Apart from the splendour of its Art Nouveau architecture, Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana is notable for being the home of one of the world’s most prestigious choral societies: the Orfeó Català. Their big event of the season is in February: a pair of performances of the Bach St Matthew Passion, celebrating 100 years from when the choir first performed the work. Orfeó Català’s Artistic Director Simon Halsey has presumably pulled a few strings from his Berlin connections to bring in soloists from the Berliner Philharmoniker to join the Orquestra Simfònica Camera Musicae for the performance. The Catalan singers also feature in a couple of important concerts with visiting orchestras: Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic on November 26th and François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles on April 19th. Other choral highlights include a Brahms German Requiem on February 4th from Thomas Hengelbrock’s Balthasar Neumann Chor and a St John Passion on April 9th from John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir.

The Orfeó Català conducted by Simon Halsey
© Antoni Bofil

Five recitals, designated “Great voices”, feature internationally renowned stars: Joyce DiDonato with a jazz-based programme, Vivica Genaux performing Handel arias ("famous for her vocal pyrotechnics", according to our latest review), Piotr Beczała, whom we have seen wow a Barcelona audience in the past, Jakub Józef Orlinski and Javier Camarena (surprisingly, it’s Camarena’s house début). A second series of concerts is dedicated to Lieder, two of which celebrate 50th anniversaries of the deaths of major figures in the world of Catalan music: a concert dedicated to the music of Roberto Gerhard on October 22nd and a homage to Joan Manén (Juan in Spanish) featuring a plethora of Spanish artists on February 9th.

The season is packed with outstanding pianists from around the world – too many to be listed here. Grigory Sokolov gives a recital on March 15th: it will be the fourteenth consecutive year that Sokolov visits the Palau. Unsurprisingly, Beethoven features strongly in this 250th anniversary, with Paul Lewis plays more sonatas on October 21st as well as the Diabelli Variations and Beethoven featuring in recitals by Javier Perianes and Sir András Schiff. Valentina Lisitsa celebrates the birthday itself on December 16th with a programme of favourite sonatas, and Elisabeth Leonskaja joins the Dresden Philharmonic for the Piano Concerto no. 4, a work which she plays with such individual expressivity that our reviewer Julius Lay wondered at times “how anyone else could be credible with any other idea”. Evgeni Koroliov and Piotr Anderszewski take on a book each of Bach’s Well-tempered clavier, while Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen (who aren’t actually twins, although they look like it) present French piano duets. Spanish music isn’t forgotten in the shape of a complete Albéniz Iberia from Alba Ventura on June 8th.

If you’re looking for something uniquely Catalan, your best bet comes on June 6th with a concert performance of Eduard Toldrà’s comic opera El giravolt de maig (“The sunflower in May”), which originally premiered at the Palau in 1928, described as “an ironic gloss on return to order after the temptations of change and adventure”. The Palau isn’t really an opera venue, so there’s just one other opera, also in concert: Kaia Saariaho’s Only The Sound Remains on July 1st.

Saariaho also features in the Palau’s chamber music programme, with two of her String Quartets being played in a concert on June 28th by Meta4. The Palau’s architecture and acoustics make it a joyous place to hear chamber music: other performers include the Casals Quartet, the Cosmos Quartet and cellist Gautier Capuçon.

The Palau de la Música Catalana
© David Karlin

Visiting orchestras not yet mentioned include the Gothenburg Symphony with Santu-Mathias Rouvali, who play Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Truls Mørk on October 19th and the Berliner Philharmoniker with Kirill Petrenko, who play Mozart and Tchaikovsky on May 2nd. Teodor Currentzis and his Musica Aeterna play the same two composers, presumably in a completely different style, on December 10th. From considerably closer to home (just the other side of Las Ramblas), the Liceu Orchestra and Josep Pons bring a programme of Wagner overtures and endings (with an interloper in the shape of Ligeti’s Atmosphères).

During confinement, it’s been impossible to miss the fact that musicians turn to Bach for solace. Apart from the several performances of the Passions, the Palau has plenty more Bach to offer: a complete set of Brandenburg Concertos played by French ensemble Café Zimmermann, a selection from The Art of Fugue from viol ensemble Phantasm, the continuation of a complete cycle of harpsichord works by Benjamin Alard, solo violin partitas from Giuliano Carmignola and, last but not least, a B minor mass from the Orfeó Català’s chamber choir.

In these times of lockdown, it’s been a peculiar thrill to be announcing events from an organisation that’s looking forward to its 2020-21 season with enthusiasm, especially when it’s a season so packed with desirable concerts as this.

You can see upcoming events at the Palau de la Música Catalana here

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