How the Philharmonia Orchestra premiered Strauss’ Four Last Songs

On 13 May 1949, at his home by Lake Geneva, bemoaning the poor health that prevents him from attending concerts, an elderly Strauss sits writing at his typewriter. Inspired by news reports of an extraordinary recital in Zurich, he has compiled a set of scores for the legendary performer, Kirsten Flagstad. In his letter to the performer (below) Strauss asks her if she would consider performing some of his most demanding songs for operatic soprano - ‘the performance of which is closed to ordinary singers’. 

Strauss includes masterpieces like Frühlingsfeier, Wiegenlied and Cäcilie, but at the end of the letter, he chooses to offer something further: in a now-historic sentence in the Philharmonia’s history, he suggests…

…I also add that I have the pleasure to provide for you my Four Last Songs with orchestra, which are currently in print in London; to give their premiere performance in an orchestral concert with a first-class conductor and orchestra…

It is a sentence which is monumental in the history of one of our resident orchestras, the Philharmonia Orchestra, because, not only did Flagstad accept Strauss’ offer, she chose to perform his Four Last Songs with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Just over a year on from the composer’s original letter, and eight months on from his death, Flagstad and the Philharmonia premiered Strauss final works at the Royal Albert Hall.


On Thursday 6 December, soprano Sophie Bevan follows in Flagstad’s footsteps, performing the Four Last Songs with the Philharmonia Orchestra under their Principal Guest Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali. 

The all-Strauss evening also features his suite from Der Rosenkavalier, an opera so successful that special trains ran from Berlin to Dresden to whisk audiences to its opening run, and the epic Alpine Symphony, which deploys an orchestra of 125 players, including organ, cowbells and a thunder machine, in a vivid description of a day’s hiking in the Alps.

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What’s it like to be a young Deaf performer?

George BSL

Forced Entertainment are a Sheffield-based theatre company that are committed to pushing the boundaries of what theatre is. Earlier this year they became an associate company of Southbank Centre, and in December they join us for their first performance of this partnership.

The company will be performing Tim Etchells’ That Night Follows Day, a remarkable play performed by children for adults, which looks at the way adults project their world onto children and young people, and how this world is shaped by language. Among the cast of eight to 14 year olds bringing this story to life are two Deaf performers, Alex and George.

In this fascinating video we meet George, who explains the challenges that can come from being a Deaf performer in a play with multiple speaking parts, and how Forced Entertainment’s BSL Theatre Consultant has helped him and Alex to transform their script into British Sign Language.


I want to be in a professional company. I decided, ‘what’s my dream job?’ and I’d like to do acting, so that’s my aim.
George, performer with Forced Entertainment

That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment comes to Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room for five evening, and one weekend matinee, performances on 11-15 December.

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The making of Rumpelstiltskin at Southbank Centre

Windmill Theatre are an ambitious and innovative company creating unique and contemporary theatrical work for children, teens and families. Based in Adelaide, Australia they have taken innovative performances across the globe and in December bring their latest creation, Rumpelstiltskin, to Southbank Centre for its UK premiere.

An updated version of the classic children’s fairytale, Windmill Theatre’s Rumpelstiltskin sees the eponymous imp reimagined as a much-feted fashion designer. However, the essence of the story remains true to the original, and for all the added high-fashion and glamour, the real purpose of Rumpelstiltskin remains a want for human connection.

In this video from Windmill the production’s director, Rosemary Myers, and its designer Jonathon Oxlade talk through the show’s creative process and how the many different facets come together to create a compelling piece of family theatre. Composer Jethro Woodward explains how the music of the show helps channel the vibrancy of the piece, and Paul Capsis, the actor tasked with bringing Rumpelstiltskin to life, tells us what drew him to being part of the performance.


Rumpelstiltskin | Creative Development from Windmill Theatre Co.


When we come to make these musicals we really want to make a really big fun night out for the whole family, a night that everybody is going to enjoy.
Rosemary Myers, Director, Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin comes to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for its UK premiere, with performances from 13 December 2018 to 6 January 2019.

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Southbank Centre announces 2019 visual art programme

Exhibition highlights for 2019 announced today for the Hayward Gallery, Hayward Gallery Touring and Arts Council Collection include a major retrospective exhibition of the work of Bridget Riley which will take over the Hayward Gallery in the autumn, a solo show of renowned American photographer Diane Arbus, and Kader Attia’s first major survey show in the UK.

The most extensive group show in the UK to explore gender identities and gender fluidity in contemporary art – Kiss My Genders – will take place in Hayward Gallery over the summer. Hayward Gallery Touring launches two new group exhibitions – Chicago Imagists and Slow Painting – while the Arts Council Collection will exhibit The Printed Line, an exhibition exploring the masters of printmaking from the 20th century up to the present day.

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How you can make a world of difference to young people

As a charity, Southbank Centre relies on donations of all sizes to present an inspiring, diverse and entertaining artistic programme, and to ensure that 50% of events we put on continue to be free for everyone to enjoy.

We know that many young people are missing out on their chance to experience the joy of a concert or an art exhibition at Southbank Centre, because of social or financial difficulties or a lack of opportunity.

Did you know that by making a donation of any size, you could give young people the chance to attend a concert at Southbank Centre, often for the first time?

In the past year alone, our incredible supporters have also helped us to 

  • give young people the chance to experience the thrill of participating in the arts
  • give children vital access to the arts through our education programmes and workshops
  • discover a new generation of artists
  • enable people of all ages and backgrounds to discover their own creativity and connect with other people.

When young people have the chance to participate in music and the arts, it can help them build their confidence and connect with others. A donation of £20 or more could give two young people a ticket to a concert and experience the thrill of live music.

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Introducing the Baroque viola

Introducing the Baroque Viola

The viola doesn’t often get to star as a solo instrument. But that isn’t the case with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s upcoming Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, Pipedreams. In this brilliant Baroque performance, the audience will be treated to Telemann’s work, which put the viola centre stage; Concerto for Two Violas and Strings in G.

In this video, the OAE’s co-principal viola Simone Jandl demonstrates her own Baroque viola, which is a replica of an Italian instrument from the 18th century. Jandl compares the instrument to its modern counterpart, highlighting the key differences in what, on the surface, may seem incredibly similar instruments.


You need to be a lot more sensitive [with the gut strings], because they are a lot less forgiving than synthetic strings
Simone Jandl, co-principal viola, Orchestra of Age of Enlightenment

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Pipedreams is at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on Monday 3 December.

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Tim Etchells on That Night Follows Day

Tim Adults only 30 sec

That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment takes a closer look at the facts, white lies and excuses adults tell children. Performed by children, for adults, the performance invites us to take a playful look at the way we project our world onto those around us. With remarkable clarity and humour, the cast of eight to 14 year olds reveal the ways we are all constrained and created by the words we hear.

In this short video we see rehearsal footage of the young performers, who will bring Etchells’ text to life here at Southbank Centre, and the writer and director himself explains how the show first came into being.


The idea for the performance was to look at the way the adult world makes and shapes the world that young people inhabit
Tim Etchells, writer and director

That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment comes to Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room for five evening and one weekend matinee performances on 11-15 December.

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Jerusalem Quartet’s Ori Kam on life in a string ensemble

How do you choose the right pieces for a concert performance? How do you cope with life on the road as a touring musician? And, what does technology mean for the future of the string quartet? Rather than idly ponder one, two or all three of these questions we put them to a man who knows a thing or two about each of them; Ori Kam, violist with Jerusalem Quartet, who perform here at Southbank Centre in December.

A greatly experienced string ensemble, Jerusalem Quartet first performed together in 1996 and have grown to become a regular fixture on the world’s greatest concert stages. The quartet consists of violinists Alexander Pavlovksy and Sergei Bresler, cellist Kyril Zlotnikov and violist Kam who kindly answered our questions.

Why did you choose the pieces on your Southbank Centre programme, and why do you think they work well together?

When choosing pieces for a programme, we like to pick works that show off the string quartet as an instrument in as many faces as possible. We also try to show the connection between composers by using a common genre, and how each composer operated on a continuum of string quartet writing as opposed to the way we often think of composers, namely as islands.

In this case, we have a quartet by Haydn in which the listener can clearly hear the basic ideas of a four voice composition. Haydn uses distinct divisions of the voices into groups to form homophonic and polyphonic music. In his music, it is always clear what the main voice is, who are the accompanying voices and when there are secondary roles. Beethoven, who was Haydn’s student, takes the same thinking of four voice writing, but introduces more complexity. The accompanying figures are more important and sometimes almost overshadow the theme in importance. Polyphonic writing is more prevalent and more intricate.

Debussy, surprisingly perhaps, wrote his quartet following the same guidelines as Haydn. The first movement follows sonata form, and the last is said to have been modelled on the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Even though these three composers are clearly giants of innovation and ingenuity, there is much more that binds them to each other than individualizes them.


Haydn was the first to treat a string quartet as a ‘perfect’ union of four voices; he set the ground rules

How has your quartet evolved over the years? Are there particular areas of the repertoire that you want to explore? And how do you balance revisiting repertoire on the one hand and playing fresh pieces on the other?

I think we take great pride and joy in striving day-to-day for ever better, and deeper, understanding and presentation of great masterpieces. We love what we do and share a profound commitment to sharing this love and vision of the music with audiences. We feel very fortunate to have people come and share this with us, which makes the travel and absence from home worth it. I think I speak for all of us when I say we would like to keep doing what we do, expanding our repertoire, and deepening our relationship with these great masterpieces.


What's the secret to a happy life on the road?

We have a working formula for how much we can do, how far we can go, and how many pieces we feel comfortable to take on. We are no longer 20 years old, and are fortunate to be able to set limits on the scope of our travel and performances. We’re also lucky that we have a fantastic team supporting us. And each of us have our own mechanisms for staying healthy and happy on the road. I, for example, make sure I can exercise three times a week, and travel with a yoga mat to counter the many hours of sitting on planes, trains and cars.


We love what we do and share a profound commitment to sharing this love and vision of the music with audiences


What are the best and worst things about playing in a quartet?

A quartet is the largest ensemble where every player can maintain their individuality while still allowing for complex and varied musical writing. However, as individuals with strong musical convictions, the worst thing is being dependent on three other people for every decision.


Who is the single most influential string quartet composer?

I think it is without a doubt Haydn. He was the first to treat this ensemble as a special ‘perfect’ union of four voices, and set the ground rules that still govern much of how quartets are written today.


How do you think the string quartet as a genre will evolve in the next 100 years?

This is such a difficult question. Technology is evolving so quickly, but with all the amazing advancements, we still haven’t seen very successful integration of new technologies into the basic experience of listening to classical music. I think there is a fundamental human experience of listening to acoustical music that perhaps does not need to evolve.



Jerusalem Quartert play Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the International Chamber Music Series on Saturday 8 December.

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diane arbus: in the beginning

On 13 February 2019, Hayward Gallery will present diane arbus: in the beginning, including nearly 100 photographs that redefine the achievement of one of the most prominent and influential artists of the 20th century.

The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the formative first half of Diane Arbus’ career, from 1956 to 1962, when the American master developed the direct, psychologically acute style for which she later became so widely celebrated. Presented across the upper floor of the Hayward Gallery, this solo show includes some fifty photographs which have never been shown in Europe, all vintage prints from the Diane Arbus Archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion

From 13 February to 6 May 2019, Hayward Gallery presents the first major survey in the United Kingdom of one of today’s leading international artists: Kader Attia.

The Museum of Emotion highlights several strands of Kader Attia’s thought-provoking and influential art from the past two decades. Offering a trenchant post-colonial perspective, Attia’s work often pushes the boundaries of traditional museum presentation whilst it raises questions about the hegemony of Western cultural models . Spanning a wide range of media, the works in this exhibition inventively explore the ways in which colonialism continues to shape how Western societies represent and engage with non-Western cultures.

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