Made to last

There’s much to cheer au­di­ences want­ing more than the su­per­fi­cial, says Ge­of­frey Smith

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts -

Each new year pro­motes new ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially in to­day’s rest­less cul­tural scene. au­di­ences are con­sumers, ac­cus­tomed to nov­elty on de­mand, bring­ing a ‘click and col­lect’ men­tal­ity even to the grand tra­di­tions of clas­si­cal mu­sic. hence it’s a con­stant chal­lenge for per­form­ers and in­sti­tu­tions to fuse so­ci­ety’s crav­ing for the lat­est, un­miss­able thing with the en­dur­ing value of great art, to com­bine the cut­tingedge de­light in what’s hap­pen­ing now with an ex­pe­ri­ence that’s (per­haps) not merely ephemeral.

hap­pily, sur­vey­ing the im­pend­ing sched­ules for con­cert and opera pro­duc­tions re­veals a re­silient de­ter­mi­na­tion to ad­dress the widest pos­si­ble clien­tele while main­tain­ing the qual­i­ties that make clas­si­cal mu­sic unique.

Lon­don’s Bar­bican, for in­stance, has in­spired a wave of me­dia in­ter­est with the im­pend­ing ar­rival of Sir Si­mon Rat­tle as Mu­sic Di­rec­tor of the Lon­don Sym­phony Or­ches­tra (LSO). Trail­ing clouds of glory from his il­lus­tri­ous ten­ure with the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic, Sir Si­mon prom­ises to bring the same high­pro­file ef­fect to the LSO.

al­though he doesn’t of­fi­cially as­sume his du­ties un­til the au­tumn, he’s al­ready over­seen such starry oc­ca­sions as last year’s semi-staged pro­duc­tion of De­bussy’s Pel­léas et Mélisande, fea­tur­ing his wife, mezzo Mag­dalena Kozena, and bari­tone chris­tian Ger­ha­her, with Peter Sel­lars di­rect­ing. The ex­cite­ment was pal­pa­ble in the hall through­out and crowned by a huge ova­tion—just the kind of heady at­mos­phere the Bar­bican would love to have au­di­ences as­so­ciate with its pro­grammes (www.bar­bican.org.uk; 020– 7638 8891).

This week­end, Jan­uary 14–15, prom­ises a sim­i­lar high-volt­age ex­pe­ri­ence, as Sir Si­mon, Peter Sel­lars, the LSO and an em­i­nent cast per­form Gy­orgy Ligeti’s quirky, spooky ‘anti-anti-opera’, Le grand macabre, with Death as the main char­ac­ter. and in purely or­ches­tral guise, on the 19th, Sir Si­mon con­ducts Mahler’s 6th and the world pre­miere of a new piece by Mark-an­thony Tur­nage.

al­though Sir Si­mon will en­hance the Bar­bican’s pulling power, he’s by no means its only at­trac­tion. Fol­low­ing hard on the heels of his cur­rent con­certs are a recital by Daniil Tri­fonov, the lav­ishly praised young pi­anist, play­ing Schu­mann, Shostakovich and Stravin­sky on the 21st and a res­i­dency by the cur­rent king of the tenors, Jonas Kauf­mann, from Fe­bru­ary 4 to 13. In be­tween, over the week­end of Jan­uary 28–29, the BBC Sym­phony will cel­e­brate the 80th birth­day of Min­i­mal­ist master Philip Glass, with films and con­certs.

all in all, the Bar­bican seems to be set­ting a fast pace for such ri­val venues as the South Bank. In­deed, there was some alarm that its pro­posed multi-mil­lion­pound con­cert hall, mooted as a kind of golden hand­shake for Sir Si­mon, would, in the words of a critic, ‘up­set the del­i­cate ecol­ogy of the Lon­don or­ches­tras’. how­ever, Gov­ern­ment back­ing for the project has been cur­tailed, leav­ing its fu­ture un­cer­tain, and the South Bank or­ches­tras con­tinue to add their dis­tinc­tion to Lon­don’s mu­si­cal bounty.

Un­der their imag­i­na­tive mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Vladimir Jurowski, the Lon­don Phil­har­monic launches the South Bank’s year­long sea­son ‘Be­lief and Be­yond Be­lief’ with a con­cert per­for­mance of Beethoven’s Fide­lio on Jan­uary 21, and, be­tween per­for­mances of his much­praised Der Rosenkava­lier at covent Gar­den, an­dris Nel­sons con­ducts the Phil­har­mo­nia in Bruck­ner’s 5th Sym­phony on Jan­uary 19, fol­lowed by the 9th on the 22nd.

Leg­endary soloists cast their spell as well, with Martha arg­erich play­ing Prokofiev with the St Peters­burg Phil­har­monic on Jan­uary 29 and Mit­suko Uchida per­form­ing Mozart and Schu­mann in a solo piano recital on the 31st (020–7960 4200; www.south­bank.co.uk).

Vis­it­ing groups also in­crease the lus­tre of the Bri­tish scene. Ed­ward Gard­ner, ENO’S ex­cel­lent for­mer mu­sic di­rec­tor, now mae­stro of Nor­way’s Ber­gen Phil­har­monic, leads his or­ches­tra in a UK tour, per­form­ing Grieg,

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