Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Big B's at the Barbican and how to get them

Big B's at the Barbican 2013-14 season - Berlioz, Brahms, Bruckner, Britten, Birtwistle, Beethoven and even a bit of Boulez. Now that the booklet is out, we can look more closely at what's on offer with the caveat - be aware! All venues do complex multi buys but plan this Barbican.

Brahms is straightforward enough. The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with Riccardo Chailly are doing all four Brahms symphonies at the end of October, each juxtaposed with concerto works. With performers like this and soloists like Leonidas Kavakos, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Arcadi Volodos, you can't go wrong. Two string quartets concerts too. .Prices up to £65 per person per main concert. It's not cheap but with quality like this, you can't really expect gimmioks. It will be good to hear Chailly and the Leipzigers traverse Brahms, especially as they're spacing their concerts with rest time between, a relief after their rushed Beethoven symphony series.

Programming for Berlioz is more diffuse. Valery Gergiev conducts the LSO in four concerts. For me, the key concerts will be The Damnation of Faust (3 & 7th Nov) and Roméo et Juliette (6th & 13th Nov), because the casts are very good indeed - Olga Borodina, Ildar Abdrazakov asnd Michael Spyres. Gergiev's approach to Roméo et Juliette is likely to be completely different to Mark Elder's OAE performance in 2012 (read analysis here), but part of the way we get deeper into repertoire is by hearing alternative takes. You can book discounts thru LSO multibuy for these, but if you want to go to Berlioz L'enfance du Christ on 15/12 you'll need to book thru the BBCSO multibuy.

In May 2014, the Barbican celebrates Birtwistle at 80. Birtwistle is easily Britain's most significant composer since Britten (though some might say since Purcell). Two concert stagings of his operas Gawain and Yan Tan Tethera (16/5/14 and 29/5/14).  Martyn Brabbins, Leigh Melrose and John Tomlinson in the former. Baldur Brönnimann, Roderick Williams, Claire Booth, Andrew Kennedy in the latter. In addition, Daniel Harding conducts Birtwistle's seminal Earth Dances on 20/5 with the LSO, Oliver Knussen conducts an all-Birtwistle programme which includes Silbury Air on 25/5. Brönnimann conducts another concert on 30/5 where Birtwistle features with Holst and RVW. The secret to discounts lies with the orchestras. Harding's concert is part of the LSO series but Brönnimann's second concert is part of the Britten Sinfonia series. No discounts for the operas or the BCMG/Knussen concerts. Since all of these together form a kind of "Total Immersion" they are all worth going to regardless of price.At a time when the arts face cuts, we in the audience had better be prepared to support what we care for.

The Benjamin Britten series is the one to be vigilant about. Some of the concerts are absolute essentials, Ian Bostridge is singing Britten's Our Hunting Fathers on 8/11/13. This is one of the keys into Britten's soul. Britten's music is sometimes hard to take because he's emotionally oblique, but that surface reserve hides intense spiritual turbulence. Britten without bite isn't Britten. We need to hear the wild oceans and surreal nightmares in his music: they inform the tightness of his idiom. Bostridge comes closer to anyone else, including Peter Pears, to accessing the darkest, deepest levels of Britten's inner world. When Bostridge sings Britten he isn't "easy listening" and smooth. But then, Britten isn't either. In this centenary year we need more than ever to connect to Britten beneath the surface, and to understand just how radical he really is.

Bostridge is also singing The Madwoman in Britten's Curlew River on 14 and 16/5 at St Giles Cripplegate. Curlew River is an extremely disturbing work on many levels. It uses Japanese and medieval European form to deal with a subject so traumatic that it can't, perhaps, be dealt with other than in this indirect, stylized way. It's also a piece that needs to be experienced rather than simply listened to. Hence the performance will take place in a church, augmented by a multi media staging by Netia Jones, who understands Britten's aesthetic.

Britten's 100th birthday on 22/11 is being celebrated by The Sixteen with a  programme of Britten choral pieces, while Steuart Bedford, a Britten associate, is conducting Albert Herring with the BBC SO on 23/11, The really high profile spectacular will be a performance of the War Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall on 30./11. Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO, soloists are Marina Poplavskaya, Andrew Kennedy and Roderick Williams. This will almost certainly be broadcast, either on BBC Radio 3 or on TV, it's that important, but you want to be part of it live and tell your grandchildren.

Now for the pricing catch. The Barbican  heavily advertises  an "Illuminating Britten" weekend on 8-10/11 for £95 which gives you a 20% discount on tickets for the concert on 8/11 and to a programme of dances to Britten's music at the Barbican Theatre. No discounts to the other concerts mentioned above, particularly the War Requiem, except for Albert Herring which is part of the BBCSO multibuy. What is "illuminating Britten"?  It's "three days of concerts, films, mini-recitals and discussions featuring those...who have a special understanding of Britten's music. Curated by film maker John Bridcut." It sounds very similar to other composer events, like the Knussen, Elliott Carter,, George  Benjamin and other Immersion weekends in recent years,  except that it costs lots more and you have to pay full price for the really big concerts. Bridcut is a genius at marketing, but  that also means that anyone into Britten has already seen the films, read the books and heard some of the music.

 Like it or not, but if we want culture, we're going to have to take some responsibility for paying. 
PS Thanks to Ri ch for the great photo !

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