert performances. Arturo Toscanini made his American debut as a symphonic conductor with The MET Orchestra in 1913, and the impressive list of instrumental soloists who have appeared with the orchestra includes Leopold Godowsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Casals, Josef Hofmann, Ferruccio Busoni, Jascha Heifetz, Moriz Rosenthal, and Fritz Kreisler. Since the orchestra resumed symphonic concerts in 1991, instrumental soloists have included Itzhak Perlman, Maxim Vengerov, Alfred Brendel, and Evgeny Kissin, and the group has performed six world premieres: Milton Babbitt's Piano Concerto No. 2 (1998), William Bolcom's Symphony No. 7 (2002), Hsueh-Yung Shen's Legend (2002), Charles Wuorinen's Theologoumenon (2007) and Time Regained (2009), and John Harbison's Closer to My Own Life (2011).
Esa-Pekka Salonen's restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. He is currently the principal conductor and artistic advisor for London's Philharmonia Orchestra and the conductor laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he served as music director from 1992 until 2009. The 2016-2017 season is his second of three as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, and his first of five years as artist in association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. Additionally, Mr. Salonen is artistic director and cofounder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival, now in its 14th year, which invites celebrated artists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2009 leading the Met premiere of Janáček's From the House of the Dead and returned in 2016 for a new production of Richard Strauss's Elektra.
As a composer, Mr. Salonen's works move freely among contemporary idioms, combining intricacy and technical virtuosity with playful rhythmic and melodic innovations. He has composed a number of pieces for symphony orchestra, and this season, his cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was subsequently performed by the New York Philharmonic. He is the recipient of many major awards, including a Grammy Award, the UNESCO Rostrum Prize, the Siena Prize, the Royal Philharmonic Society's Opera and Conductor Awards, the Litteris et Artibus medal, the rank of Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, the Pro Finlandia Medal of the Order of the Lion of Finland, the Helsinki Medal, the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, and seven honorary doctorates in four different countries. Musical America named him its Musician of the Year in 2006, and he was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.
Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Graham rose to the highest echelon of international performers within just a few years of her professional debut, mastering an astonishing range of repertoire and genres along the way. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi's Poppea to Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, which was written especially for her. This distinctly American artist has also been recognized throughout her career as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music. Although a native of Texas, Ms. Graham was awarded the French government's prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur both for her popularity as a performer in France and in honor of her commitment to French music.
During the 2016-2017 season, she joined Renée Fleming and Michael Tilson Thomas for the San Francisco Symphony's opening night gala and made her role debut as the Convict's Mother in Dead Man Walking with Washington National Opera. Later this year, she returns to Santa Fe Opera as Prince Orlofsky in a new production of Die Fledermaus. On the concert stage, she sang Octavian to Renée Fleming's Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons; selections from Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Berlioz's La mort de Cléopâtre with the San Antonio Symphony; and Ravel's Shéhérazade and Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. In recital, she reunited with regular partner Malcolm Martineau for Frauenliebe und -leben: Variations--a wide-ranging program inspired by Schumann's iconic song cycle--in Santa Barbara, Baltimore, and Portland. She was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions in 1988, and since then, she has sung 175 performances with the company in 21 roles, including Octavian, Countess Geschwitz in Lulu, Didon in Les Troyens, Marguerite in La damnation de Faust, the title role of Iphigénie en Tauride, Sondra Finchley in the world premiere of Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy, and Jordan Baker in the world premiere of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, among others.
Tenor Matthew Polenzani is one of the most gifted and distinguished lyric tenors of his generation. His elegant musicianship, innate sense of style, and dramatic commitment find him at virtually every leading operatic, concert, and recital venue in the world. Since his 1997 Metropolitan Opera debut as Boyar Khrushchov in Boris Godunov, he has sung more than 300 performances with the company in 36 roles, including the title role of Roberto Devereux, Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles, Hoffmann in Les contes d'Hoffmann, Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore, and Alfredo in La traviata, among others. This season, he appeared at the Met in the title role of Idomeneo, and sang Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and the Italian Singer in a new production of Der Rosenkavalier. He also returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper for a new production of Donizetti's La favorite, as well as performances as Rodolfo in La bohème and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. In his hometown of Chicago, he brought his Tamino to Lyric Opera of Chicago and joined the New York Philharmonic for Handel's Messiah.
He appears regularly at the Opéra de Paris, Vienna State Opera, Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, LA Opera, and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He is in great demand for symphonic work and has performed with many of the world's most influential conductors, including James Levine, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Sir Colin Davis, Riccardo Frizza, Louis Langrée, Jesús López-Cobos, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti, Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Simon Rattle, Leonard Slatkin, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Riccardo Chailly, and with many major orchestras in the United States and Europe, including the Berliner Philharmoniker; the Boston, Chicago, and Cincinnati symphony orchestras; The Cleveland Orchestra; the Los Angeles, New York, and Munich philharmonics; the San Francisco and St. Louis symphonies; Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra; and Orchestre National de France. He was the recipient of the 2004 Richard Tucker Award and the Metropolitan Opera's 2008 Beverly Sills Artist Award, established by Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman.