Twenty for 2020: must-see gigs, performances, exhibitions and events

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 13:13

New year, new you. Or more likely, given you’ve landed on this page, the same you, but with a desire to get out and see more of the incredible array of arts and culture London has to offer. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Southbank Centre hosts thousands of gigs, concerts, performances, exhibitions, events, talks and more, each and every year.

Yes, that is a lot. And yes it does make it a little difficult to know quite where to start. So we thought we’d help you out a bit, and looked to the people who make our events happen to pick out some highlights. To get you started, here are 20 must-see events from our upcoming year of music, literature, performance and art, as championed by Southbank Centre’s senior programmers. And if anyone knows a good show, it’s them.

London Contemporary Orchestra – Rushes
17 January | Queen Elizabeth Hall

London Contemporary Orchestra & Rival Consoles

In this programme inspired by the art of Bridget Riley, the LCO perform Michael Gordon’s Rushes, followed by performances from Claire Singer and contemporary electronic artist Rival Consoles. The concert also sees an AI installation, influenced by the perceptual effects of Riley’s work, and created especially for this performance, respond in real time to the music.

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Isabel Allende, author
9 February | Royal Festival Hall

Isabel Allende: A Long Petal of the Sea

Literary legend, and multi-award-winning author, Isabel Allende visits the UK for the first time in 12 years to present her much-awaited new novel in this London-exclusive event. Based on history and real people, A Long Petal of the Sea is a masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile and belonging.

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After a truly inspiring and successful 2019, we’re delighted to start 2020 with an array of new and established authors and poets from around the UK and the world.
Bea Colley, Acting Senior Literature Programmer, Southbank Centre
Pop Crimes gig at Southbank Centre
12 February | Royal Festival Hall

Pop Crimes

Ten years after the release of his final album, we pay tribute to the legacy of visionary musician Rowland S Howard at a performance featuring former bandmates and special guests. Howard, a vital piece of Australia’s post-punk scene, found recognition in projects including the Young Charlatans, and The Birthday Party with Nick Cave.

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15 February | Purcell Room


Family-friendly glamour and glitz abound in a classic tale of identity and belonging, reimagined for our times. Critically acclaimed cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat breaks out of his shell in his first work for children, a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling which has a message of tolerance and self acceptance at its core.

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23 February | Queen Elizabeth Hall

Chineke! Orchestra

Enchanting incidental music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor leads into Beethoven’s gigantic Seventh Symphony, on the 250th anniversary of his birth. The concert also sees Tai Murray, a key member of Chineke! since its inception – and former BBC New Generation Artist – return as soloist in Bruch’s ever-popular Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor.

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Poet performing at Out-Spoken
27 February | Purcell Room


Out-Spoken’s residency, featuring monthly live poetry and masterclasses here at Southbank Centre, continues into 2020. Their first live show of the new year certainly makes a statement, with the new poet laureate Simon Armitage headlining, and acclaimed poet Fran Lock and emerging talent Gboyega Odubanjo also on a bill that includes live music from upcoming artists.

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After an amazing start to our partnership, we're so delighted to extend Out-Spoken's residency for another year at Southbank Centre. From electrifying nights to insightful masterclasses, they're at the heart of London's poetry scene.
Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature and Spoken Word, Southbank Centre
Plaid, electronic duo
28 February | Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer

Concrete Lates: Plaid + Kelly Lee Owens

Expect energetic bangers, bright melodic rhythms and hypnotic textures from innovative duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner who have been expanding the realm of electronic music as Plaid since the early 1990s. They join Kelly Lee Owens in Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer until the early hours for our first Concrete Lates of 2020.

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Shi Guowei, Pine, 2016 © the artist 2019. Image courtesy of the artist and Magician Space, Beijing
4 March - 17 May | Hayward Gallery

Among the Trees

This exhibition brings together artworks that explore our relationships with trees and forests. Beginning with pioneering works from the late 1960s – a decade that saw the emergence of the modern environmental movement – Among the Trees surveys a remarkably expansive artistic terrain, including sculpture, painting, installation, video and photography.

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Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Among the Trees brings together artworks from the past half-century that invite us to re-imagine how we relate to and think about trees and forests.
Ralph Rugoff, Director, Hayward Gallery
Hilary Mantel headshot
6 March | Royal Festival Hall

Hilary Mantel: The Mirror and the Light

Following the success of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel joins us to reveal the eagerly awaited third novel in her thrilling Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. Mantel is the first British author to have won two Booker Prizes and the only writer to have won with two consecutive novels; could this put her in line for a hat-trick?

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Michael Tilson Thomas conducting
21 March | Royal Festival Hall

Tilson Thomas & San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have won seven Grammys for their recordings of Mahler’s symphonies, including one for Symphony No.6, which they perform here in March. As this season season marks Michael Tilson Thomas’ 75th birthday, and his 25th and final season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra this is one not to be missed.

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Goldfrapp, electronic music duo
29 & 30 March | Royal Festival Hall


Ooh la la: the multi-platinum selling band are here to mark the twentieth anniversary of their Mercury-Prize nominated album Felt Mountain. Since their formation in 1999, Goldfrapp have been nominated for several Grammy and Brit Awards, and picked up an Ivor Novello for 'Strict Machine'.

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Johny Pitts, writer
30 March | Purcell Room

City Central: An Express Tour of Europe

Sheffield’s once-glorious industrial past, the gritty urban high rises of contemporary Amsterdam, the Afropean music of Brussels and Lisbon’s vibrant black community: City Central stops at all of these in an exhilarating whistle-stop tour of unseen Europe, using music and words, images and film to light up the continent in all its diversity.

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Ravi Shankar, indian musician and composer
7 April | Royal Festival Hall

Ravi Shankar 100

The Shankar family, friends and disciples celebrate 100 years since Ravi Shankar's birth in an event led by his daughters, Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones, that will also see the pair perform together live for the first time. Expect special guests aplenty and enjoy a retrospective of the artist’s remarkable genre-spanning back catalogue.

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Ravi Shankar is more than a musician, he’s a world figure. Until he came along Indian Classical Music was not really known popularly in the UK. His daughter Anoushka Shankar is a phenomenal artist within her own right, with a wide following.
Gillian Moore, Director of Music, Southbank Centre
David Wallace Wells, journalist
8 April | Queen Elizabeth Hall

David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth

When David Wallace-Wells started interviewing scientists about climate change, he discovered that the things they said off the record were much more troubling than what they were saying in public. Here, in connection with Hayward Gallery's Among the Trees exhibition, he makes a London exclusive appearance to discuss his international bestseller.

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Close-up of Marin Alsop conducting at the Southbank Centre
16 & 18 April | Royal Festival Hall

Beyond Beethoven 9

Hear an ode to joy for our times with a reimagined choral symphony from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, conducted by Marin Alsop. Alongside a massed choir of 350 singers, they perform a new version of the Ninth Symphony to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday, that seeks to incorporate young voices in the composer’s message of unity.

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Marin Alsop will be adding interstitial music from other genres in between movements, as she feels Beethoven 9 is a huge canvas that can withstand being reinvented... I think this is a really legitimate thing to do with such a symbolic piece; add new stuff to it and really run with it.
Gillian Moore, Director of Music, Southbank Centre
The poet Alice Notley reads one of her poems
12 May | National Poetry Library

Alice Notley

Alice Notley has been writing and publishing poetry for nearly five decades and is the author of over 40 books, many of them book-length works which challenge the boundaries of genres. In this special event in the National Poetry Library she joins us to discuss her latest book For the Ride.

I’m really excited that Alice Notley, one of America's most compelling and visionary poets, will be coming to read her work here, especially as she reads from her latest book, which recounts the journey of survivors of a global disaster who board a ship to another dimension
Chris McCabe, National Poetry Librarian
Kaash performance on-stage
22-25 May | Queen Elizabeth Hall

Kaash (Revivial)

After 18 years, Akram Khan returns with his company's first full-length dance production, created in 2002 in collaboration with visual artist Anish Kapoor and composer Nitin Sawhney. Inspired by Hindu Gods, black holes, Indian time cycles, tablas, creation and destruction, Kaash still maintains its impact almost two decades on from conception.

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Laura Jurd, musician
28 May | Queen Elizabeth Hall


Entering their tenth year of trumpet-led, improvisatory magic, Mercury-nominated Dinosaur present an acoustic performance of new album To the Earth. Come and see why this quartet – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano), Conor Chaplin (double bass) and Corrie Dick (drums) – have earned a reputation as some of the best UK jazz musicians of their generation.

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Adrea Kalrin
12-21 June | across Southbank Centre


Our annual week-long music festival returns in June, and this time with one of the most recognisable figures of contemporary culture at the helm. Grace Jones is curator for the 27th edition of Meltdown; always a highlight of the London live music calendar. Expect an eclectic list of must-see names, when Jones’ festival bill is announced in the coming months.

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Grace Jones is unlike anybody else. She was the first artist who made me feel that I could express myself, be whatever I wanted to be, and not be afraid of what the world might say. She is one of the few living artists who can truly be described as iconic, with a relentlessly individualistic vision.
25 June - 6 September | Hayward Gallery

Reverb: Sound into Art

This summer Hayward Gallery hosts an ambitious group exhibition that brings together 14 international visual artists who work with sound as their primary medium. Reverb: Sound into Art considers the many different ways that sound can involve and affect us – both physically and emotionally – as well as the ways in which it interacts with and defines space.

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Reverb: Sound into Art, takes place 20 years after Hayward’s pioneering Sonic Boom exhibition, and will be a crucial update on the growing importance of contemporary artists who explore how sound can involve and affect us.
Ralph Rugoff, Director Hayward Gallery

These are just 20 of the thousands of events, concerts, exhibitions, gigs, performances and talks that will take place here across our venues this year, and Southbank Centre Members will get priority booking for every single one. Not to mention free entry to Hayward Gallery exhibitions, access to an exclusive Members' cafe-bar, discounts in our shops, and more.

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more for the year ahead