Debussy and John Adams: Symphonic Reimaginings

Fri 23 Jun 2023, 7.30pm
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Classical music
From £5
past event
past event
The Great Wave off Kanagawa wood print with text in Japanese in the top left corner

Conductor Ryan Bancroft leads the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra through enchanting works from Debussy, John Adams and Hannah Kendall.

The night features two works that follow symphonic tradition whilst at the same time, reimagine it. Written towards the beginning and end of the 20th century respectively, Debussy’s La mer and John Adams’ Harmonielehre are three-movement works: traditional in some sense, yet startlingly new in their musical language.

La mer, arguably Debussy’s most admired masterpiece, is an evocation of the power of the ocean. Consisting of two powerful outer movements that frame a lighter scherzo-style composition, musical onomatopoeia abounds in this stirring work: hear the pitter-patter of falling droplets of spray, and dynamic swells that portray both the turbulent and peaceful nature of the sea.

In Harmonielehre, roughly translated as ‘the book of harmony’, listen for references of Mahler, Sibelius and Wagner, and enjoy moments of serenity amongst more earthbound post-minimalist rhythms and energy.

Adams took inspiration for this piece by a dream he experienced of a sailing oil tanker that turned into a rocket – a cathartic release both for the piece itself and his own compositional life.

Finally, hear The Spark Catchers by contemporary composer and Royal College of Music alumnus Hannah Kendall.

Commissioned and premiered at the BBC Proms in 2017 and inspired by a poem written by Lemn Sissay for the 2012 London Olympics, this striking piece depicts the working lives of women who worked in a match factory, keeping a watchful eye for stray sparks at risk of starting a fire.

  • Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra
  • Ryan Bancroft conductor
  • Hannah Kendall: The Spark Catchers
  • Debussy: La mer
  • Interval
  • John Adams: Harmonielehre

Dates & times

Fri 23 Jun 2023, 7.30pm
Approximate run time: 1 hour 50 mins.
Run times may vary by up to 20 minutes as they can be affected by last-minute programme changes, intervals and encores.


  • Standard entryFrom £5*
  • Concessions25%**

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