In the years we’ve been running Bachtrack, we’ve gradually become used to the ebb and flow of the year’s activity: April is the month where many of the top orchestras and venues publish details of their seasons which will start in the autumn. We get to see this giant wave of information as it goes into our database and we’d like to share some of the highlights with you. Here are things that caught our eye - do take a look and see what catches yours!

Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Zurich Chamber Orchestra

We were particularly struck by the repertoire of violin concerti, which seems to be both broadening and moving forward in time. Whereas previous years have seen a preponderance of Beethoven and Bach concerti, this year has many more performances of 20th century concerti: Bartók, Shostakovich, Prokofiev (several of both the first and the second concerti), Szymanowski and others. It’s interesting to see Korngold’s ultra-romantic concerto coming into the mainstream, with performances by Daniel Hope with the Royal Stockholm Phil, Nicola Benedetti with the Royal Philharmonic in London and the Netherlands Radio Phil in Amsterdam, Arabella Steinbacher with the Vienna Symphony, and Hilary Hahn in the US and with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Korngold’s Cello Concerto is also being played in February at Stockholm Concert Hall.

The Concertgebouw © Leander Lammertink
The Concertgebouw
© Leander Lammertink

Leonidas Kavakos seems to be the busiest soloist this year, playing Bartók at the Concertgebouw, Mozart with the Vienna Symphony, Prokofiev with the NY Phil and a whole raft of different concerts with the LSO at the Barbican in London, including Sibelius, Szymanowski and the UK première of a concerto by Osvaldo Golijov commissioned for the LSO. But there’s plenty of other violin talent, particularly playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, which Maxim Vengerov is playing with the LSO, and Janine Jansen with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Jansen is also playing other concerti with the LSO and the Residentie Orkest in The Hague. Pinchas Zukerman is playing a Mozart concerto (as well as conducting Mahler 4) with the Royal Philharmonic. Gil Shaham and Joshua Bell are also performing numerous violin concerti in the US.

Lower in the register, Yo-Yo Ma joins the LSO at the Barbican in June for cello concerti by Shostakovich, Britten and Lutosławski, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Alisa Weilerstein plays the Dvořák with the Vienna Symphony, and Truls Mørk opens the Stockholm season with the Schumann cello concerto. Another top cellist, Lynn Harrell, can be found at the 92Y in New York playing Schubert’s String Quintet with the soon-to-retire Tokyo String Quartet.

The piano event of the season has to be Sir Colin Davis’s 85th birthday concert at the Barbican on September 27th, at which the Mozart E flat concerto for two pianos will be played by Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu: a rare chance to see two of the all time piano greats sharing a concert platform. Another star line-up comes in the RPO’s Damnation of Faust (featuring conductor Charles Dutoit and Sir Willard White) while other notable birthday events are Valery Gergiev’s 60th (22nd May, Barbican), the Concertgebouw’s 125th Anniversary party on 10th April (Lang Lang playing Prokofiev, and a world première from Bob Zimmerman) and a Barbican “Total Immersion” series for the 60th birthday of Oliver Knussen. The Britten Sinfonia are also celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and there will be celebratory concerts at the Theatre Royal in Norwich and at the Barbican, containing a typically varied selection of pieces, from a birthday commission by James MacMillan to works by Bach and Purcell.

Golijov and Knussen are just two contemporary composers receiving special attention, and there’s a fair amount to keep new music enthusiasts happy, although it’s often done using the gambit of a new work packaged with two or more works from the mainstream repertoire - as in, for example, the LSO’s two concerts with works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, including a world première and his concerto From The Wreckage with top trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger. An exception are the “Total Immersion” series: as well as Knussen, we get shakuhachi and biwa music from Japan, and two concerts of new Scandinavian music.

Barbican Centre
Barbican Centre

The main shift seems to be into 20th century music, with a lot of Richard Strauss, Britten (in his anniversary year), Shostakovich and contemporaries; even the Dayton Phil strays from a solidly romantic repertoire to include Pärt and Britten, Shostakovich, and two concerts of Respighi. There are also some notable concerts involving stars more commonly associated with other musical genres as well: singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright with the Residentie Orkest, pop diva Rita Coolidge with the Dayton Philharmonic and Imogen Heap (I’m not even going to attempt to specify a category) with Zurich Chamber Orchestra.

Dayton Philharmonic © Andy Snow
Dayton Philharmonic
© Andy Snow

While I’ve focused on the big orchestral seasons, there is notable instrumental and chamber music. Many of the big concert halls have smaller chamber halls attached: Stockholm’s Grünewaldsalen features an intriguing concert featuring Sakari Oramo on violin (he’s more usually found on their podium); the Concertgebouw has its Recital Hall (which has some great song recitals this year, including two from Mark Padmore and Jonathan Biss in October, and Miah Persson in January); Imogen Cooper and Adrian Brendel will be playing two lunchtime concerts together at LSO St Lukes.

At the other end of the scale, there are some notable large scale choral performances. With the Vienna Symphony, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct the fascinating pairing of Honegger's 'Liturgical' Symphony and Bruckner's Mass no. 3 on April 23 and 25, and Kent Nagano will be tackling Schoenberg's massive Gurrelieder on June 21. The Concertgebouw tackle Brahms’ German Requiem in September, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis gets several outings. The big choral event in Europe will be on 16th March, where the Barbican sees the European première of a new commission by John Adams, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic - Dudamel’s star quality and Adams’ reputation as one of the world’s leading living composers should make that one a sell-out.

David Karlin 1st May 2012

Post script: if you speak German and have young kids (into neither of which categories I fall) there’s a truly spendid looking kids concert with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra at the Tonhalle: a string of short works narrated by (notionally) the legendary teller of tall tales Baron Munchhausen. And if you’ve not come across the Baron before and delight in the oddball, try the Terry Gilliam movie or the book by Rudolph Erich Raspe.