This evening sees the launch of the Southbank Centre’s 2018/19 Classical Music Season, so time to review the highlights of 2017 and look forward to the rest of the 2018 season and onwards into 2019.
2017 saw the 70th Anniversary of the forming of the choir and with a Mahler 8, in royal company, this was always going to be a highlight. However before we got to it we had Haydn’s Creation and a Mozart’s Requiem to navigate.
The Creation saw us perform for the first time in quite a while with Sir Roger Norrington. His interpretation was quite unlike anything we’d seen before. It was delightful, full of fun as well as producing a fine performance from the choir. A measure of the difference was that he paused between each movement to allow the audience to applaud. Remarkable.
As was also the Mozart with Nathalie Stutzmann. Nathalie is more well known as a singer than a conductor, so it was with interest we approached the performance. The Requiem is common ground for most singers, but Nathalie’s approach was very different from the norm. She coerced a remarkable performance from us, having us hanging on every gesture and being able to subtly tweak the performance from the day’s tutti rehearsal.
And so to the Mahler 8, the first performance by the LPO for some 22 years. No subtlety here, with Vladimir having to manage huge forces, lighting effects and drama throughout. At times it felt more like he was performing crowd control than conducting. That he programmed it with a performance of Tallis’s Spem in alium seemed at first to be very odd but in performance it was magnificent, with no pause at the end before commencing the Mahler. The post concert party for all the singers and guests, in the company of HRH the Duke of Kent, capped a wonderful evening, and possibly the most memorable concert of my life.
The success of the Spem would see us repeating the work as part of the Southbank’s Chorus weekend in July. It was a different setting, in the Royal Festival Hall’s ballroom – great fun and enjoyed by all.
Meanwhile the last of the season’s LPO concerts should have seen us performing Beethoven’s 9th with Eschenbach, something we’d all been looking forward to after the great German Requiem the previous season. Sadly he had to pull out at the last moment due to illness, but he was replaced by Kazushi Ono, yet another new conductor for us. Again, subtly different from other performances but a great success.
Lastly for the season was a trip ‘up north’ to join Sir Mark Elder to celebrate his 70th birthday with a performance of Gurrelieder. Alas this was a ‘men only’ event for us but it capped a fantastic season for the choir. Great concerts, great reviews and great times for the members.
Sadly, for the first time in many years we had no BBC Prom concert in the summer of 2017, but it gave us all a nice long break, all the better to prepare us for the 17/18 season.
First up, in the company of Royalty, was a performance of the Rossini Stabat Mater. Both our patron, HRH Princess Alexandra, and her brother, HRH the Duke of Kent, attended, with several of our members able to meet our patrons. Another great performance most notable because the choir, after badgering the conductor, Carlos Miguel Prieto, got to sing the penultimate movement, the a cappella Quando corpus morietor, instead of the soloists. Pitch perfect, magnificent! Four days later, it was something very different. Peteris Vasks’s Dona Nobis Pacem and Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducting, in the company of our PM Theresa May, attending in a private capacity.
If these weren’t challenging enough, the last LPO concert of the year was perhaps one of the most difficult works attempted by the choir in many years. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Not the usual fare of a large symphonic choir, but one approached and performed in London and the next day in Paris, almost faultlessly. Great reviews and a very pleased Vladimir Jurowski.
If that wasn’t enough, the rest of the choir performed three Christmas concerts at the British Museum. A very different acoustic to what we’re used to and very well received by audiences. The very last outing of the year was our annual trip to the Royal Albert Hall for concerts at the Raymond Gubbay Christmas festival. Two performances this year, and sadly the last in the Albert Hall for a while. The Band of the Coldstream Guards were added this year and with Alan Titchmarch presenting and conductor Toby Purser at the helm, we made the most of all the forces available for a truly great afternoon and evening. For the first time we were even able to perform a piece by one of our own members, composer Paul Fincham‘s carol Ring the Bells.
Into the new year and a charity performance of Tippet’s A Child of our Time in aid of the Refugee Council. Ed Gardner conducting the LPO and Friends and a cast of soloists to die for. Many of us have sung the Tippet before, but this performance was something very different. With the background of the refugee situation, the words seemed to have more meaning than ever. How I personally managed to hold it together to the last “Deep River” I don’t know, but most of us went away deeply affected by the evening. That we gave one of the best performances we’d given says a lot for the power of the work and Ed Gardner.
February sees us performing a very special concert at Buckingham Palace. Four charities each enjoying the patronage of HRH Princess Alexandra will come together for a concert celebrating the power of the human voice. Supported by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra the choir will perform with the Alzheimer’s Society choir and Wigmore Hall’s Singing with Friends to an audience made up of supporters of those charities.
Onwards to the rest of the 2017/18 season. Stravinsky and Bernstein in a choral packed programme on 24 March with Orozco-Estrada conducting again, a quick tour to Italy for a Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle in late March, and our last LPO concert of the season in April, yet more Stravinsky with Thomas Adès at the helm.
Happily we’re back at the BBC Proms this year with an LPO concert under Andrés Orozco-Estrada, details of which will become known when the BBC announce the Proms season in April.
And so to 2018/19 and a very, very busy autumn. First up on in October is the Poulenc Stabat Mater and Orff’s Carmina Burana, all in one concert with Jérémie Rhorer conducting. An odd mix one might think, but it will certainly demonstrate the range of skills we have in the choir.
Just a couple of weeks later, it is Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle conducted by Gustavo Gimeno. For those performing it in Italy in March, this will be a repeat, but this concert will require the full choir and will be an interesting contrast to last year’s Stabat Mater, which was a resounding success. Like last year, we’re hoping to have a royal presence.
With no rest, it’s back to the Southbank yet again in early November for a world premiere of a composition written, or should that read, being written by Magnus Lindburg. Also in that programme is Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles, all conducted by Vladimir in the first of three concerts with him in 2018/19. This is followed by more Stravinsky, with his Threni (a twelve tone composition) in December, again with Vladimir conducting. An interesting challenge for us.
A small number of the choir will take the train down to Eastbourne for some early Christmas singing with the LPO brass and Maestro Neville Creed conducting on 2 December.
Then, the two Christmas concerts with Raymond Gubbay. The first takes place in the Royal Festival Hall with old friend Toby Purser and the second, at the Barbican, with Trinity Boys Choir and John Pryce-Jones, he of the 20 minute Twelve Days of Christmas fame. Both should be fun, as always.
Then a couple of weeks’ break. Maestro Creed is back conducting us again in February for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem with Raymond Gubbay.
The last of the LPO concerts in the season brings us yet more new repertoire in March. Haydn’s The Seasons to be performed, thankfully, in English, with Vladimir. This is a major work, some two hours long, which few of the choir will have sung before.
So a very different season to 2017/18 and more so to 2016/17. 2017 saw us celebrate an anniversary, have a great party and sing some of the greatest and most well-known choral works ever written. 2018 and 2019 see us back to many unknown and challenging works, much the bread and butter of the LPO and its principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski.
I do hope you’ll be able to join us for many of these concerts. It’s going to be a great season.