Du Yun © Southbank Centre
Du Yun
© Southbank Centre
Under Director of Music, Gillian Moore, the focus is firmly on the new in the Southbank Centre’s 2018-19 season, with a number of commissions. January sees the SoundState festival in full swing with the world première of Where we lost our shadows by Chinese composer Du Yun, whose opera Angel’s bone won her a Pulitzer Prize last year. The Aurora Orchestra pairs it with Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in a topical programme exploring migrants, refugees and wayfarers. The music of British composer Rebecca Saunders is performed by Ensemble Modern, while the London Sinfonietta plays Tanz/haus by James Dillon.  

Karlheinz Stockhausen was the great pioneer of 20th-century avant-garde. He conceived music on an enormous scale. With his Licht cycle, he produced an opera for each day of the week. In May, there is the first UK performance of Donnerstag aus Licht since its Royal Opera première in 1985. It mixes theatre and dance with electronic music and mime. Under their conductor Maxime Pascal, French company Le Balcon makes its UK debut with two performances, joining the London Sinfonietta, New London Chamber Choir and the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble in Benjamin Lazar’s new staging. Pierre-Laurent Aimard returns for a second season as Artist in Residence to curate a June weekend devoted to Stockhausen, including the first eleven Klavierstücke, which explores the sonorities of the piano, and Mantra, where Aimard is joined by Tamara Stefanovich.

Karlheinz Stockhausen © Werner Scholz
Karlheinz Stockhausen
© Werner Scholz
The new season also contains the European première of Philip Glass’ Symphony no. 12, a return to the music of David Bowie. The Twelfth is based on music from Bowie’s album Lodger. The London Contemporary Orchestra also programmes Glass’ other Bowie symphonies (1 & 4) which are based on Low and Heroes.

As well as the familiar line-up of resident orchestras – the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta – the Southbank welcomes a number of distinguished guests. The 2018-19 season also sees the start of a five-year partnership with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and its new Kapellmeister, Andris Nelsons, a familiar figure to Birmingham audiences from his exciting tenure as CBSO music director. The Gewandhaus is the world’s oldest civic orchestra and has a very special, burnished sound. Both Nelsons and his new orchestra came in at No.4 in our poll of the world’s top critics in 2015. They bring two Mahler symphonies to the Southbank: the exuberant First and the incredible Fifth, of which Herbert von Karajan said, “A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath.” Nelsons also programmes a London première of a new work by fellow Latvian Andris Dzenitis and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s trumpet concerto, Nobody knows de trouble I see (1955).

Another five-year partnership will see Dame Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as regular Southbank guests. Uchida performs two of Mozart’s piano concertos – famed territory for her – directing from the piano. Other guest orchestras and ensembles include the St Petersburg Philharmonic under its long-serving director Yuri Temirkanov and Hespèrion XXI, led by the ever-inquisitive Jordi Savall who presents an evening exploring British Renaissance and Baroque music entitled Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Alongside its orchestral seasons, the Southbank is home to two major series – the International Piano and International Chamber Music Series. Now that the restored Queen Elizabeth Hall is back in action, it hosts a number of these events, with the larger Royal Festival Hall reserved for piano royalty Maurizio Pollini and Mitsuko Uchida. Pollini’s March programme is as yet unannounced (but don’t be surprised to see Chopin, Debussy or Schumann on the menu) while Uchida plays two all-Schubert recitals in December.

Yuja Wang and Leonidas Kavakos © Decca | Benjamin Ealovega
Yuja Wang and Leonidas Kavakos
© Decca | Benjamin Ealovega
The line-up of pianists is staggeringly good: Llŷr Williams explores variation form via Beethoven and Brahms; Angela Hewitt’s programme contrasts Bach and Scarlatti with Beethoven and Ravel; exciting young Russian Pavel Kolesnikov features Tchaikovsky and Couperin alongside German giants Brahms and Beethoven. Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii has amazed the classical music world since being joint-gold medal winner in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Chopin is very much a “Nobu” speciality – the four Scherzos follow an all-French opening half. If that’s not enough, there are appearances by Cristina Ortiz, Inon Barnatan, Paul Lewis, Beatrice Rana, Nikolai Lugansky, Francesco Piemontesi and the splendid Cédric Tiberghien to whet any pianophile’s appetite.

The International Chamber Music Series includes a very special Muriel Spark Centenary Concert which features a new David Matthews commission where he sets some of Spark’s poetry, performed by Dame Sarah Connolly and the Nash Ensemble. Pavel Kolesnikov returns, this time with Lawrence Power – viola and violin – for an all-Brahms evening, while the familiar pairing of Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang play a varied programme ranging from Mozart to Prokofiev. String quartets feature strongly in the series, with highlights being the Jerusalem and Artemis Quartets, and the Belcea Quartet which is joined by Piotr Anderszewski for Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet.

The Southbank season certainly offers something for all musical tastes.


This preview was sponsored by the Southbank Centre.