Classical music in London: 2012 preview

The classical concerts and operas we're most looking forward to in 2012

  • © Luis Cobela

    Sounds Venezuela

    Jun 23-26, Royal Festival Hall

    Hotshot conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela return to Southbank Centre for a four-day residency as part of the Shell Classic International series. It is a testament to the excitement surrounding this young orchestra – famously a product of Venezuela’s El Sistema programme – that the concerts sold out within hours of going on sale in February this year. In addition to hosting several concerts, the Royal Festival Hall will become a unique learning centre for hundreds of children and young people from across the country, hosted by two Lambeth schools.

  • Prokofiev: Man of the People

    Jan 13-Feb 1, Royal Festival Hall

    Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, has curated a 14-event series celebrating one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Along with other maestri, he conducts the LPO (and Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) in six all-Prokofiev concerts that explore the Russian composer's music in its own right rather than in the political context of his time (in 1933 he famously returned to Russia to live under the tyranny of Stalin and artistic censorship). They will feature favourites alongside rarely heard music for the concert hall, stage and cinema, including the world premiere of a new oratorio version of 'Ivan the Terrible', originally composed for Sergei Eisenstein’s film. Plus, a study day and late event with Prokofiev’s grandson, Gabriel, and his NonClassical club night.

  • Brahms Unwrapped

    Jan 19-Dec 15, Kings Place

    On the heels of Mozart Unwrapped comes another year-long composer celebration at Kings Place, and as it is not actually Johannes Brahms’s anniversary, you won’t hear as much of his music elsewhere. Once again the boss of Kings Place, Peter Millican, has commissioned a host of musicians to curate specific programmes depending on their instrument. So there are short festivals of the German composer’s works for voice, quartet, quintet, piano trio, violin, cello, choir and orchestra. Apart from the symphonies, it features most of the major works, including ‘Ein Deutsches Requiem’ and the Double Concerto. The series begins with Mikhail Rudy and other pianists playing the solo piano pieces.

  • Total Immersion: Jonathan Harvey

    Jan 28, 29, Barbican Centre

    The BBC Symphony Orchestra pull out the stops once again to present three day-long composer profiles through music, film and conversation. First up is English composer Jonathan Harvey, whose contemplative, often ecstatic work reflects his interest in Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi beliefs, and blends Eastern and Western soundworlds in exotic instrumental combinations, along with electronics. The concerts of chamber, choral and orchestral works are augmented by a performance of his third opera, ‘Wagner Dream’, inspired by his discovery that late in life Richard Wagner had considered writing a Buddhist opera which he sketched notes for but never completed. It stars singers Claire Booth, Richard Angas and Roderick Williams (as Buddha) and features exotic instruments such as rainstick, Tibetan bells, bowls and electronics.

  • Heiner Goebbels's 'Surrogate Cities'

    Until Sun Mar 4, Royal Festival Hall

    The acclaimed composer and theatre director combines his talents in his ‘Surrogate Cities’. Setting texts by Heiner Mueller, Hugo Hamilton and Paul Auster, Goebbels’s symphonic epic expresses the joy and hell of the modern metropolis through singers, orchestra and samples. It is part of Music Nation, a countrywide weekend of live events brought together by the BBC celebrating the UK’s orchestral and music-making communities. Featuring young artists from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London Philharmonic Orchestra Foyle Future Firsts, and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

  • Rainer Hersch's Victor Borge

    Sat Mar 31, Jermyn Street Theatre

    The pianist, conductor and stand-up comedian Rainer Hersch pays tribute to his forebear Victor Borge. According to the New York Times, the Danish Borge was 'the funniest man in the world'. During the '60s the brilliant pianist and virtuoso comedian became the highest-paid entertainer in showbiz and was loved by audiences worldwide. Hersch retells his extraordinary life story, and his hilarious act is reimagined for the twenty-first century. More than a tribute, the show promises to deliver both comedy and dramatic insight.

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  • Total Immersion: Brett Dean

    Sat Mar 17, Barbican Centre

    The BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates the man fast becoming Australia’s best-known living composer, not least because he is a gifted viola player (formerly of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) and regularly takes part in recitals of his chamber work, notably presenting his solo viola piece ‘Intimate Decisions’. His colourful music sounds fresh and new and his original soundscapes often begin with an internal programme, such as the figurative-expressionist paintings of his wife, Helen Betts. Other concerns that have inspired him include dysfunctional living (his opera ‘Bliss’, based on the novel by fellow Australian Peter Carey, is a satire on happiness set in Hell); the absurdities of a society obsessed with information (‘Vexations and Devotions’); the destruction of nature (‘Pastoral Symphony’), and its awesome power and renewing quality, demonstrated by the Australian bush fires of 2009 (‘Fire Music’).

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  • A Bruckner Journey

    Apr 16, 17, 20, Royal Festival Hall

    Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin in Anton Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos 7, 8 and 9. The nineteenth-century Austrian composer’s huge symphonies are considered among the great cycles of the genre and reflect his existential angst and religious devotion. The multi-talented Barenboim also directs two Mozart piano concertos from the keyboard.

  • Total Immersion: Arvo Pärt

    Sat Apr 28, Barbican Centre

    In its third Total Immersion day, the BBC Symphony Orchestra turns its attention to Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer whose music is often described as ‘sacred minimalism’. Born in 1935 and having lived through Soviet oppression before fleeing to Vienna and then Berlin, Pärt has since returned to his homeland and is one of the great religious composers of our time. His slow repeating, tonal music approaches the sublime and has made him one of the world’s most popular living composers whose music can be heard everywhere (for example, there are few poignant TV documentaries that do not feature his ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ – ‘Mirror in the Mirror’– for piano and violin). The day-long celebration will present chamber music, a choral recital and an orchestral concert that includes his Symphony No 3 (‘Los Angeles’).

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  • The Ring Cycle

    Sept 24-Nov 2, Royal Opera House

    Give your tarnhelm a polish – Wagner’s mighty four-opera masterpiece ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ is coming to the Royal Opera House (for four complete cycles of ‘Das Rheingold’, ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’ and ‘Götterdämmerung’). Keith Warner’s production boasts a starry cast that includes Bryn Terfel as Wotan, Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde, and Gerhard Siegel as Siegfried. The conductor is Antonio Pappano. As this adds up to more than 17 hours, nothing in opera is more epic, and the cast make it unmissable.