Wednesday, 27 April 2011

South Bank Centre 2011/12

Interesting things happening at the South Bank 2011 and 2012, once you get past the "Festival of Britain" and Olympics hype that's infected everyone. Maybe they have to sell crass populism to get funding, but there's some serious musicianship behind the dross.

One theme is "Music that defines an Era", defined by a quote from T S Eliot, "the still point of turning world". ie moments when a piece of music distils the Zeitgeist of an era.  "Every one of the main works in this series has a context that in some way summarizes the human condition", says Esa Pekka Salonen. His choices are surprising, but extremely well considered.  Luigi Dallapiccola's opera Il Prigioniero, (The Prisoner) where Dallapiccola protests the rise of Mussolini.  Italian Fascism s oddly different to Nazism or the rise of the redneck Right, because modernism rejected Pope and King. "It is very rarely played" says Salonen, "because of the tremendous technical challenges but I'm confident that bretween the Philharmonic Voices, the Orchestra and the soloists we can do justice to this very strong piece." You bet. Since Salonen has taken over the Philharmonia they've developed from a good orchestra to arguably the best in Britain. Artistically he's stretched them and they've responded - Bartok, Messiaen, Schoenberg Gurrelieder.

Gosh, did London hit the jackpot with Salonen! He proves why orchestras need conductors with knowledge and vision who aren't prepared to dumb down and play safe. The Philharmonia seems energized, and audiences, too. Even Ormandy might think the Philadelphia model does not work. Salonen doesn't conduct all these concerts, though. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Shostakovich 13 Babi Yar. Ashkenazy knows about the Soviet system. Clear all for 26/1 and 24/5 in 2012. Probably also 16/2 for Christoph Dohnanyi conducting Brahms German Requiem and Beethoven 4. Brilliant programme. Britten's War Requiem and Mahler's Second Symphony also seem to define their eras. Salonen's good in Mahler, but I can't cope with Maazel especially not in Britten.

Mega Blockbusters too. Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in October. severely tempting even though they're doing Bruckner. Lots of Bruckner this year (three Sevenths) conducted by Barenboim  (Staatskapelle Berlin), Eschenbach, Jurowski and Masur. Though I keep trying, I've never really been able to get my head round Bruckner.

Boulez, on the other hand,  I booked early March ! Intensive weekend of Aimard, Boulez and Ensemble Intercontemporain. In the US there's lots of hype aginst Boulez, generated by Nadia Boulanger's acolytes and Bernstein whom Boulez might have competed with.  As some masterclass students said recently: "He's not a monster at all". Listen and learn.  There'll also be Conlon Nancarrow and John Cage weekends with good performers and choices. Since the Barbican Total Immersions have gone disgracefully downmarket, the South Bank has clearly grabbed back the Crown for serious musical explorations. 

Vladimir Jurowski is heading another major series with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, titled Prokofiev: a man of the people?"  I don't know why the question mark, as Prokofiev chose to go back and stay in the Soviet Union. But Jurowski is planning to mix famous pieces with lesser known. There's also a Study Day.

Lots more, too - Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Renée Fleming, Simon and Mrs Rattle, Padmore, Kaufmann etc.

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