By Ben Hogwood
From MusicOMH.com - September 3, 2006
Jiri Belohlavek's first full season as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra shows promise in a series of concerts that reaffirms the ensemble’s commitment to contemporary music, whilst exploring some familiar masterworks.In the course of seven concerts Belohlavek will also conduct music by compatriots Janácek, Dvorák and Eben. A busy Prom season has seen the orchestra allocated a guest leader for each of their appearances, but Stephen Bryant will return for the opening concert at the Barbican on September 29.
This includes all the principal elements of the season, with Beethoven's Eroica symphony and Dvorak's charming American Suite framing countertenor David Daniels in the world premiere of Hojoki, An Account Of My Hut by Jonathan Dove. The curiously-titled song cycle sets texts from the 12th century Japanese poet Kamo-no-Chomei.
A second world premiere takes place at the opposite end of the season, with John Tavener's large-scale choral work The Beautiful Names referring to the ninety-nine names given to God in Islamic tradition. The venue of Westminster Cathedral on June 19 is bound to accord the work a suitable scale, with tenor soloist John Mark Ainsley and the BBC Symphony Chorus sharing vocal duties.
Belohlavek will be conducting a special evening to celebrate the Barbican Centre's quarter-century as he presides over a welcome performance of the Janacek opera The Excursions of Mr Broucek on February 25. For a long period this was considered to be a work best performed on Czech soil, but Belohlavek's advocacy is most appreciated. An all-Czech cast and the BBC singers take on Svatopluk Cech's fable, in which Broucek, the celebrated pub landlord, is spirited away to the moon. To delve beneath the satirical plot and the music used to portray it, the Barbican has a study afternoon beforehand.
For his other appearances Belohlavek will continue his Mahler cycle with the Third Symphony on April 4, with Jane Irwin the mezzo-soprano soloist in what is likely to be an endearing evocation of Mahler's most obviously 'outdoor' symphony. Meanwhile October 14 presents a populist programme of Janacek, Mozart and Stravinsky, with Nikolai Lugansky the soloist in Mozart’s popular Piano Concerto No. 21, and March 17 offers an extravaganza of music from opera and operetta in the company of Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson. Nine days later Belohlavek will conduct an interesting concert of Brahms, Dvorak and the little known Petr Eben, whose Vox Clamantis of 1969 is a rare orchestral foray for this composer known primarily for his vivid organ music.
For their annual composer weekend from January 12-14 the BBC has chosen to profile Sofia Gubaidulina, the latest choice of near-contemporary musicians that has in recent years included Carter and Cage. Gubaidulina's spiritually informed music is a compelling listen, and with possibilities of repertoire from solo cello works right though to the mighty St John Passion, the BBC has plenty to choose from for the as yet unannounced schedule. The potential for overload is clear so soon after another major Russian anniversary in Dmitri Shostakovich, but it will at the least be a fascinating opportunity to examine his influence on Gubaidulina, who, like Shostakovich, did not endear herself to the Russian musical establishment.
The orchestra will be lending weight to the Barbican's celebration of the music of Steve Reich on the weekend of October 7-8, with his Tehillim contrasted with a newer success, the variations entitled You Are. The inclusion of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta offers the chance to measure the influence of his string writing on Reich, seventy years old this year.
Although headed by Belohlavek the BBC SO will as always offer plenty of opportunities to guests, former heads and conductors coming through the ranks. Valery Gergiev is listed as a guest conductor, raising the possibility of his involvement in the Gubaidulina weekend. Composers Thomas Adés and Matthias Pintscher will conduct their own music. The former couples Stravinsky's masterly Symphony of Psalms with the startling vision of his America: A Prophecy on Friday 13 April, while the latter will conduct the UK premiere of his cello concerto Reflections on Narcissus. The work's dedicatee, Truls Mørk, will star as part of a richly orchestrated program on Tuesday 14 November that includes Messiaen, Ravel and Stravinsky.
Sir Andrew Davis will appear for the orchestra's Christmas special on December 16, so after a frantic day of shopping you can enjoy French music ranging over three centuries. The first half is two settings of the Gloria, beginning with the present day in Philippe Fénelon's version, the UK premiere of a piece inspired by the death of a close friend. Poulenc's uplifting setting of the same text will follow, featuring soprano Christine Brewer, while after the interval the glorious theme continues in the shape of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
Two attractive concerts that might otherwise slip by unnoticed are those under Manfred Honeck and the excellent Vassily Sinaisky. Sinaisky's concert on May 4 promises much, with Sarah Chang the soloist in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, imaginatively teamed with a Kancheli UK premiere and Scriabin's rarely-heard second symphony. Honeck also includes two big Russian scores on December 8, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony prefaced by Prokofiev's big boned Second Piano Concerto. Completing his generous offering is the UK premiere of Hans Werner Henze's Scorribanda Sinfonica, the BBC's belated nod to his eightieth birthday celebrations.
The premieres don't stop there either, with an as-yet unnamed choral work by Michael Nyman getting its world premiere on March 8, rather unexpectedly in the company of works by Butterworth, Schoenberg and Sibelius! Another BBC commission, the >Diptych of Simon Bainbridge, will be brought to life on February 9 by the orchestra in the company of Bartók and more Scriabin, this time the Poem of Ecstasy.
For those able to get to the Barbican in the early evening it's well worth catching the 'Singers at Six', a short concert at the adjoining St Giles Cripplegate church that sets the scene for the main event. The concert before Bainbridge's premiere promises the "ecstatic and the rapturous".
Finally Rossini, and his expression of grief at the loss of his mother. The Stabat Mater on November 30, conducted by David Robertson, should be a thrilling experience, presented in the company of a large-scale orchestral work by Ivan Fedele. Once again a UK premiere, Scena affirms the orchestra's ongoing commitment to new music, part of a season that promises an extremely stimulating set of concerts, whatever your musical preferences!