classical music
contemporary classical

Varèse & Debussy: Dreamscapes

Part of Classical Season 2019/20

This event has been cancelled as we are currently closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Two French composers, Debussy and Varèse, were both writing music as the 19th century turned into the 20th.

On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. But they share a preoccupation with the texture, physicality and sensuality of sound itself.

Both composers sculpt in sound. The surface beauty of Debussy’s music belies its modernism as it stealthily unmoors us from the old certainties of music.

Varèse, 20 years Debussy’s junior, faces the modernity of the 20th century head-on, incorporating the clamour of his adopted home city of New York into his orchestral arsenal and creating music which sometimes borders on noise.

He was dreaming and imagining electronic music a generation before the technology existed to make it possible.

Debussy’s Images uses the entire sound palette of his large orchestra to paint vivid sound pictures: an image of the dances of Scotland and Northumberland, a colourful triptych evoking the sights and sounds of Southern Spain and a mysterious, elusive Rondes de Printemps, a round-dance of spring.

Perhaps the fact that Debussy was writing when he discovered that he had the cancer which was to kill him accounts for the rather provisional joy of this particular spring.

Varèse was regarded as a musical visionary in his lifetime. His fans included the teenage Frank Zappa, who wrote him letters, while jazz legend Charlie Parker asked him for lessons.

In this concert, we hear his two large-scale orchestral works. Arcana is a wild, explosive dance: a quote from the 16th-century physician Paracelsus, science and art combine in an attempt to harness the forces of chaos.

Amériques is a hymn to New York. The clanking of overhead railways, the hooting of foghorns on the Hudson river and the wail of police sirens all find their way into this huge urban symphony.

But, even with its supersize line-up (130 orchestral musicians), it's not all sound and fury: there are sinuous melodies, seductive jazz-tinged dances and a nod or two to Stravinsky and Debussy.

Now in its centenary year, the internationally renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was first conducted by Edward Elgar. The orchestra appears with Music Director Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, whom The Observer, in a five-star 2017 review, called ‘an irresistible new star.’

‘the music... glittered and diverted, without wasting a note’
The Observer on City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Gražinyte-Tyla seems to have that precious conductor’s knack of allowing players all the expressive freedom they want, while still being able to shape every aspect of a performance in exactly the way she wants.
The Guardian


City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conductor


Debussy: Gigues, No.1 from Images
Varèse: Arcana
Debussy: Ibéria, No.2 from Images
Varèse: Tuning Up (sketch, completed by Chou Wen-chung)
Debussy: Rondes de printemps, No.3 from Images
Varèse: Amériques

Dates & times

This event has passed.


Royal Festival Hall


£15 - £45
Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)
£15, £25, £35, £45


25% off (limited availability)
Find out more about our Concessions policy

need to know

Event information
Please note change of programme from originally advertised.