January 2009 Preview

Highlights of the coming months in the Classical and Opera worlds

2 January 2009

Sarah-Jane Davies as Pamina in ENO's Magic Flute, credit: Bob WorkmanWith the New Year firmly rung in and the Christmas trees headed for the shredder, a certain ennui can set in at this time. So we've decided to take a look at some of the classical music events taking place during January 2009 in order to whet your appetite for the weeks ahead.

For me, the focus of the month is on the London Symphony Orchestra's two performances of Verdi's Requiem on 11 and 14 January. LSO President Sir Colin Davis returns to conduct another of his favourite large-scale choral works, alongside an interesting line-up of soloists. Christine Brewer makes an all-too-rare venture into Italian repertoire, while Russian mezzo Larissa Diadkova promises to deliver the goods as the mezzo soloist. Stuart Neill and John Relyea complete the cast.

Later in the month, Davis will conduct the Choir of London and Orchestra at Cadogan Hall in his beloved Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ (24 January), while Nicola Luisotti will have a rest from the Royal Opera's current revival of Turandot on 22 January when he leads the Philharmonia in a concert of Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Over at the Barbican, Haydn's Creation ought to be a highlight on 10 January, with Thomas Quasthoff as a soloist. Also of interest is a concert series of the complete Nielsen symphonies in Manchester and Birmingham, shared between the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Hallé.

The opera schedules are relatively quiet in January, but things pick up later in the month with The Beggar's Opera (in Britten's realisation) at the Linbury Studio, a revival of The Magic Flute at ENO with the delectable Sarah-Jane Davies and Robert Lloyd, and the first UK staging of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt at Covent Garden. It's worth keeping an eye on the Met's cinema broadcasts, too: 10 January brings La rondine whit Angela Gheorghiu, while Gluck's Orfeo is featured on 24 January.

If the cold's too much and you don't want to leave the fireside, it may be worth turning to the record store for inspiration. Universal Classics' line-up of releases for January is extraordinary, with a DVD of Rolando Villazon as Gounod's Romeo, a tempting-looking recital of bel canto arias from Elina Garanca (including selections from Dom Sebastien and L'assedio di Calais) and Haydn arias from Thomas Quasthoff, to name but three. Chandos is releasing a mega box set of thirty discs to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary, alongside a new Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly. Strong selections abound from EMI, Hyperion and Naxos too, and musical theatre fans will be looking forward to the first complete recording (on 2 discs) of Rodgers and Hammerstein's third musical, Allegro, from Sony/BMG on 27 January.

Below is a selection of some of my colleagues' January highlights – make it your New Year's resolution to attend one of the many concerts on offer!

By Dominic McHugh

Hugo Shirley, Deputy Editor

The National Youth Orchestra have set themselves a challenge with the two pieces chosen for a mini concert tour this January. Under Semyon Bychkov they perform Strauss's epic An Alpine Symphony, now acknowledged as much more than a musical jolly across the Bavarian mountains, and Berio's iconoclastic Sinfonia (with London Voices). They bring the programme to Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 6 January, Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on the seventh and perform at the Roundhouse in North London on 9 January. Another interesting concert will be at the Wigmore Hall, unfortunately on the same evening, where Sir Mark Elder will lead members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the original version of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and the Schoenberg/Rhien chamber orchestra version of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (with soloists Alice Coote and Paul Nilon). Elder also conducts the LPO on 24 January at the RFH in Strauss's Symphonia Domestica – a favourite of the conductor whose recent ROH Elektra was a highlight of the Autumn schedule – coupled with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (with Anne-Sophie Mutter).

Stephen Graham, Contemporary Music Editor

One of the most exciting upcoming productions is Opera North's Skin Deep, which premieres in Leeds on 16 January and then tours to Sadler's Wells and elsewhere in February. It is a self-styled operetta written by the young British composer David Sawer in collaboration with the inimitable satirist Armando Iannucci (writer-creator-director of amongst other things: The Day Today, The Thick of It, Alan Partridge, and Time Trumpet), who makes his musical debut with this work. Skin Deep is about the modern craze for plastic surgery, and promises a caustic take on the emotional and cultural circus surrounding the phenomenon with elements of Rossini, Mozart and Offenbach invading the musical mix. Its farcical aim, according to Iannucci, is to 'get everyone who's had some surgery done to have it reversed'. The Barbican's series of Total Immersion Days that will focus on three composers in turn looks very interesting too, particularly the Tristan Murail day on 7 February.

Agnes Kory, Co-Founder

Although I live in London, I visit Manchester bi-monthly for a day or two on each occasion. In November I paid my first visit to the splendid Bridgewater Hall where I heard an excellent concert given by the Hallé orchestra. During my next Manchester trip I will attend the Halle's all French programme on 21 January. It is a family friendly programme with relatively light classical works. My hostess in Manchester, who will be my guest for the evening, is looking forward to the concert, and so am I.

Time and other factors allowing, my January choices in London would be Jiri Belohlávek's all Czech programme (including the Bohemian-born Mahler) with the BBC SO on 8 January at the Barbican Hall and then The Beggar's Opera (20-27 January) in the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House. Czech music – and much else – is in excellent hands with Belohlávek and Benjamin Britten's reworking of the John Gay/Pepusch Beggar's Opera must be a treat.

Delia Casadei

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s death in December 2008 has released a constant flow of celebratory concerts across London’s foremost concert-halls; the Barbican and BBC Symphony Orchestra follow the trend by hosting a one-day full immersion in the composer’s life and work on January 17. The two closing evening concerts feature two of Stockhausen’s most original musical constructions: Inori (1974) and Hymnen (1966-1967). Inori is a ritual dance and a musical cosmogony: in it, music is created first through rhythm alone, while melody and harmony are slowly piled on to reach a shatteringly loud polyphonic texture. Hymnen is a kaleidoscopic work for electronics employing dozens of national anthems from all over the world. With every anthem comes a national history and ideological association. Hymnen is an explosive tour-de-force on the history of human conflict and resolution, and a genuine meditation on the possibility of the co-existence of different ideologies, backgrounds and agendas in the modern world.

Claudine Nightingale, Early Music Specialist

With 2009 heralding anniversaries for Handel and Purcell, it looks to be a fantastic year for the Early Music scene. As always, Handel House in London are holding several concerts and events to celebrate 250 years since Handel's death, not least their New Year's Day celebration, featuring Lisa Wilson (soprano), Julian Perkins (harpsichord) and Georgia Browne (flute). Other Early music concerts to look forward to this coming month include an evening of German Baroque music from violinist Rachel Podger (Southbank Centre, 27 January), and a performance of music by Bach and Handel from London Octave in the beautiful venue of St. Martin in the Fields (15 January).

William Norris

Looking ahead for a few months, the Royal Festival Hall boasts a typically scintillating lineup of events in 2009. Already on my radar are the Philharmonia Orchestra's performance of Schoenberg's monumental Gurrelieder under the baton of new Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen on 28 February; Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Beethoven's first three Piano Concertos on 21 April, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe from the keyboard; and the London Philharmonic's wholesome programme Mendelssohn's 'Italian' Symphony, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto and Dvorak's Seventh Symphony, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting and Aldo Ciccolini appearing as the soloist. Outside the concert hall and in the opera house, I am one of many eagerly anticipating Renée Fleming's Violetta at Covent Garden alongside Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, with the inspirational Antonio Pappano at the helm.

Mike Reynolds

My musical highlight in January will be the weekend of 24/25 January in Paris: the hors d'oeuvre on Saturday will be a wonderful Richard Strauss concert at the Cité de la Musique, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the outstanding Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Helene Grimaud is the soloist in the Strauss Burlesque for piano and orchestra, and the programme includes the sublime Sextet that launches Capriccio - who cares whether music or words are the more important here! But the main course is on Sunday, with the premiere of a new production at the Opera Comique of Auber's wonderful Fra Diavolo. With Sumi Jo and Kenneth Tarver in the cast, it has great promise. I do declare an interest however: I'm involved with a new English version of the piece at Stanley Hall Opera next June, and I want to see how the French do it in style! Since Fra Diavolo was the most performed work at the Opéra Comique in the nineteenth century (905 performances) there should be a certain residual expertise in the team assembled by director Jerome Deschamps: I shall report in due course.

Marina Romani

I'm sincerely curious about the Royal Opera House's production of Britten's version of The Beggar's Opera. I've never seen this work on an opera stage, and this production opening 20 January 2009 at the Linbury Studio seems to be the right occasion to satiate my curiosity.

A few days later, from January 22 to 24, King's Place is the venue of an interesting and potentially innovative project that is part of the Art of News week. Under the direction of Dominic Muldowney, the London Sinfonietta and its chamber artists propose the exploration of texts by Brecht, Weill, Eisler and other authors engagés combined with original music by Muldowney himself - this last one being a long term collaborator with theatre directors. Willing to create an artistic product that is hard to categorize as simply sound or simply text, Muldowney affirms that music 'can put a dangerous spin on a subject'. And we'll be there to see how.

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