What will the London Symphony Orchestra be like without the famous shock of silver hair at its podium? Sir Simon Rattle never managed to obtain his shiny new concert hall – for now, the orchestra will have to make do with the modernist glamour of the Barbican – but his tenure as Chief has been marked by many memorable performances.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO
© Mark Allan | LSO

Rattle fans should not be too disheartened though: they can still get their fix of the iconic curls with several performances this season, including a concert performance in January of Janáček’s devastating Jenůfa, the third a series of Janáček operas over the past few seasons. Rattle will conduct a short concert series in February and March, featuring Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, the Brahms Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust, and an all-American programme featuring Kirill Gerstein performing the Gershwin Piano Concerto. The latter programme includes a long-awaited new work from John Adams, probably the living composer most closely associated with Rattle.

LSO’s season opens in September with the force of nature Barbara Hannigan, conducting a programme of Ligeti, Vivier, Haydn and Strauss, and singing Luigi Nono’s extraordinary monody Djamila Boupacha, named for the Algerian anti-colonial activist and revolutionary. Hannigan performs together with mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron in this opening concert, who sings Vivier’s beautiful Wo bist du Licht?. A few days later Barron joins again as one of the four soloists in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, paired with the Hollywood-infused Symphony in Three Movements.

Barbara Hannigan with the LSO in 2022
© Mark Allen | LSO

Sir Antonio Pappano will be the LSO’s new Chief Conductor, taking up the mantle fully in 2024. (This season he is merely “Chief Conductor Designate”.) His first concert in October will appropriately feature the great loud dawn of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra. This is programmed against Liszt’s fiery Totentanz with pianist Alice Sara Ott, as well as a new work O flower of fire from iconoclastic British composer Hannah Kendall (who Bachtrack interviewed earlier this year).

Also appearing in October with Pappano is another force of nature, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, performing Fazıl Say’s Violin Concerto “1001 Nights in the Harem”, written especially for her. Then Kirill Gerstein arrives for Thomas Adès’ recent Piano Concerto, which he premiered back in 2019. Gerstein returns in November and December for some spotlight concerts, performing Rachmaninov’s Third with Susanni Mälkki, alongside Sir George Benjamin’s very recent Concerto for Orchestra. This is followed by Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, programmed alongside Scriabin’s overwhelming Poem of Ecstasy.

Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the LSO
© Mark Allen | LSO

November also sees a pair of unusual, soulful concerts certainly worth catching – the first led by André Thomas and featuring the LSO Community Voices and the London Symphony Chorus. Thomas is a composer as well as a choral conductor and expert on spirituals, and this concert includes a plethora of orchestral gospel from Thomas, Robert Ray (late director of the St Louis Symphony’s In Unison Chorus), Florence Price and Donald Lawrence. Then a few weeks later, the multi-talented South African composer and cellist Abel Selaocoe performs his own Cello Concerto, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

In the new year, after Pappano’s return to conduct Mendelssohn’s Bach-inspired Elijah, Norwegian piano titan Leif Ove Andsnes joins the orchestra with guest conductors Thomas Søndergård and Nathalie Stutzmann, to perform Beethoven and Mozart. Stutzmann will launch a fleet of Bruckners, popular as ever, directing the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies as well as the Te Deum.  

François-Xavier Roth conducts the LSO
© Doug Peters

In March, François-Xavier Roth returns, always a highlight of any season, with his distinctive combination of exacting musicianship and innovative programming. Bertrand Chamayou performs Unsuk Chin’s virtuosic and sparkling Piano Concerto, unusually positioned between Beethoven’s Second and Eighth Symphonies. Later in April, Roth leads the LSO’s Panufnik Composers Workshop, which showcases new short orchestral works from young composers. This is followed a few days later by Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra programmed against Unsuk Chin’s 2019 Spira: Concerto for Orchestra – as well as several premieres from composers Donghoon Shin, Christian Drew and Stef Conner.

In May, veteran US conductor Michael Tilson Thomas returns to London for a must-catch performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony. Tilson Thomas has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer, but has been performing throughout 2023 nonetheless, with several standout performances, notably of Mahler. Alice Coote joins as the mezzo-soprano soloist.

Michael Tilson Thomas
© Mark Allen | LSO

Also in May, Thomas Adès returns to the LSO to lead the UK premiere of his new Air – Homage to Sibelius with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, programmed alongside an unusual Lutosławski work Partita, and Stravinsky’s multi-faceted ballet Agon.

Gianandrea Noseda’s concerts in June round out the LSO season, featuring the return visit of Janine Jansen (she plays Barber’s Violin Concerto in April) to perform Sally Beamish’s Distans: Double Concerto with Martin Fröst on clarinet. Noseda also leads Shostakovich’s Third Symphony and Prokofiev’s Seventh. This is part of a cycle of Shostakoviches and Prokofievs led by Noseda – he will conduct Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony in December too.

There’s much else going on in the LSO’s 2023–24 season that can’t be mentioned in this preview – do check out our complete listings. But as ever, the orchestra is proving itself one of the most vibrant and adaptable in the world.

See our complete listings for the LSO’s Barbican season 2023–24.
This preview was sponsored by the London Symphony Orchestra.