Who could we possibly ask to tell us about every classical event at Southbank Centre this season? Luckily there is one person who oversees all the concerts, gigs and musical conversations and activities that take place here in Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.
While she didn’t have quite enough time to be interviewed about every single concert (for more information, see our Classical Guide and online listings at the foot of the page) our Director of Music, Gillian Moore took us through a small selection of the events she’s especially looking forward to in the upcoming season.
Which new music are you looking forward to hearing for the first time?
We start the season with Sally Beamish's Judas Passion, commissioned for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. It's part of our Belief and Beyond Belief festival presenting music inspired by spirituality. I love her work and I'm really keen to see what she does with this strange angle on the passion story, collaborating with the poet David Harsent. He's a great poet who has won the TS Eliot and Forward Prizes; we've commissioned him before with the composer Harrison Birtwistle, for The Corridor, an unusual take on the Orpheus story.
There is so much more new music in the season; I’m particularly looking forward to a new clarinet concerto by the young English composer Joseph Phibbs and a new commission for an organ concerto by Gerald Barry; his music is eccentric but it also gets you in the gut in a very direct way.
Unsuk Chin, who is closely associated with the Philharmonia and the curator of their Music of Today series, is one of the most distinguished composers working today; she's got amazing aural imagination and there’s a lot of humour in her music too. I don't know if this piece is going to be humorous though: Le Chant des Enfants des Etoiles (The Song of the Children of the Stars). It examines the idea that we are all stardust, connected intimately to the cosmos. It’s performed by children's choir, chorus, organ and orchestra and this is the European premiere.
Which artists are you looking forward to welcoming to Southbank Centre for the first time?
I'm very pleased to welcome Matthias Pintscher here to Southbank Centre. He's a phenomenal figure in new music and a very interesting composer. He's the music director of the Ensemble intercontemporain in Paris (founded by the composer Pierre Boulez) and on 14 October, he's conducting that ensemble plus batteries of technology and electronics from IRCAM in Paris, the great electronic underground bunker which Boulez established in the 80s.
As part of our Belief and Beyond Belief festival, he presents two pieces that were created in IRCAM plus a new piece by Philippe Schoeller. I think it's really interesting to hear two pieces that are very spiritual in their intent.
There’s a piece by Jonathan Harvey called Bhakti for ensemble and quadraphonic tape. Harvey died about five years ago; he was a very spiritual man, very interested in Buddhism and Christianity in a serious way. Bhakti is a Hindu term referring to devotion to a personal god. His use of electronic tape creates this otherworldly ambiance.
You don’t think of Pierre Boulez as spiritual; he was an atheist; but his piece ...explosante fixe… is unexpectedly personal and somehow numinous. The title is a memorial for Stravinsky. It's for ensemble and live electronics: the electronics isn’t on a pre-existing tape; it's actually being created in the moment. One part of the piece is about the loss of a friend – a flute player – and the sound of flutes dominates. This movement, Memoriale, is the most personal you'd ever get with Boulez. I'm really excited about that.
I’m also very keen to welcome Víkingur Ólafsson, who is part of our Nordic Matters series. He’s a young Icelandic pianist who's an artistic director; more and more artists are doing more than simply recitals these days. He's got so much going on in his native Iceland and all around the world. He's coming to play Bach and Chopin and Brahms: you just want to know what he has to say about that music. We’re putting on a pre-concert talk with him.
Which artists are you especially pleased to see return to Southbank Centre?
Steven Osborne has appeared several times in our International Piano Series but this season he returns with a chamber ensemble. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is a sparkling vision of the apocalypse written in a prisoner-of-war camp, and Steven is heading up an amazing group of musicians; James Ehnes on the violin, Alban Gerhardt on cello and Jean Johnson on the clarinet. The concert is part of Belief and Beyond Belief.
Oliver Knussen hasn't conducted at Southbank Centre for a while and I'm so pleased he's coming back to conduct the London Sinfonietta, in Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (Zodiac) and Trans for orchestra and tape. About nine years ago, Olly Knussen and I put together a Stockhausen festival together. He is one of the most incisive musical minds you’ll ever meet!
The London Sinfonietta is celebrating its 50th anniversary as well. All our resident orchestras are fantastic: this season, the London Philharmonic Orchestra is bringing Belief and Beyond Belief to an end, and then in the new year, starting a whole year of Stravinsky, with Vladimir Jurowski, who is a very imaginative programmer.
The Philharmonia Orchestra is also very much involved in our Nordic Matters series and on 7 December they're celebrating Finnish Independence with music by Sibelius. As part of the Nordic Music Days festival we have the virtual orchestra back; you can sit in the foyer of Royal Festival Hall and through virtual reality, can feel like you are to being conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Southbank Centre’s celebration of Nordic art and society, Nordic Matters, continues for the rest of 2017. Which Nordic commissions are you excited about?
We’re presenting a work by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir which I've never heard live. It’s called Aeriality, and it's a piece that is descriptive of Icelandic landscape while having this sense of airborneness; I've heard a recording of it and you really get that sense of something taking flight.
The same concert features a new concerto by another exciting young Icelandic composer, Daníel Bjarnason. He recently composed a fantastic new opera, Brothers, which was premiered as part of the Aarhus – Culture Capital of Europe celebrations.
This violin concerto is going to be played by Pekka Kuusisto. He’s a very rare phenomenon: a violin virtuoso who plays all the standard works and a lot of new work as well but he also collaborates with visual artists and folk musicians; he sometimes sings while he plays; I've heard he even occasionally swallows the microphone so that he can play with the sound of his own body. He's going to do a free post-show concert that night, kicking off our festival Nordic Music Days, and I can’t predict what he’s going to do!
That whole weekend then takes off with new works by composers from all the Nordic countries and it's completely free. I haven’t heard of most of the composers, which I’m particularly excited about because I love just going into a music festival and anticipating hearing all this new stuff. It also includes a few well known names, like Kaija Saariaho and Per Nørgård. The whole idea is that the Nordic Council have found what they think are the most exciting voices and they get British musicians, including the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Riot Ensemble Distractfold, to perform them. Hopefully at least some of the pieces are going to stick and are going to be exported over here. I’m really looking forward to it.
This season brings the reopening of the refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. Which new music marks the occasion?
We want to both reflect the history of the buildings and also celebrate the fact that they've always been about the future. So we've got both ‘vintage’ concerts, highlighting events that have been important in the history of the buildings, and concerts that look forwards.
We’re putting on a new work by Tyondai Braxton; he was the frontman of the electronica band Battles and is now writing music that combines this background with notated music. Bryce Dessner also comes from that indie scene in New York; he's in The National, and is also a great composer very much championed by Steve Reich.
Mica Levi, who is known for the soundtrack of Under the Skin, is a composer in residence here at Southbank Centre; she has a string quartet on the second night of the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s reopening.
There's a short new work by Harrison Birtwistle who has a great history in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and new string quartetsfrom the very distinguished composer Brian Ferneyhough and rising young composer Tom Coult. Some composers, such as Charlotte Bray and Milica Djordjević, might be new names to some people but that’s what Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room have always been about.
Which concerts at the reopening celebrate the history of Queen Elizabeth Hall?
Steve Reich's very famous quartet for strings and tape, Different Trains, was given its world premiere by the Kronos Quartet almost 30 years to the date from when we'll be performing it this season in Queen Elizabeth Hall. We're going to be doing a new take with a new video by Bill Morrison.
The Trout Quintet has a very important place in the history of Queen Elizabeth Hall. There's a film by Christopher Nupen of a very young Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline Du Pre, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Zubin Mehta performing the Trout Quintet in Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1969. It had been open for less than two years at the time and was all sparkly and new. You see lots of great footage of them larking about behind the scenes: swapping instruments; playing jazz; telling jokes; and then suddenly walking on the stage and playing this incredible, intense performance of Schubert's quintet.
We're going to have a 21st-century Trout Quintet led on the piano by Benjamin Grosvenor, a very young, superstar pianist who's put together an all-star line-up. It includes the composer Brett Dean who recently wrote a Hamlet that was Glyndebourne’s first new opera commission in almost ten years. It is one of the absolute best new operas I've seen; just phenomenal.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, one of our wonderful artists in residence, is curating a weekend called Ligeti in Wonderland. The great Hungarian composer György Ligeti was a survivor of some of the twentieth century's most terrible events. Some of his family was killed in Auschwitz and he escaped in 1956 from the Soviet occupation of his native Hungary. He lived on to be one of the most imaginative, quirky, funny, serious, intellectually amazing and sensuous composers of the 20th century. His work became very well known through Stanley Kubrick's use of it in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
When we open Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward they will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. Queen Elizabeth Hall opened in 1967. 2001: A Space Odyssey is also 50 years old this year; we'll be celebrating that in Royal Festival Hall with a live music production. Southbank Centre’s production has been seen by 80,000 people in 23 cities around the world.
Ligeti is also very much of the 60s, and we have great artists performing his music throughout the weekend, like the Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Aurora Orchestra. The music is the most immediate of that kind of post-war avant-garde: it's got wit; it's got colour; it's got scientific resonances; games; machines; African rhythms; clouds; nature; mathematics.
Another event that harks back to the heritage of the hall is our celebration of the 80th birthday of the British composer David Bedford. Very sadly David died in 2011, way before his time. He was a great figure in British music and a very well known music educator; but he was also very rock and roll. He collaborated with a lot of pop musicians and one of his most famous collaborations was with Mike Oldfield on the piece ‘Tubular Bells’ which was given its first performance ever in Queen Elizabeth Hall. So we're going to have a performance of his orchestral arrangement of ‘Tubular Bells’ alongside a new piece by the electronic composer Scanner.
We also have Daniel Barenboim returning to Royal Festival Hall this autumn.
In 1956, when he was 13 years old, Daniel Barenboim gave his debut in a major recital in Royal Festival Hall. This place has had a special place in his heart ever since, and in the 1960s he was artistic director of Southbank Summer Music, an annual festival of music which I have strong memories of from the 80s. It was a big feature of musical life in London.
He's coming to Royal Festival Hall with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra this autumn for a memorial concert marking 30 years since the death of his first wife Jacqueline du Pré. She performed, as I mentioned, in the Trout Quintet here. She was one of the biggest stars in classical music in the sixties and early seventies, but in her late 20s she was struck down with multiple sclerosis, and her career ended. It was an extraordinary career; the recording of the Elgar cello concerto is on many people's Desert Island Discs; she was just the most natural musician. Barenboim is giving two concerts in aid of the MS Society and he's bringing the young Iranian cellist Kian Soltani to play Strauss’ Don Quixote.