Some recommendations – but read the caveats below
So in this post I have tried to draw out some highlights (for me) of the forthcoming classical music seasons at the major London venues.
Remember this blog is for the curious – all you experts out there are permitted to snigger at the below – but we all have to start somewhere. If you are a youngster there are generally lots of ways I gather to blag cheaper tickets. For most venues a bit of forward planning generally helps but is not an essential to get to see what you want to see. Stuff does sell out but rarely immediately (at least the stuff I want to see) in contrast to the best of London’s (non-West End) theatre.
If you are not a massive cognoscenti, like to take a punt on things you don’t know too well, not possessed of perfect hearing or a cheapskate, or, like me, all of the above, then opting for the cheap seats at most of these views turns up what I consider to be an extraordinary bargain. For a tenner or so, and certainly less than a pony (Cockney not equine) you can see and hear two hours of, for example, a world class orchestra, with a world class conductor performing a world class piece of art. Same price as the cinema which is just a shed with a digital print rolling around endlessly. Oh and with all your hard earned cash going to the performers, shareholders and assorted hangers-on, so they can dick about in frocks at the Oscars and expand their already monstrous egos. In the classical music world the performers take way less, the state chips in a bit, there are some rich philanthropists generally subsidising a bit of your visit and there are generally no grasping shareholder types. Who’d have thought … poncey, classical music as a redistributive challenge to the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy.
Right now to the musical caveats. The key thing to bear in mind is that I cannot abide any of that Romantic, self-indulgent overwrought slush. For me Western classical music stopped around 1830 after your man Beethoven died and then started again in the C20 when Stravinsky pumped up the rhythm. I need to hear a pulse or beat and not get drowned in too much lyricism, melody and expression.
This probably reflects my starting point. When I was a nipper and started listening to music in the mid 1970s our starting point was heavy and progressive rock. Think Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Supertramp, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple. There might be some enterprising twists and turns, West Coast rock, Marley, Krautrock, Kraftwerk for example but these were rare. And there was a lot that we considered off limits including to my eternal shame, the likes of Bowie, all soul and disco music, the Velvet Underground and similar ilk. Obviously I eventually saw the error of my ways and have been on a self imposed course of cultural re-education for many years to correct these flaws notably in the case of Bowie. However the heavy/progressive rock DNA cannot be eradicated.
BUT fortunately Punk came to the rescue. Now it took a bit of time to wend its way down to Devon and I can’t deny that shoulder length hair and velvet flares was the look I favoured to attract the ladies until the very end of the 1970s but our music tastes changed substantially for the better. So the golden period for shaping my musical tastes was 1978 to 1985. That is not to say the old order was entirely overthrown (Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979, Pink Floyd The Wall in 1980 were the most obvious aberrations) but a near religious devotion to the NME and especially John Peel for the first few years of that golden age saw a firm shift to the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Talking Heads and the like. I confess that the appreciation of the Fall, Wire and the Wedding Present, now firm favourites, was rather more retrospective and the Smiths too took a bit of time. Anyway hopefully you get the picture. After that life caught up and my appreciation of pop/rock/indie was a more haphazard/measured affair until the last few years. (PS I do realise I just how cliched my musical taste is but unfortunately it probably won’t stop me expanding further on some of these likes in a misty eyed way in future blogs)
The same trajectory applied to my appreciation of classical music. The middle/late 1980s saw the first forays following a bunch of free concerts (oh to be young) which was fairly eclectic but ended up largely centred on Britten, Shostakovich and Beethoven and very little else. And then the ramp up in the past few years. This has meant an expansion into minimalist music (previously it was pretty much Arvo Part and not much else), the beginnings of an understanding of Stravinsky, a reversal from Beethoven into Haydn (but not Mozart), a major Baroque expansion (largely Vivaldi and now other Italians with a bit of Bach) and finally an understanding of the joys of Early Music. I reckon that is enough to keep me going until my time is up.
So those are the parameters around which the recommendations below are made. No doubt some musicologist can make sense of all of this but I will stick with “I know what I like”.
Oh and the final caveat – it’s only going to work if you are based in London. Sorry.
Anyway “hear” you go (ha ha).
- Barbican Hall – 1st May 2017 7.30pm – Music in 12 Parts by Philip Glass – yep his hallmark piece over the thick end of 4 hours played by a crew of superb musicians – not the easiest way into vintage Glass but maybe the best – looks like some tckets still up for grabs but this will sell out I reckon
- Barbican Hall – 6th June 2017 7.30pm – a Gerald Barry piece, Chevaux de Frise which I don’t know but sound like a blast, and Beethoven Symphony no 3 – Britten Sinfonia – conductor Thomas Ades – Beethoven 3 is the big shift out of the Classical period – Thomas Ades loves Beethoven and is one of our greatest current composers – as does/is Gerald Barry – they both write contemporary operas people actually want to see – and the Britten Sinfonia are the top bananas at interpreting contemporary music so sound different to the big orchestras – still loads of tickets here
- Cadogan Hall – 16th June 2017 7.30pm – Debussy’s Prelude, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich 5th Symphony – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – two of my favourites here and the Debussy is bearable – but a nice, straightforward programme with a bit of showy stuff – again lots of tickets going here given the plain vanilla nature of the evening
- Barbican Hall – 23rd June 2017 7.30pm – Monteverdi’s Vespers – Academy of Ancient Music – vocal masterpiece of early Baroque – just extraordinary even now – written as a way to drum up business by Monteverdi – I defy you not to lik ethis
- Wigmore Hall – 29th June 2017 7.30pm – Alte Musik Academie Berlin – Isabelle Faust on the violin – Bach suites and concertos – generally we Brits (sorry for not being sufficiently European) are the period music experts but this bunch are one of the best in the world
- Barbican Hall – 21st September 7pm and 24th September 2017 6pm so not too late on a Sunday evening – Stravinsky Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring – London Symphony Orchestra – conducted by Simon Rattle – so here you get all 3 of the classic Stravinsky ballet scores in one evening, conducted by Rattle who is coming home to lead the LSO – and I like his Stravinsky interpretations – this is set to be extraordinary – this will sell out so get your skates on as this is a real highlight
- Kings Place – 16th December 7.30pm – Tenebrae and Oliver Coates cello – a whole bunch of different composer works, songs, hymns and carols for voices and cello – lovely Christmassy stuff
- Barbican Hall – 29th March 2018 7.30pm – Evgeny Kissin – Chopin Mazurkas and Etudes selection and Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata – now I normally avoid the showy pianists like the plague and Kissin definitely fits the bill – but if you want to see a piano recital just like you imagine it to be – think extravagant diva Russian type with bushy hair banging the keys like there is no tomorrow and then hunched gently with the merest of taps on the keys – then he is your man
- Barbican Hall – 4th May 2018 7.30pm – Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Symphony Chorus– Beethoven Symphony no 9 Choral and Bernstein Chichester Psalms – conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (another curly, long haired fellow) – so this is the pick I think of the visiting orchestras in the 17/18 London season – with the wunderkind Venezuelan Dudamel conducting – he made his name with the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Orchestra which all the luvvies adore – anyway who knows how this will sound but it is the Choral Symphony and the Bernstein piece is a belter as well – mind you they are charging 30 quid even up in the back of the circle
- Queen Elizabeth Hall – 11th May 2018 7.30pm – mostly Ligeti chamber music – right this is proper contemporary stuff – no tunes here – but Ligeti was a master – so give it a whirl – YouTube the Trio for Horn. Violin and Piano to see what you think
- Barbican Hall – 31st May 2018 7.30pm– Academy of Ancient Music – soloist Nicola Benedetti – Telemann and Vivaldi concertos – nice easy way into the masters of Baroque strings with a period instrument band and a soloist who is not however too bound to the period performance tropes
There you have it.