Barbican announces Great Performers 2009-10

Focus on Handel, Les Arts Florissants, Ax, Henze, John Adams and the New York Philharmonic

14 February 2009

Hans Werner Henze

The Great Performers season at the Barbican is a project that brings on stage the best international singers, ensembles and composers, as well as offering special in-depth events that allow the audience to familiarise themselves with these artists. The 2009-10 programme was announced yesterday, and the richness and wide range of events reveal that the Barbican is rightly considered as one of London's vital musical venues.

Anniversaries are always a good excuse for celebrations. In this case, the 30th anniversary residency of Les Arts Florissants ensemble offers the opportunity for a series of concerts from 10 October to 26 November. The internationally renowned early music ensemble, directed by American harpsichordist and founder William Christie, will present a selection of works by Gluck, Monteverdi, Lully and Rameau, as well as Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (10 October) and Handel's Susanna (25 October). These concerts will be performed in different venues, including the Barbican Hall, LSO St Luke's and the Union Chapel Islington. Associate British conductors Paul Agnew and Jonathan Cohen will feature next to William Christie.

The early music panorama is particularly flourishing at the Barbican. Handel's 350th anniversary inspires a series of events linking the Baroque tradition with the present-day musical scene. Handel's celebrations begin on 19 September with Handel Remixed. This event features the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by Harry Christophers, and countertenor David Daniels. They will perform contemporary interpretations of Handel's music by John Tavener, Nico Muhly, Jocelyn Pook and Craig Armstrong.

Handel is protagonist again on 9 December, when the English Concert and conductor Harry Bicket bring Messiah on stage. Soloists for this performance are Lucy Crowe, Patricia Bardon, Allan Clayton and Matthew Rose. Further Baroque highlights include countertenor Philippe Jaroussky singing arias by Handel and JC Bach with Concerto Cologne on 2 December; and Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset , performing Handel's Semele on 8 July.

The Handel Remixed event mentioned above is not the only contribution by conductor Harry Christophers to this early music feast. In fact, on 10 March he will conduct his choir and period instrument ensemble, The Sixteen, in a performance of Bach's B Minor Mass with soloists Gillian Keith, Sarah Connolly, Robert Murray and David Wilson-Johnson.

Bach is another protagonist of this Baroque season: on 23 March the Munich Chamber Orchestra together with its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Alexander Liebreich will offer a selection of Bach's cantatas, arias, and works for solo violin. The soloists involved in this concert are Christine Schäfer, Matthias Goerne and violinist Hilary Hahn.

Within this excellent Baroque collection, it is impossible also not to mention the presence of Il Giardino Armonico, one of the first Italian early music ensembles (founded in 1985 in Milan) internationally acclaimed for their sensitivity to the Italian repertoire. Conducted by Giovanni Antonini, they will present their interpretation of Vivaldi's first opera Ottone in Villa on 21 May. Moreover, Cecilia Bartoli is the guest start for another recital featuring Il Giardino Armonico on 24 November (programme to be confirmed).

As for the contemporary musical scene, the Barbican will offer as many as twelve UK premieres, and Hans Werner Henze is one of the composers whose works feature within this season. His Elogium musicum will be presented to the Barbican audience on 16 January, together with his Fraternité as well as his Symphony No 4. For this concert, the BBC Symphony Orchestra is conducted by its new artist in association, Oliver Knussen. In addition, the 16-17 January weekend will be dedicated to the work of the politically committed German composer, and other concerts will include Henze's most recent opera, Phaedra (with a libretto Christian Lehnert).

Further important UK premiers are the ones offered within the biennial Present Voices project. The first premiere of the series is the above mentioned Henze's Phaedra. The second important one is Peter Eötvös' Angels in America (libretto by Mari Mezei), based on Tony Kushner's Pulitzer prize-winning play. David Robertson will conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra for this performance on 26 March. The third opera to be premiered is After Life, by young Dutch composer Michel van der Aa. This work, staged on 15 May by ASKO/Schoenberg Ensemble conducted by Otto Tausk, draws on a film by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, who also wrote the libretto.
Recitals are also a venue for the Barbican audience to attend remarkable performances. Inspired by Robert Schumann's and Frédéric Chopin's 200th birthday, pianist in residence (February-March 2010) Emanuel Ax will present a series of concerts featuring works by these composers, in collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Dawn Upshaw. Ax is also able to combine his passion for the classical repertoire with his commitment to the contemporary musical scene, and he will interpret new works by Peter Lieberson, Osvaldo Golijov, and John Adams.

This latter is an important protagonist of this season. In fact, John Adams is the subject of a cycle of performances taking place from early 2010 until the following July (the John Adams Focus project). The artists paying their tribute to Adams are first-rate performers, such as the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (who will then be in his first season as the Philharmonic's Music Director) and baritone Thomas Hampson. They will perform The Wound-Dresser (from Adams' setting of Walt Whitman's American Civil War poem) on 4 February.

Other highlights within the John Adams Focus include the UK premieres of an instrumental version of the Doctor Atomic Symphony and of his work titled Symphony: City Noir (written for the Inaugural Gala of Gustavo Dudamel's first season as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's new Music Director). These two works will be performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer himself. Moreover, Adams' String Quartet is programmed in March at LSO St Luke's and will be played by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The artist's celebration will end in July with a new production of his Broadway-style show I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky on the main stage of the Theatre Royal, in collaboration with the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
As mentioned above, the New York Philharmonic has a major role within the John Adams focus. Yet, this is only one among the concerts that the world famous orchestra will perform at the Barbican. In fact, on 3 February, Alan Gilbert will bring the orchestra on the Barbican stage with a UK premiere of a new work by the orchestra's upcoming composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg. Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto is part of the same concert and it will be performed together with piano virtuoso Yefim Bronfman.

Among the visiting orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by its Honorary Member Lorin Maazel, is definitely a highlight; they will be on stage on 2 and 3 March, with a programme including works by Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel, Bruckner and Stravinsky. In addition, on 12 an 13 December, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam visits the Barbican with its Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons.

Further important dates include recitals by world class soloists. Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff will be at the Barbican on 22 September, performing La Damnation de Faust with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. He will be joined by Dorothea Röschmann, Angelika Kirchschlager and Ian Bostridge on 29 October to interpret a selection of Schumann's works. Murray Perahia will be on stage both as a soloist (interpreting Mozart's Piano Concerto No 17 and in Bach's Piano Concerto No 3) and as a guest conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on 17 November. Violinist Sarah Chang will perform the UK premiere of Fantasy by Christopher Theofanidis (12 February). Contertenor Andreas Scholl will interpret lute songs by Medieval wandering poet Oswald von Wolkenstein together with The Shield of Harmony ensemble. Finally, tenor Juan Diego Florez will give a recital on 7 May.

This overview of the Great Performers series is sufficient to show the richness of this Barbican season. From the words of Robert van Leer, Head of Music and Projects at the Barbican, we learn of the enthusiasm surrounding the programme's announcement: 'In 2009-10, the season […] gives audiences a chance to explore music and performers in a more intensive way – through weekends, series and focuses. I very much look forward to welcoming the wonderful pianist Emanuel Ax with three unique programmes he has curated especially for us, and to the UK premieres of three exciting operas of our time, as Present Voices returns to the programme'.

By Marina Romani  

Photos: Wiliam Christie; Hans Werner Henze

This is not an inclusive list of all the events taking place within the Great Performers season. For further information, visit



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