Saturday, 24 January 2015

South Bank 2015/2016 season – why it matters

The South Bank 2015/2016 season was quietly announced this week - here's the press release. Since I avoid doing copy/paste, I've spent a bit of time thinking.  The South Bank is, or was, at the heart of the arts in the whole nation. What happens there impacts on everywhere else. This year, the focus is on the Royal Festival Hall, since the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room are being closed down for refurbishment (details here) at a cost of £25 million, a bit less crazy than the original £120 million project. I wish they'd refurbish the South Bank website which caters mainly for the short term. Serious music listeners plan a year in advance, so the website chases business away instead of bringing it in.

You'll need to book early for Opera North's Wagner Ring, from 28/6/16.  Current Arts Council policy has an animus against London.  But if we want a national arts policy, surely it makes more business sense not to starve London of funding but to bring regional companies to town. Opera North should get a good income from coming to the South Bank, much morre than when it toured to Sadler's Wells, and it increases their profile. Economics and demographics favour London, no political gravy train is going to change that.

Zurich Opera has been coming to the South Bank for years, even if Arts Council England hasn't noticed. Zurich is a major house, so if London's good enough for them, so be it.  This year, they're doing Alban Berg Wozzeck on 2/10/16 with Christian Gerhaher, conducted by Fabio Luisi.  Even more significantly, Jirí Bélohlávek brings the Czech Philharmonic and good singers from the Czech National Opera to London on 18/4/16 in Leos Janácek JenufaThis is a big deal since the RFH is bigger than the Barbican Hall where Bélohlávek conducted when he was with the BBCSO.  More space will let the music breathe, and more people can enjoy.

These three ventures represent a much more effective means of using existing London resources than the hare-brained idea of sponsoring micro-mini companies in the boonies.  I'd really like to hear the Hallé., for example, enticed to London, under some reciprocal deal. It's cheaper to move players around than to fund more "British Music Experiences" which serve little purpose except to siphon funding.  Real artistic innovation is made by people, not by capital projects.

Resident Orchestras :

At the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski continues for a few more years, which is  good news, because he's a man of integrity and sensitivity who likes exploring, especially Russian repertoire. This year, he's conducting Taneyev, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Sibelius, Knussen, Strauss, Mahler and the world premiere od Alexander Raskatov's Green Mass ( 30/1/16). Raskatov wrote the ENO  A Dog's Heart which was brilliant theatre, so let's find out about his music.   

Also unmissable, the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto no 2 (Frank Peter Zimmermann). Jaap van Zweden conducting. Lindberg was a regular at the South Bank under the aegis of Marshall Marcus, a man of such vision that he could reinvigorate  a genuine understanding of the arts in this country, much more so than some of the ruling clique. I'm also booking for Christoph von Eschernbach on 9/4/16  Matthias Goerne sings the UK premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie's new work for baritone and orchestra , and also Brahms German Requiem. Dalbavie's orchestral and chamber music is good : more recently, he's been writing opera, eg Gesualdo in Zurich.

Emeritus conductor of the London Philharmonia, Christoph von Dohnányi returns  on 27/9/15 with Beethoven's Ninth - a gala to mark his 85th birthday. His second concert, on 1/10/15 (Berg, Ives and Schubert) would be fulfilling, too. Chief Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen focuses this year on Stravinsky, but you'll have a job finding out what he's conducting since the South Bank website is musically illiterate and hard to navigate.  Look at this for example, which pours out generalities about something that's not even on the programme! Nothing wrong with mistakes, everyone makes them, but that's hilarious. It brightened nmy day. Fortunately, Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Nobody knows the trouble I see (6/12) gets mentioned, along with Bruckner 8th.  Andris Nelsons, however, is known only here  for his work at Boston!  Salonen also does three concerts with Lang Lang.  The Salonen Stravinsky concerts, which sound good, tre in May 2015  and September 2016.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has a natural home in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but with that out of commission it's moving. At the Royal Festival Hall on 10/11/15, András Schiff conducts Mendelssohn and Schumann. On 14th, the OAE moves to St John's Smith Square, where Ian Bostridge sings Handel (in a Handel period building). More unusually, the OAE takes on Mahler on 12/4/16 with Vladimir Jurowski, and Simon Rattle conducts Hans Rott, Brahms and Bruckner on 22/4/16. The big gala comes on 7/6/16 when Mark Elder conducts Weber  Der Freischütz. This is core OAE rep and they do it livelier than most. No cast details, yet, but who cares, book as soon as possible.

As for the London Sinfonietta, once stalwarts of the South Bank, attracting an edgy and devoted following, there's no news at all.  I looked up the Sinfonietta's own website, with little more luck. How times have changed, sadly. This year they're doing more schools programmes than "new" new music.Al orchestras do outreach, but their primary goal is to create good art, not to substitute for the disappearance of basic musical education in this countrey.

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