As we announce our Classical Season 2018/19, who better to offer a guide to this year’s key events than our Director of Music, Gillian Moore? Below, she selects just a few of her favourite concerts, artists, composers and festivals coming up over the next twelve months.
I’m really excited that this season we’re starting a major new relationship with Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. This is one of the oldest orchestras in the world, formed in 1743, and they have a brilliant young Music Director, who started with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and is now with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
We’re looking forward to a relationship with this orchestra lasting a number of years, and they’re opening it up with some concerts of Mahler symphonies – with a twist. The first concert includes the great Swedish trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger playing Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s trumpet concerto from the mid-20th century, Nobody knows de trouble I see. Andris Nelsons himself was a trumpet player so he’s passionate about this piece and its connection to the Mahler.
We always have a commitment to contemporary music, so I’m really pleased that Andris is bringing the Latvian composer Andris Dzenitis, a new and exciting young voice, to open the second concert. It features the Tchaikovsky arias, some of the greatest tunes ever written. Kristine Opolais is doing the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin and Lisa’s Arioso from The Queen of Spades, two amazing melodies that Tchaikovsky wove into his operas.
Stockhausen was a giant of mid-20th-century music whose youth coincided with the most catastrophic period in Germany’s history. His mother was murdered by the Nazis because she was mentally ill. His father disappeared on the Eastern front. As a teenager, he was a stretcher bearer, collecting the dead and dying, when he should have been studying for his exams. And so he felt that he really needed to change music. He once said that he never wrote music with a regular beat because it reminded him of the Nazis marching.
Those experiences could have destroyed some people, but it made him extraordinarily focused and extraordinarily energetic. I met him a few times and he was an incredible individual, with a gleam in his eye that meant he knew he had work to do.
He was among the first to invent the techniques of electronic music in Cologne in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and during the 1960s he had an incredible ability to cross boundaries; he was a bit of a guru figure for the alternative culture of the sixties. But then when the 1970s came, he started to think about big projects. He was a German artist, so he was thinking on a Wagnerian scale. With the Licht cycle, he decided that he was going to go one better than Wagner and his Ring cycle and write an opera for every day of the week.
Donnerstag was the first one and it’s very autobiographical. It’s a mixed-media piece: there’s dance, mime, electronic music and theatre. Each character is represented by a singer, a dancer and an instrumentalist, which is a really rewarding theatrical approach.
The first performance in the UK was at the Royal Opera House in 1985, and this will be the first time that Donnerstag has been performed in this country since. I went to that original production repeatedly, because I was running an education project about it, so I got to know the piece very well. I’m just really excited that a new generation will get to experience this.
It’s with a young company of artists from Paris, Le Balcon, and they are collaborating with our Resident Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, and the Royal Academy of Music. We’ve done a number of Stockhausen projects with the Sinfonietta and the Academy: we just put on Trans, and we’ve previously put on Hymnen and Gruppen, but this is the mother of all Stockhausen projects. Everyone should come and see it!
Pierre-Laurent Aimard is the real deal; the authoritative performer of 20th- and 21st- century piano music. He’s an Artist in Residence here and he’s curated these concerts as part of our Stockhausen series. The first features the first eleven Klavierstücke, which are amazing studies of sonority on the piano, bringing all Stockhausen’s electronic experimentation to the instrument. In these pieces Stockhausen uses the resonance of the piano in a completely fresh, experimental way.
The eleventh Klavierstück really experiments with an open form. The ninth one features 132 repetitions of the same wonderful chord, which starts to sound electronic after a while, like a massive echo.
In the second concert Aimard is joined by his wife, the great pianist Tamara Stefanovich, to play Stockhausen’s Mantra for two pianos and ring modulators, which is an early form of electronic treatment. Mantra is a brilliant sonic exploration. The word means a repeated incantation: Stockhausen was very interested in Buddhism and spirituality from the East. The piece was written in 1970, when artists were fascinated by non-Western religious practice, like Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation, and Stockhausen was no exception.
Our new music festival in January involves some wonderful musical collaborators and powerful figures. There’s Du Yun, a Chinese composer and musician and performer, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for her opera Angel’s Bone, and who is working with the Aurora Orchestra. I think she’s a really exciting new voice.
We’re welcoming the flute player Claire Chase from New York, who is a cultural leader and programmer who won the Macarthur ‘Genius’ Award for her creative curation of new music. She’s commissioning composers – including Du Yun – from all around the world to create new work for the festival, and bringing pieces like Dai Fujikura’s Flute Concerto that haven’t been heard here before.
We also have a concert of music by a really great British composer, Rebecca Saunders, performed by a German ensemble, the Ensemble Modern, including the award-winning piece Skin. In a second concert, the Ensemble Modern presents a programme of music from around the globe: from Iran, Slovenia, Turkey, Germany and the USA.
Ten or 15 years ago, if we were talking new or contemporary classical music, my reference points would have been America, Europe and maybe Australia. But now things are really global: there’s a huge amount of new music emerging from China, Japan, Korea, Iran and Turkey.
In those days, if you were surveying the field of new music, you would have tended to think of white men. We always make an effort to be as inclusive as possible in our programming. But when I looked into what’s great at the moment, there were all these amazing women creating such exciting work.
I’m really glad to see a Scottish composer, James Dillon, in the programme! He’s in his late 60s and he’s just entered a new phase of amazingness. I love his music so much. I heard this piece when it was premiered at Huddersfield and I just thought – we’ve got to have it!
Part of the festival will also be a big programme of events as part of our Composers' Collective, bringing young composers into direct contact with internationally important figures.
It’s hard to know where to start with David Bowie: rock star, genius, god, alien and former Meltdown curator here at Southbank Centre!
This is the third of Philip Glass’ symphonies inspired by Bowie’s music and we’re thrilled to be co-commissioning the piece. It’s an organ symphony and completes the trilogy based on Bowie’s Berlin albums: Low, Heroes and Lodger, which Brian Eno produced in the mid-1970s. Glass and Bowie were great friends and knew each other in New York.
Philip Glass has appeared here often in the past, so we’re really excited to to be involved once again in a new work, especially in this personal tribute to another great artist.
Muriel Spark was an extraordinary author: the most economic, perfect, musical writer. I heard an interview with her on the radio the other day in which she spoke about her books Memento Mori and A Far Cry from Kensington in a very musical way.
What people might not know about her is that she also wrote beautiful poems. In this concert, David Matthews has set them for the Nash Ensemble and the wonderful mezzo Sarah Connolly.
Each one of our Resident Orchestras has put together a fantastic range of events for their new seasons. There's so much to talk about, but I'm especially excited about the Philharmonia Orchestra's Weimar Berlin series with Esa-Pekka Salonen. They're taking us back to the 1920s with cabaret songs from Kurt Weill and Hindemith, sung by Broadway star Audra Macdonald. They're closing the season with a live screening of Metropolis, Fritz Lang's masterpiece of German expressionist cinema. They're also bringing back and expanding their Virtual Reality installation in September, and this time visitors will get to immerse themselves in the performance of Mahler's Third Symphony the orchestra recorded here last October.
The question of British identity is such a big part of the national debate at the moment and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are engaging with that by looking at three centuries of British music in Isle of Noises. Starting off with a new piece by Helen Grime, they're going to perform Elgar, Bax, Walton and Purcell, and also some lesser-known works. I'm pleased that we're getting a rare chance to hear the music of Alice Mary Smith, the first British woman to write a symphony.
One of the most talked-about performances of recent years was Peter Sellars' powerful staging of the Bach Passions in Berlin with Simon Rattle, so I’m very intrigued to see how they adapt their vision of the St John Passion for Royal Festival Hall. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are experts in performing Bach's music, but this is going to be a great way for all of us to rediscover what make this piece so special.
The London Sinfonietta are involved in our performances of Donnerstag aus Licht and are going to be a big part of New Music International. They've got more great projects in their own season, including Pascal Dusapin's Passion with Music Theatre Wales in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Olga Neuwirth's haunting soundtrack for the silent film Maudite soit la guerre. Plus there'll be a performance of one of the classics of contemporary music (and one of my favourites), Steve Reich's brilliant Music for 18 Musicians.