Even before considering the musical programme, a visit to the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona is a must. An architectural jewel of Catalan Art Nouveau, it is the only concert venue of its style to be listed as a World Heritage Site. Designed by the modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, natural light floods into the auditorium through a mosaic of stained glass, adding a sense of spectacle to the proceedings on stage. In such a beautiful setting, music is bound to glow and the 2022-23 season is illuminated by leading lights from the classical music world. 

Palau de la Música
© Palau de la Música

There are plenty of famous names heading to Barcelona’s leading concert hall this season – star soloists, leading conductors and renowned ensembles – so any preview must make a necessity of cherry-picking, but here is a selection of highlights to whet your appetite. 

The pandemic not only meant that big orchestral and choral blockbusters were off the menu, but so too was international travel. The new season happily reverses that situation. Launching the Palau’s season with a flourish, Barcelona welcomes the Filarmonica della Scala and its music director Riccardo Chailly for two first symphonies: Beethoven’s and Mahler’s. Beethoven’s First Symphony largely followed classical rules, with few hints of the rebellious mould-breaker to follow. Mahler, however, set his own path right from the start. “A symphony must be like the world,” he declared. “It must embrace everything.” If the First doesn’t quite embrace everything – choruses, cow-bells, sleigh bells and hammers were to follow in later symphonies – then it paints a vivid picture of nature and rustic life in the raw. It should be meat and drink for Chailly, a distinguished Mahlerian. 

Further rustic Mahler comes in the form of his earthy songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn) based on German folk poems. They are sung by baritone Andrè Schuen with the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana. Another of Mahler’s most popular works, the Fifth Symphony, is performed by Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Omer Meir Wellber in November. They are joined by soloist Jan Lisiecki for one of Mozart’s most perfect piano concertos, No. 21 in C major. Both works feature slow movements that shot to fame via the cinema – Mahler’s Adagietto in Death in Venice and Mozart’s Andante in Elvira Madigan, the latter becoming so closely identified with the film that it was often known as the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto. More Mozart piano concertos come via the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, directed from the keyboard in January by the distinguished Dame Mitsuko Uchida. 

For staples of the symphonic repertoire, go for Jakub Hrůša conducting the Bamberg Symphony in Dvořák’s Ninth or Teodor Currentzis conducting his crack ensemble musicAeterna in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, a voyage into the musical precipice not for the faint-hearted. 

Orfeó Català
© Ricardo Rios

The Palau season contains choral blockbusters too. Philippe Herreweghe conducts the Collegium Vocale Gent and Orchestre des Champs-Élysées in Beethoven’s massive Missa solemnis. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra present Bach’s St Matthew Passion in March, a week before Easter, while Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in Bach’s Mass in B minor in April

Opera – especially Baroque opera in concert – should encourage plenty of interest: Fabio Biondi conducts Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse, featuring Mark Padmore and Sara Mingardo; George Petrou conducts Il Pomo d’Oro and a fine cast led by Christiane Karg and Franco Fagioli in Handel’s Ariodante; while Vivaldi’s Bajazet (setting the same plot as Handel’s Tamerlano) is a welcome rarity, Ottavio Dantone directing a cast including Delphine Galou and Arianna Venditelli. 

There’s plenty of local orchestral talent to enjoy too. Jordi Savall conducts Le Concert des Nations in a tempting trio of Rebel, Handel and Gluck in February, a few days before the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya plays a trio of Jörg Widmann works under the composer’s baton, including a new work commissioned from the Palau de la Musica. Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrández performs Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and Josep Pons conducts the orchestra of Barcelona’s great opera house, the Liceu, in a programme of symphonic excerpts from Wagner’s operas. Cuarteto Casals play Haydn, Shostakovich and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.

Popular Spanish pianist Javier Perianes brings local colour to his April recital, following Schumann and Brahms with a selection from Enrique Granados’ Goyescas. It’s a rich season for fans of the solo piano recital. Among the 2022-23 keyboard wizards, look out for Alexandre Tharaud, Paul Lewis, Angela Hewitt, Khatia Buniatishvili and Seong-Jin Cho, as well as grand master Grigory Sokolov to crown a jewel of a season at the Palau. 

Click here to see the full Palau de la Musica Catalana season.

This preview was sponsored by the Palau de la Música – Orfeó Català.