It’s been the most hotly anticipated arrival in British classical music for years. Sir Simon Rattle, the Liverpudlian Wunderkind who forged his reputation with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before heading off to conquer the Berliner Philharmoniker, returns to the UK, taking up the prestigious post of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra. With it comes an air of expectation that Rattle’s going to shake things up a bit. He can be expected to refresh the LSO’s repertoire, leading from the front in renewing its commitment to new music, but there’s also hope that he will speak out on arts issues. Rattle is a passionate advocate for a new concert hall for London, a project which wobbled recently with the withdrawal of the promise of government investment, although last week the City of London Corporation voted to step in and fund the business feasibility plan. Rattle is also an eloquent champion on education matters. He led the campaign to help keep music on the National Curriculum. Rattle declares “Music is for everybody. Music is a right. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink.”

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO in the Barbican Hall © Mark Allan
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO in the Barbican Hall
© Mark Allan
New music sounds the fanfare to greet Rattle in September. Indeed, Helen Grime has been commissioned to write a fanfare to launch his inaugural concert, kicking off ten days of events under the banner ‘This is Rattle’. That first concert makes a firm statement of intent about British music, with Birtwistle, Adès and Knussen sharing the bill with Elgar. It’s significant that Rattle has chosen Adès’ Asyla for his first concert. It was also on the bill for his final CBSO concert as well as opening the programme of his inaugural outing with the Berlin Phil. Rattle plans to introduce a major new work by a British composer every season. This year, that honour falls to Helen Grime. Each of Grime, Adès, Birtwistle and Knussen also curates a concert in this opening celebration.

Headline concerts in the opening salvo include Berlioz’s epic The Damnation of Faust, with Karen Cargill, Bryan Hymel and Gerald Finley among the cast. The’s LSO Discovery series began in 1990 and continues to provide fascinating insights to enhance the concert experience. Linking to the Berlioz, Faust in Music and Opera in a Day offer further explorations of the Faust legend. Other Rattle highlights later in the season include a trio of late Mahler works (Symphonies 9 and 10, Das Lied von der Erde) and a rare outing for Tippett’s The Rose Lake, the composer’s last major work, premiered by the LSO in 1995.

An innovation for the 2017/18 concert series is the introduction of rush hour concerts. Not everyone wants to spend the whole evening at a concert, so the Half Six Fix aims at something a little different. Lasting up to an hour, with no interval, the 18:30 midweek start time allows visitors flexibility to combine a concert with a meal out – or an early night. Each rush hour concert will be introduced from the platform by the conductor. Rattle, Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth do the honours this season.

Leonard Bernstein © Marion S. Trikosko | Wikicommons
Leonard Bernstein
© Marion S. Trikosko | Wikicommons
Three major series are launched next season. 2018 marks Leonard Bernstein’s centenary and 100 years since the death of Claude Debussy, so the lives and works of both composers are marked. Marin Alsop, a Bernstein protégé, leads Bernstein 100 which includes performances of the three symphonies. Rattle conducts a concert performance of the 1953 musical Wonderful Town, featuring Danielle de Niese. François-Xavier Roth’s Debussy series explores his early influences as well as the composers he himself influenced.

Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda spent much time in St Petersburg earlier in his career, as Valery Gergiev’s assistant, and brings his insights into Russian music to a complete cycle of Shostakovich symphonies, starting with Nos. 8 and 10. This will be Noseda’s first Shostakovich cycle and it will be recorded for LSO Live, the orchestra’s own label. The series will be enhanced by a series of lunchtime concerts under the banner Shostakovich Plus.

A number of familiar faces return to the LSO, including Semyon Bychkov, Janine Jansen, Bernard Haitink, Khatia Buniatishvili, Alice Sara Ott, Antonio Pappano, Nikolaj Znaider and Michael Tilson Thomas, which should help ensure healthy ticket sales. Under 18s can buy tickets to all LSO concerts for just £5. A new initiative – a variation of the ‘Secret Seat’ idea – is a ‘Wildcard’ ticket, purchased for just £10. You will not find out your seat until the day of the concert, but you could end up in a £55 seat in the stalls. Definitely worth a gamble for those on a limited budget or curious to investigate classical music.

Click here to view the full concert season.


Article sponsored by the London Symphony Orchestra.