With over 230 concerts, it’s perhaps hard for you to know where to begin with our 2020/21 Classical Season. Who should you drop everything to see? What should you look out for? Which are those truly unique performances? Well, to help you get started, we spoke to our Director of Music, Gillian Moore, and here she offers some of the highlights of what’s set to be another sensational season.
We've really tried to celebrate the diversity of what's currently happening in classical music in our 2020/21 Classical Season. That’s artists, performers, and composers pushing it forwards in new directions, thinking new thoughts, and really changing the landscape. I strongly believe classical music is a dynamic form that has so much to say to us now, so we've tried to bring together many of the personalities who are really doing that.
The season currently has premieres by an equal number of women composers, as male composers, and I think that’s a first. We weren’t specifically aiming for this, or forcing it, it’s happened because of the quality of the work. Some really important initiatives and a lot of energy has been put into changing the gender imbalance in composition and we’re seeing the fruit with so many more amazing women composers around.
To tell the story of what we think is important in classical music right now, we've brought to the Southbank Centre three new associate artists who we think are really where it's at, in terms of new ideas.
Iceland is a real phenomenon; it has a population the size of Leicester and yet it's got this vibrant music scene with world-class musicians, composers, performers and electronic artists. What’s interesting about the Icelandic music scene is that the musicians seem very relaxed about genre - everyone is exchanging ideas all the time - and they're equally at home playing in a nightclub or the wonderful Harpa Concert Hall.
Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson is that kind of musician. He's been Gramophone Artist of the Year – do check out his bach recording – and is right there at the peak of classical music, but he's equally at home in contemporary music. This is the first year of his associateship with us, and he'll be doing everything from appearing at SoundState – playing an amazing piece by the Danish composer Bent Sørensen – to performing one of the great popular classical pieces of the orchestral repertoire, the Grieg piano concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s also going to be doing a piano recital featuring Debussy, Rameau and Mussorgsky.
Another artist I think is changing what we expect of classical music is violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. When she plays she brings a ferocious energy which is, at the same time, focussed; so serious and yet so fun. She can sell you music; she can persuade you and bring you in, in a way that's quite unique. She dances on stage, she’s barefoot; and when she played the Ligeti violin concerto last year with the Aurora Orchestra a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall got up on their feet and cheered at the end.
Kopatchinskaja leads the Camerata Bern, of which she's Artistic Partner, in an unusually staged concert. It features Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, but also ancient music, and pieces from Kurtag; perhaps the most distilled, intense music of our times. I’m also really intrigued to see her performance as a vocalist in Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. It’s a remarkable piece; a kind of cabaret, but a cabaret pushed through a modernist lens. On the one hand I can't believe that one of the world’s great violinists is stepping into this highly specialist vocal role; but at the same time it seems very obvious she would, and I'm really glad we've been able to give her a platform to do so.
2021 sees the beginning of an associateship with Bryce Dessner, a composer that's really come to the fore in the last few years. He’s best known as a member of rock band The National, but he's proved a very important composer initially on the burgeoning New York scene, and now in Europe too. He's also a great guitarist and played Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint in one of the Queen Elizabeth Hall reopening concerts. This first year of his associateship sees a BBC Concert Orchestra performance with a UK premiere of his Voy a Dormir, plus a Music of Today concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra. You'll hear more from Bryce Dessner next season.
It's hard to believe we only had the first edition of our biennial global new music festival, SoundState in 2019, because it already feels part of our musical landscape here. And I'm really pleased three of our Resident Orchestras – the London Sinfonietta, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra – are so enthusiastically joining forces with us for it in 2021; meaning we can make a new music festival which is ambitious in scale.
It’s important for SoundState that we look across the world to seek out the really interesting things going on currently. Someone I’ve been very keen to explore is percussionist and composer Tyshawn Sorey, a really hot new American name just coming to the fore. We’ve also got fellow American George Lewis who has a big jazz improvisatory background and is Professor of Composition at Columbia in New York; his work will be featured in a concert from the London Sinfonietta, in which we also have Dai Fujikura, the British-based Japanese composer, returning.
I’m very excited that two of the premieres we’ll feature in SoundState are by female composers who are 93 and 88, respectively. Betsy Jolas, whose music is enjoying a real Indian Summer, is performed by the Arditti Quartet, whilst Sofia Gubaidulina’s major cantata, On Love and Hatred, will be performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Australian composer Brett Dean will also feature in that concert; Dean was the principal viola of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for many years and he’s somebody who has just grown and grown as a composer. Anyone who saw his opera Hamlet will know what an extraordinary force in new music he has become.
I'm really pleased we're able to welcome back Daniel Barenboim, who gave his first major public European recital in our Royal Festival Hall in 1956, and has been very much associated with this place ever since. In January he offers something of a coda to the 250th anniversary celebrations of Beethoven’s birth. Barenboim has such a great association with the composer; he performed the complete Beethoven sonatas here in 2008 – one of those events to break out the arts world and become a news story.
He’s going to be playing two concerts of Beethoven trios with cellist Kian Soltani and his son, violinist Michael Barenboim - two musicians strongly associated with Barenboim, and also his Western Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together musicians from Israel and the Arab world.
This season we have a few operas tackling big issues. One of them is Harriet: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, about the African-American woman activist involved in the struggle against slavery. It’s composed by Mexican composer, Hilda Paredes, with the part of Harriet sung by Claron McFadden. The central figure when we did Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels here a few years ago, McFadden is an extraordinary soprano. We love her here. She's a leader, a real generator of ideas and I'm really pleased she's at the centre of this project.
Every year we focus on a major composer of the 20th century who has really paved the way for music, inspiring movements and new ways of thinking. We’ve done Ligeti, Stockhausen, Varèse, and in 2021 its Candian composer Claude Vivier. So much tragedy and mystery surrounds his death in 1983 but it’s his music that’s really extraordinary, full of orchestral and electronic sounds and inspired by his travels to Japan, Bali and Iran.
These are just some of the highlights of our 2020/21 Classical Season of which there are many, including Baroquebusters, a concert in a gameshow format from our Resident Orchestra the OAE. Other names to look out for include Mitsuko Uchida with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Andris Nelsons with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Anoushka Shankar, Jess Gillam, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Bryn Terfel and Nicola Benedetti.