As a result, unfamiliar works are isolated events, often linked to particular artists. The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden will come to the NSO next April with a lively “Cyrano de Bergerac” overture by the Dutch-born composer-violinist Bernard Wagenaar, a piece van Zweden often brings to orchestras he guest-conducts. Boon cites Liadov’s “Enchanted Lake” and Frank Bridge’s “The Sea,” both of which the NSO did last season, and Zemlinsky’s “Lyric Symphony,” which Christoph Eschenbach conducted in 2011, as examples of less-known repertoire. Eschenbach has also recorded the four symphonies of the French composer Albert Roussel. “We’ll certainly do one or more of the symphonies,” Boon says. But, he says a little ruefully, “We’ve done lots of things once.”
Performers of little-known repertory have to fight the tacit assumption that the work must not have been very good if it was neglected in the first place. In the case of Nazi victims like Gal, there’s an extra moral imperative to help restore the work to its rightful place in the repertory. “I don’t believe that every piece has to be a masterpiece,” says Conlon. “It’s not about that; it’s about feeling the spirit of the time . . . We have assumed through a reductionist view of history there was a single line that went through the Viennese school and ended.” He calls it “a misuse of Darwinism” to assume that the works that have survived are automatically better than the ones that haven’t.