In ordinary times, the London Symphony Orchestra would have announced a full 2021–22 season months ago. But these aren’t ordinary times and after the year of non-concerts that has just gone by, we have to be more than grateful to see the announcement of a robust LSO season at the Barbican for Autumn 2021. Particularly since the season gives us plenty to our teeth into.

Sir Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená with the LSO
© Mark Allan

Sir Simon Rattle’s tenure as the LSO’s Music Director is entering its final years (he steps down in September 2023), which makes it all the more striking that Rattle is conducting no fewer than nine of their concerts this autumn (three times as many as he did in autumn 2019, prior to the pandemic). As well as a peerless conductor, Rattle is an eloquent advocate for music, so anyone eager to learn about the music they’re listening to will be drawn to the “Half Six Fix” concerts in which he will be introducing the work to the audience as well as conducting: Rattle will be taking on Beethoven's “Pastoral” Symphony (on 15th September), Mahler’s Fourth  (on 8th December) and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (on 15th December). He also conducts all three works in longer concerts at the more conventional time of 7pm, each with an interesting pairing: the Pastoral is paired with Where are you?, a song cycle written for Magdalena Kožená by her Czech compatriot Ondřej Adámek and premiered in March in by Rattle and the Bavarian Radio Symphony. The texts are nothing if not eclectic: as well as modern Czech (including translations of bible verses), there’s Aramaic, Moravian dialect, Spanish and Sanskrit. The Bartók is complemented by another Hungarian concerto, the Violin Concerto by Miklós Rózsa, best known as a composer of dozens of film scores (from The Thief of Baghdad to Ben-Hur and El Cid) but who maintained what he called his “double life” of writing concert music. Mahler 4 is set against two different French takes on King Lear, by Debussy and Berlioz.

Another striking Rattle event is scheduled for 19th September, in which he charts the development of Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4, “Romantic”. If you’ve never quite gone for a twenty minute Mozart concerto as the ideal appetiser for this hour-long behemoth of a symphony, here’s a far more interesting idea: before playing the full symphony in its “revised” 1887-1888 version (the last created by Bruckner himself), the LSO will play the Scherzo in its original 1874 version and a rarely played replacement finale (the “Volksfest” finale) written by Bruckner in 1878: these should give plenty of insight into the symphony’s changing nature.

François-Xavier Roth
© Doug Peters

A fourth Half Six Fix, Beethoven’s Eroica on 10th November, will feature Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth, who also conducts the Eroica in a full length concert the following day, where it is paired with Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto no. 2 with soloist Bertrand Chamayou, one of today's most sought-after French pianists, who was described by Alain Lompech as playing Saint-Saëns “with electrifying verve”. The LSO will be joined on 25th November by their other Principal Guest Conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, and two top-flight soloists – Janine Jansen and Martin Fröst – for the UK premiere of Distans, a double concerto for violin and clarinet by Sally Beamish which received its world premiere in April with co-commissioners the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Antoine Tamestit
© Philippe Matsas

Lovers of the viola will be spoilt by the subject of the season’s “Artist Portrait”: Antoine Tamestit, who will play concertos by Martinů, Walton and Jörg Widmann, each with its own unique character. Martinů wrote his Rhapsody-Concerto far from his Czech home: our reviewer Simon Thompson describes its “heartfelt melancholy” and “the sense of lyrical longing at the heart of this work”. Walton’s 1929 Viola Concerto starts in stately fashion but it’s second movement Vivo is bright and mercurial (it was considered too modernistic by its intended soloist, Lionel Tertis – the work was eventually premiered by Paul Hindemith). Widmann’s Viola Concerto was written for Tamestit in 2015: expect the soloist to depart from the usual position near the conductor and create sounds and humour from all parts of the stage with all parts of his instrument.

Daniel Harding, who conducts the Walton and Widmann concertos, will also be conducting Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no. 1 with Nicola Benedetti on 10th October. Soprano Lucy Crowe joins the orchestra for Mahler 4 and for the season’s opening concert on 12th September, where she will sing in the season’s one world premiere, a work by Julian Anderson whose name has yet to be announced, and in Judith Weir’s Natural History, a setting of ancient Taoist writings by the Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu which was originally written for Rattle and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

There will also be a variety of lunchtime events: full details will be announced in due course.

You can see details of upcoming London Symphony Concerts here.
This preview was sponsored by the London Symphony Orchestra.