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