Opera + Classical Music Features

Barbican Greats

Sometimes flicking through the programme for a forthcoming season of music can be as enjoyable as attending any of the concerts within it.

It is not only the sense of excitement generated from learning which soloists, conductors, orchestras and pieces of music are about to be offered up, but also the thought of grabbing that rare opportunity to hear a woefully overlooked work, or to learn more about a particular composer, courtesy of some of the themes running through the season.

And so it was when I scoured the January to March 2010 section of the programme for the Barbican’s Great Performers 2009-10 season. From January’s weekend focusing on Hans Werner Henze through to the exploration of several Bach pieces in March, there is a welcome blend of the old and new, of the familiar and less well known.

The Henze Weekend (16-17 January), celebrating 64 years of the composer’s music, is particularly intriguing for its inclusion of the UK premiere of his concert opera in two-acts’, Phaedra. This marks the opening to the Barbican’s contemporary opera series, Present Voices (with the second performance being the UK premiere of Peter Etvs’s opera, Angels in America, based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, on 26 March). The January weekend also includes a BBC Symphony Orchestra concert presenting three of Henze’s works, including his Fourth Symphony and the UK premiere of Elogium musicum. With Oliver Knussen at the helm it promises to be a night to remember, but be sure not to overlook the various films and talks on Henze and his works that also feature over the weekend.

The visit of the New York Philharmonic, soon set to become one of the Barbican’s International Associates, on 3-4 February will be especially interesting since this is conductor Alan Gilbert’s first season with the orchestra. The first concert features the UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s EXPO, whilst the soloist for Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto will be Yefim Bronfman. The second concert features John Adams’s The Wound Dresser, featuring baritone Thomas Hampson in this setting of Walt Whitman’s American Civil War poem, whilst works by Berg, Haydn, Schubert and Sibelius also feature over the two concerts. In his short time with the orchestra, Gilbert has already received glowing write-ups in the New York Times, which is not always the easiest of publications to please.

Overall, between February and July 2010 no less than five works by the American composer John Adams will be performed. Adams himself will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra on 7 March for the UK premiere of the revised version of his Doctor Atomic Symphony, inspired by his eponymous opera, and also on 11 March for the European premiere of City Noir, inspired by the 1940s and 50s film noir genre. On 25 March the UK premiere of his String Quartet will be performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet at LSO St. Luke’s, whilst across March, LSO Discovery will be running a John Adams Festival with events linked to these concerts.

Besides recitals from violinist Sarah Chang (12 February) and pianist Murray Perahia (18 February), and three programmes from pianist Emanuel Ax (on 26 February with Yo-Yo Ma, 5 March, and 12 March with Dawn Upshaw), Lorin Maazel visits the Barbican on 2-3 March with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Highlights of these two concerts include Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 (1873 version). If all that wasn’t enough, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen appear on 10 March to perform Bach’s seminal Mass in B Minor, and I, for one, cannot think of a better group (joined on this occasion by Gillian Keith, Sarah Connolly, Robert Murray and Dietrich Henschel) to be tackling this 27-part work. This is closely followed on 23 March by a concert that sees soprano Christine Schfer, baritone Matthias Goerne and violinist Hilary Hahn perform a series of Bach Cantatas, arias and solo violin music.

Of course, an overview such as this can only ever hope to scratch the surface of all that the Barbican Great Performers series has to offer, so if some of your own favourites haven’t been mentioned above (or even if they have!) be sure to check out the website to get the full gen on what to look forward to over the coming months.

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