Gustavo Dudamel © Smallz + Raskind
Gustavo Dudamel
© Smallz + Raskind

Leonard Bernstein considered Fidelio “a timeless monument to love, life and liberty, a celebration of human rights, of freedom to speak out, to dissent. It's a political manifesto against tyranny and oppression.” Beethoven’s only opera – set in Spain – forms the climax of the Palau de la Música Catalana’s celebration marking the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next season. The Art Nouveau building, in the beautiful Sant Pere district of Barcelona, houses an auditorium filled with natural light through stunning stained glass. Despite this, a bust of Beethoven glowers over one side of the stage.

Gustavo Dudamel conducts a concert performance of Fidelio, an opera where Leonore assumes a man’s guise (Fidelio) to try and save her husband (Florestan) who is a political prisoner. One of the most moving scenes occurs in Act 1 where Fidelio persuades the gaoler, Rocco, to allow the prisoners out of their cells to enjoy the beautiful weather. When the Orfeó Català, the choir for which the Palau was originally built, sings Beethoven’s great chorus “O welche Lust”, it should be a powerful moment.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner © Sim Canetty-Clarke
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
© Sim Canetty-Clarke

The main thrust of the Palau’s Beethoven celebrations, however, is a complete cycle of the nine symphonies where Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Gardiner was at the forefront of the period instrument revolution which reintroduced gut strings and original instruments, stripping the playing of vibrato and observing the composer’s hotly contested metronome markings. Brusque and brilliant, Gardiner’s Beethoven – five concerts over six days – should draw big audiences.

The oratorio Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives) is a much less celebrated work by Beethoven, depicting Jesus’ turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion. It was composed shortly after Beethoven wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter to his brothers where he despaired over his increasing deafness. The oratorio is one of the works being championed by Sir Simon Rattle next season and he brings the London Symphony Orchestra to Barcelona to team up with the Orfeó Català and fine soloists Elsa Dreisig, Pavol Breslik and David Soar. Rattle pairs the oratorio with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a joyous, spirited work which Wagner dubbed “the apotheosis of the dance”.

Palau de la Musica © Matteo Vecchi
Palau de la Musica
© Matteo Vecchi

Beethoven doesn’t have a monopoly on the Palau season though. Blockbuster symphonies feature, courtesy of Esa-Pekka Salonen (Mahler’s Ninth with the Philharmonia) and Alan Gilbert (Bruckner’s Seventh with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester). Not quite on the same epic scale, Dvořák’s Seventh is an altogether sunnier affair. Composed in the wake of hearing of Brahms’ Third, it is a joyous work, full of Czech dance rhythms. It should receive a deluxe performance given it is to be played by the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta. They are joined by Dutch star Janine Jansen to perform Brahms’ meaty Violin Concerto.

More weighty fare comes from the Orquesta Sinfónica del Gran Teatre del Liceu under Josep Pons. They play a quartet of Austrian and German works, including Berg’s Violin Concerto (soloist Arabella Steinbacher), Wotan’s Farewell from Die Walküre (Matthias Goerne) and Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration. But they open their concert with a rarity, Franz Schreker’s Prelude to a Drama, a concert work whose music is drawn from his dark opera Die Gezeichneten.

Another orchestral highlight comes from François-Xavier Roth and his French period instrument band Les Siècles, performing an all-Stravinsky programme which includes the blockbusting Rite of Spring.

The Art Nouveau ceiling of the Palau de la Musica © A. Bofill
The Art Nouveau ceiling of the Palau de la Musica
© A. Bofill

Vocal fans have plenty to tempt them to Barcelona next season. Magdalena Kožená teams up with her husband Simon Rattle and instrumentalists for a mixed programme which includes Brahms’ Ophelia Lieder and Ravel’s Chansons madécasses. Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva performs a recital of Italian arias and songs, while Cecilia Bartoli returns to one of her great loves with an all-Vivaldi recital. Bartoli led the revival of interest in Vivaldi’s operatic works, proving he was more than just the composer of The Four Seasons. Joyce DiDonato, Jakub Józef Orliński and Philippe Jaroussky perform Baroque recitals, but Jaroussky also offers a Liederabend of Schubert and Schumann, which marks a departure from his usual repertoire.

The season’s instrumental offerings are led by Jörg Widmann, who plays Schumann and Messiaen in addition to his own works over two recitals. American cellist Alisa Weilerstein tackles all six Bach Cello Suites in a single evening, a mammoth undertaking. Piano fans are well catered for, with recitals from Chinese superstar pianists Yuja Wang and Lang Lang, the latter performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And for an evening of enchanting French repertoire, what could be more captivating than both books of Debussy Préludes played by Alexander Melnikov. Benjamin Grosvenor plays a recital of Rameau… proving that Ludwig’s never too far away from the Palau next season.

Click here for full Palau de la Música Catalana listings.

This article was sponsored by Palau de la Música - Orfeó Català