SoundState: who are the composers? Part II

SoundState is a new Southbank Centre festival which lets you see live performances of some of best contemporary classical music, including world premieres, intriguing collaborations and incredible musicians.

In the second in a series of two blog posts, we’re giving you a chance to get to know more about some of the composers whose work is featured – read this short series of biographies, which could help you decide which of the SoundState concerts is is most relevant to your interests. The festival takes place in January 2019.

Helen Grime

Colour photo portrait of composer Helen Grime

Helen Grime was born in York in 1981 and studied oboe and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. The list of organisations to have commissioned her is like a who’s who of classical music – the Proms, Tanglewood Music Centre, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Wigmore Hall and countless others.

She also composed a piece to celebrate the 60th birthday of the much-missed conductor and composer Oliver Knussen.

Helen is familiar to Southbank Centre audiences from her involvement in the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series and we’re thrilled that she’s giving the world premiere of her percussion orchestra at SoundState – with Colin Currie performing and Marin Alsop conducting.

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Erkki-Sven Tüür

Colour photo portrait of composer Erkki-Sven Tüür by Ave Maria Mõistlik

Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür has had a long and varied career in music, and is one of the most original contemporary composers. In 1979 he founded the rock group ‘In spe’, functioning as composer, flautist, keyboard player and singer until 1983.

He has studied at the Tallinn Music School and the Estonian Academy of Music and has composed nine symphonies, a number of works for symphony and string orchestra, nine instrumental concertos, a wide variety of chamber music and an opera.

Erkki-Sven says he hopes his music raises existential questions and reaches the creative energy of every listener. At SoundState you can find out if he achieves this with the UK premiere of Erkki-Sven’s Piccolo Concerto (Solastalgia), performed by Stewart McIlwham and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Southbank Centre’s SoundState takes place from Wednesday 16 – Sunday 20 January 2019.


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Podcast: An Evening with Sally Field

An Evening with Sally Field by Southbank Centre's Book Podcast

One of the most highly anticipated events at the 2018 London Literature Festival was an appearance by the beloved actress Sally Field.

In a conversation with Elizabeth Day to mark the release of her memoir In Pieces, Field talked about her life, career and becoming herself. The audience were in awe of her honesty and openness, tweeting about how emotional and inspiring the event was. Now you can hear highlights of the evening in our podcast.


Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK, and the venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.

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SoundState: who are the composers? Part I

SoundState is a new Southbank Centre festival which lets you see live performances of some of best contemporary classical music, including world premieres, intriguing collaborations and incredible musicians.

Ahead of the festival in January 2019, we’re giving you a chance to get to know more about some of the composers whose work is featured – read this short series of biographies, which could help you decide which of the SoundState concerts is is most relevant to your interests.

Dai Fujikura

Photo of composer Dai Fujikura

Dai Fujikura was born in 1977 in Osaka, Japan. His work includes operas, orchestral pieces, ensemble works, chamber music, and film scores, but he also also has strong connections to the experimental pop/jazz/improvisation world, collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian and Jan Bang, among others.

He moved to the UK on his own aged just 15, studying at Trinity College of Music, King’s College London and the Royal College of Music, where Dai is now Professor of Composition. At SoundState you can hear the UK premiere of his Dai Fujikura Concerto for flute & ensemble, performed by the incredible Claire Chase and musicians from the Philharmonia Orchestra.

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Vito Žuraj

Black and white portrait of Vito Žuraj, who appears at Southbank Centre's SoundState festival

Vito Žuraj is a Slovenian composer who was born in 1979. He is classically trained, earning a degree in composition and music theory from the Ljubljana Academy of Music and winning the Claudio Abbado Prize for composition in 2016, but he is also very interested in the technology and aesthetics of electronic sound generation.

The Philharmonia Orchestra, Resident at Southbank Centre, dedicated its April 2018 Music of Today concert entirely to Vito’s work. At SoundState you can hear the UK premiere of his piece Runaround, performed by brass quartet and Vito’s long-term collaborators the International Ensemble Modern Academy – with Zimbabwean-American Vimbayi Kaziboni conducting.

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Oliver Christophe Leith


Black and white photo of composer Oliver Christophe Leith

Oliver was born in 1990 and is a London-based composer who makes acoustic music, electronic music and video. His work focuses on text, image, video, theatre and tangible human themes and he describes himself as a fan of ‘scientific illustrations, gardening, film, tapestry, reality television, wobbly sounds and the visceral’.

He was the recipient of a British Composer Award in 2016 and of the Royal Philharmonic Composition prize in 2014, and has collaborated with an eclectic group of artists including Apartment House, Matthew Herbert, Ives Ensemble, Exaudi, Plus Minus and the London Sinfonietta, who perform a world premiere of Oliver’s at SoundState conducted by Jonathan Berman.

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Southbank Centre’s SoundState takes place from Wednesday 16 – Sunday 20 January 2019.

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SoundState: Helen Grime playlist

Our SoundState festival takes place in January 2019 and celebrates exciting new classical music from all over the world – including Britain’s own Helen Grime, who was born in York in 1981.

Her work has been performed globally, and we’re very proud that SoundState features the world premiere of her Percussion Concerto, perfomed by Colin Currie. We’re also thrilled that when we asked Helen to share five pieces of music that have influenced her life and work she obliged – and now we’re sharing that music with you.


Helen Grime © Amy Barton


Judith Weir: Natural History

Ailish Tynan – soprano, BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins

Judith’s musical language is so clear, direct and intensely personal. This piece is very compelling.


Manuel De Fall: Seven Spanish Folk Songs

Victoria de los Ángeles – soprano

I’ve loved this piece from the moment I first heard it. At once exciting and touching, intense miniature worlds with so much character.


Elliott Carter: Enchanted Preludes

Robert Aitken – flute, David Hetherington – cello

A mercurial duo for flute and cello, the music is constantly shifting and full of joy. A source of constant inspiration.


Oliver Knussen: Ophelia Dances

London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen

This was the first piece of Oliver Knussen I ever heard, I instantly fell in love with it. So much clarity and every note feels like the right one. A piece that influenced me a lot.


Ravel: Tombeau de Couperin

Martha Argerich – piano, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado

Hard to choose a single piece and it could be almost anything from his oeuvre.


Southbank Centre’s SoundState takes place from Wednesday 16 – Sunday 20 January 2019.

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My Mixtape: Insecure Men

Insecure Men – the pop duo comprising Saul Ademczewski, previously of the Fat White Band, and Ben Romans-Hopcraft of Childhood – are famous for their eclectic influences. So when we asked them for a list of music they are listening to at the moment we were thrilled to discover that it was as unpredictable as you might have predicted.

From the jangliest 60s garage to the most laidback pedal steel guitar via some vintage 1990s Prince, this is a Mixtape that is going to bork your Spotify algorithm. You have been warned!


Insecure Men perform at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 6 November and tickets are now on sale.

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Who is Inon Barnatan?

Israeli-American pianist Inon Barnatan has seen his career take him all over the world, performing in its most famous concert halls. His repertoire includes everything from Beethoven to contemporary composers like Alan Fletcher, Thomas Adès and Nico Muhly, and he has released six records to date. Having made his BBC Proms debut in 2017, we are thrilled that he is appearing at Southbank Centre this year in his very first International Piano Series concert, where he performs music by Ravel and Mussorgsky.

Ahead of his performance, we spoke to Inon to find out more about his life and career (and his dog, Jasper).

He was something of a child prodigy

Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Inon Barnatan got his start playing piano at a very early age.

‘Neither of my parents are musicians but my mother played piano when she was young and there was an upright piano in the house,’ says Inon.

‘Apparently around the age of three, I started gravitating towards it and correcting my mother from the other room if she played a wrong note, or identifying a note or picking out tunes. They found out that I have perfect pitch because I kept on playing from ear, from what I heard. So, they sent me to my first lesson when I was probably about three-and-a-half.’


Inon ended up in London accidentally – but he has no regrets

He first performed with an orchestra at the age of 11 and by 1997 he had moved to London, where he started studying with Maria Curcio at the Royal Academy of Music, along with Christopher Elton, who was head of the keyboard department (and had also been a student of Curcio’s).

‘I was planning to move to the States to study and then I met Maria Curcio,’ says Inon. ‘She was supposed to come to Israel for masterclasses and then she cancelled, but she invited me to come to London for a week and I fell in love with her teaching, with her musicianship. She was a great, great inspiration and I decided to move to London to study with her. So that’s how I ended up there – and I loved it.’


During his London years, Inon was a regular in the IPS audience

Although his 31 October concert is Inon’s International Piano Series debut, he is very familiar with the programme. ‘I lived in London for ten years and I was on a steady diet of Southbank Centre and Wigmore Hall, with the occasional Prom,’ he says.

‘It’s really very special for me to come back. I did my second Prom this year and I played Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra recently, and then Wigmore Hall I’ve been to regularly. So for me to also come and do this, to play in the International Piano Series, is very exciting – especially as I haven’t been to the new, improved Queen Elizabeth Hall yet.’


Inon has thought a lot about the purpose of live music...

‘For me actually one of the great powers of going to a concert, now especially, is that there are very few occasions in our lives now when we’re only doing one thing, when we’re concentrating on one thing. Even when we listen to music at home it’s very rare that we sit down and listen and just stare at the speaker and listen,’ he says.

‘I find that there’s so much more relevance and importance now to the ritual of sitting together and concentrating on one thing and giving it your attention and being transformed by it, than ever. I feel like more and more I see people of the younger generation rebelling against this distracted culture where you’re never doing something for more than a few seconds at a time. They’re looking for those experiences that allow them to slow down and concentrate and actually be. And I think music is one of those great, great things that we connect to and that if we allow ourselves the time. Then when something significant happens on stage it’s a very powerful feeling.’


...and as a performer it’s not just other musicians who can inspire him

‘I think Meryl Streep playing her character in the Devil Wears Prada is very different to Meryl Streep who plays Margaret Thatcher who’s very different from the Meryl Streep that plays another character,’ says Inon. ‘Some musicians are not like that but I feel like I’m a very different pianist when I play Ravel than I am to when I play Beethoven or when I play Shostakovich.’


Relatedly, Inon believes curiosity is essential

Inon has talked about how he tries to absorb as much local culture as he can when he’s on the road. But why?

‘Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think if you look at the way that musicians were in the past there was so much cross pollination between music and other artforms and just life in general. And to me to be a musician is to absorb as much of the world around you – whatever informs you as a person informs your music making. I think there's nothing more important for a musician than curiosity,’ he says.


His acclaimed album Darknesse Visible is accompanied by a series of stunning visuals

Inon Barnatan - DARKNESSE VISIBLE: La Valse

Inon recorded Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and La valse on his 2012 record Darknesse Visible and then worked with videographer Tristan Cook to create incredible video art to go with the music.

‘I asked a friend of mine, Tristan Cook, who is a wonderful videographer, if we could create some little teasers, vignettes for these so that you get a sense, even if it’s not a literal sense, of the story behind the piece,’ Inon says.

‘In the case of La valse there’s a suspicion that Ravel was inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, which is the story of guests who come to these lavish parties thrown by a prince while the people are dying from the red plague outside the walls of the castle. They’re dancing until they realise that one of the guests at the ball is death itself and they dance themselves into doom, which is basically the sonic story of La Valse and its dancing-at-the-edge-of-a-volcano feeling.

‘Tristan found this incredible material that gets agitated by sound and starts dancing, basically. With this, he recreated exactly the feeling that I was imagining, this kind of strange, macabre dance. It was just a perfect, in some ways unconventional, visualisation of a feeling of a piece, rather than a literal translation of it, which I think is what Ravel achieved in the music.’

Darknesse Visible garnered rave reviews, with Gramophone magazine lavishing praise on Inon’s playing, saying it was ‘beautifully voiced piano, very well recorded’ and the New York Times awarding it a place on its coveted Best of 2012 list.


His dog Jasper’s indifference to music is a blessing

Inon’s dog is a seven-year-old whippet called Jasper.



“So? How was your trip? Tell me EVERYTHING”

A post shared by Inon Barnatan (@inonbarnatan) on

‘When we got him I was slightly concerned about his reaction to music and then I was slightly offended that he had absolutely no reaction to music. But then I grew to really, really appreciate the fact that I don’t have another critic in the house. He can sleep very soundly right under the piano even if I’m practising a great, modern loud piece,’ says Inon.

In fact, Inon says the only person Jasper ever reacted to was the soprano Renée Fleming, when she came over to rehearse. ‘I think it was because he hadn’t heard that sound before, that incredible voice – and then somehow he suddenly woke from his apathy.’

Inon Barnatan appears at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 31 October.

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Interview by Mark Parker

Celebrate National Poetry Day with John Ashbery’s O Fortuna

Today, Thursday 4 October, is National Poetry Day – a day set aside to read, share and enjoy poetry, this year with the theme of ‘change’.

As we are the home of the National Poetry Library, we asked our librarian colleagues to choose a poem to feature on our blog, and they did not disappoint, responding with this intriguing work by the late John Ashbery (1927 – 2017).

“John Ashbery is often hailed as the greatest American poet of the second half of the 20th century,” writes National Poetry Library Librarian Chris McCabe.

At turns lyricist, trickster, cartoonist and art critic, his work surprises for its risk-taking and sheer strangeness.
Chris McCabe on the poetry of John Ashbery

“Given this year’s National Poetry Day theme of ‘change’, we’ve chosen to highlight this poem from our magazine archive. It plays around with the language of farewells – or is it the language of arrival? As with all of Ashbery’s work, only you, the reader, can decide.”

Please do read the poem and share it if it inspires you. Also find out more about our National Poetry Day activities and the National Poetry Library below.

O Fortuna

By John Ashbery

Good luck! Best wishes! The best of luck!
The very best! Godspeed! God bless you!
Peace be with you!
May your shadow never be less!
We can see through to the other side,
you see. It’s your problem, we know,
but I can’t help feeling a little envious.
What if darkness became unhinged right now?
Boomingly, swimmingly one remounts the current.
Here is where the shade was, the suggestion of flowers,
and peace, in another place.

Our competition is like tools of a certain order.
No one would have found them useful at first.
It wasn’t until a real emergency arose, that someone
had the sense to recognize for what it was.
All hell didn’t break loose, it was like a rising psalm
materializing like snow on an unseen mountain.
All that was underfoot was good, but lost.

From The Poetry Review Vol 94 No 1 (Spring 2004).
“O Fortuna” from Where I Shall Wander by John Ashbery © 2005. Reprinted by permission of George Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.

Visit the National Poetry Library

The National Poetry Library is based on Level 5 of Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre and is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am – 8pm. It also has extensive digital resources available via its website.

Join us for National Poetry Day Live

Poets including Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Lowe, Caroline Bird and Zaffar Kunial join us for an exciting evening of readings and more, starting from 5pm on Thursday 4 October. It is free to attend.

Five reasons pianist Cristina Ortiz is such an interesting musician

Brazilian pianist Cristina Ortiz was all of two years old when she first sat down at a piano keyboard. Ortiz has made a name for herself as one of the most moving interpreters of Romantic music, a champion of lesser known works in the piano repertoire and a must-see performer.

Ahead of her performance as part of the International Piano Series later this month, we’re having a look at what makes her career so interesting.

Piano came very naturally to her

While most of us were struggling with simple nursery rhymes, Ortiz proved herself a prodigy. She had her first lessons aged four, telling one interviewer: “I was taken to the young sister of a colleague of my father, who used to be a concert pianist . . . we didn’t do exercises, it was all music, music, music, and that’s why I am what I am! She just gave me tunes and music to play; Bach and Mozart and everything, a little Chopin, everything. No scales.”

Aged just eight she was enrolled in the Brazilian Conservatory of Music, in Rio de Janeiro – where she did learn scales. Still in her teens she won a scholarship to study in Paris and in 1969 she won a gold medal at the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas, leading to a period of study in the United States where she focused on German repertoire, having previously focused heavily on French music.

She’s a titan of the Romantic repertoire

Ortiz is often thought of as a specialist in Romantic music, and it’s easy to see why, with lucious, soulful performances such as this 1997 recording of Debussy’s Poissons d’or.

Cristina Ortiz: Claude Debussy - Poissons d'or (1997)

It’s one of the reasons her concert here is going to be so exciting, as she plays works by Chopin ranging from a selection of Études published in 1837 to Barcarolle in F sharp, Op. 60, written three years before the composer’s death.

Throughout her career she has recorded works by Romantic greats from Beethoven to Rachmaninov, all to great acclaim.

Ortiz supports Brazilian composers

As well as performing well-known piano music, Ortiz has made it her mission to bring the works of some her Brazilian compatriots to wider attention. This has included performing and recording five piano concertos by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 – 1959), as well as a lot of his solo piano music.

She also performed the US premiere of Camargo Guarnieri’s Chôro in a Carnegie Hall performance in 1996. In 2006 Ortiz released an album called Brazilian Soul, featuring music by Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, Fructuoso Vianna and Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez.

She also champions composers whose work isn’t not well known

This includes recording an entire album of Clara Schumann’s music, and another of works by the English composer York Bowen (1884 – 1961).

Bowen is probably familiar to most lovers of the piano repertoire (and not a few of the instrument’s students) but if his work has passed you by until now, you’re in for a huge treat. Described by Saint-Saëns as ‘the most remarkable of the young British composers’ back in 1903, Bowen was inspired by the likes of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and, of course, Chopin – all the while managing to create music with its own, distinctive style.

In 2014 Ortiz released an album of Bowen’s 24 Preludes, Berceuse, Op.83 and Suite Mignonne on Naxos Music. It won rave reviews – here’s an excerpt from that recording.

24 Preludes, Op. 102: Prelude No. 10 in E Minor: Moderato, a capriccio

Ortiz’s charm and fluency create their own moving, poetic ambience
Gramophone on Cristina Ortiz’s recording of York Bowen’s music

She has been known to use a very tiny piano score so she doesn’t need a page turner

In a 1989 interview, Ortiz was discussing the a performance of a complex piece by Stenhammar with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she revealed she’d taken a specially devised version of the music on stage for the first performance (the second she did from memory).

“I have prepared scores; they are tiny, reduced, so I don’t need a page turner, which is less of a distraction for the public than the normal situation,” she told the interviewer. “I devised this way of preparing the score so I have the whole movement in front of me. Then I take that sheet away and have one for the second movement and another for the third movement. It’s fantastic; it’s just changed all my life!”


We’re thrilled to welcome Ortiz back to Southbank Centre and the International Piano Series here on Thursday 18 October. There’s still time to get your tickets and discover this brilliant, intelligent musician for yourself.

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Pascal Dusapin: go behind the scenes of the composer's dance-opera

Director Michael McCarthy talks about Passion, a new co-production by Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales in association with London Sinfonietta, one of our Resident Orchestras.

Passion is an acclaimed dance-opera composed by Pascal Dusapin and it is performed here as part of our 2018/19 Classical Season. 

Dusapin: Passion | Southbank Centre

McCarthy talks about the excitement and fear that goes with directing this new kind of work, where dancers aren't just given their steps but rather the choreography integrates with the breath and movement of the singers. And you can also hear a couple of excerpts of the extraordinary music ahead of its full performance. 

Dusapin's Passion takes place on Saturday 13 October in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and tickets are available now.

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Esa-Pekka Salonen on Schoenberg, Wagner & Bruckner

In three short films, Philharmonia Orchestra’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, introduces his programmes of Bruckner, Schoenberg and Wagner ahead of the orchestra’s 2018/19 London Season opening concerts here. The first takes place on Thursday 27 September and features music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the one-act Schoenberg opera Erwartung, and Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony.

Part II is on Sunday 30 September 2018. At this performance you will hear Wagner’s Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; Schoenberg’s much-loved Verklärte Nacht and Bruckner’s Symphony No.7.

Find out why these works belong together, in Esa-Pekka’s eyes, and how without a chance encounter with Bruckner’s music he may never have found his way to platforms all around the world.


Esa-Pekka Salonen on Wagner, Schoenberg & Bruckner

The link is Wagner, tying everything together.
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Bruckner Part One: The Music

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Bruckner: The Music

In this film, Esa-Pekka Salonen discusses his love of Bruckner’s music, revealing his belief that ‘you just be there and Bruckner takes care of you’.

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Bruckner Part Two: The Memories

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Bruckner: The Memories

Here, Esa-Pekka shares the touching story of how hearing Bruckner on the radio inspired him to pursue a career in music. ‘Maybe I should become a musician,’ he remembers thinking, ‘if music can be like this.’

Book now to hear these two fascinating concerts.

Part I takes place on Thursday 27 September.

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Part II takes place on Sunday 30 September.

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