Memories of the BBC Proms now fading, the festival’s principal orchestra, the BBC SO, kicked off their 2008/9 season with a splendid performance at the Barbican of Beethoven’s almighty Missa Solemnis.
The orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and a first-rate line-up of soloists Christine Brewer, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Paul Groves and Stephen Milling – performed impressively under the baton of their Principal Conductor, Jiri Belohlvek.
Mention should also be made of leader Stephen Bryant’s lovely violin solo in the Benedictus. All told, this first performance of the season boded well for the coming months. The orchestra seems to have found a cohesion that it lacked under its previous conductor and Belohlvek’s influence is having a positive influence on the choice of programming too.
A major highlight to come is a concert performance on 27 March of Bohuslav Martinu’s wonderful opera Julietta (a feature on Martinu’s operas will be appearing on this site in the coming weeks). Following last year’s performance of Janacek’s The Adventures of Mr Broucek (and a heartwarming Osud at this year’s Proms), Belohlvek will here bring another shamefully under-valued masterpiece by one of his countrymen to public attention. Unmissable.
There are more enticing evenings before Christmas: on 28 November, the orchestra gives the UK premiere of Svatopluk Havelka’s Hommage Hieronymous Bosch with Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Soprano Sally Matthews as a soloist in the accompanying Carmina Burana just adds to the attractiveness.
On 16 December, the birthday of Elliott Carter (by then just turned 100) will be celebrated in a programme that includes two UK premieres. Oliver Knussen conducts. In the New Year, three “Total Immersion” Days invite us to indulge ourselves in great slabs of Stockhausen (17 January), Tristan Murail (7 February) and Xenakis (7 March). It’s an enterprising series that should enable attenders to get to grips with these sometimes difficult composers.
Adventurousness marks the whole of the orchestra’s season, with a line-up of artists and works that make the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Barbican a destination for the musically explorative among us over the coming months.