The most prominent theme running through the 20-odd concerts in the BBC Philharmonic’s 2018/19 Bridgewater Hall season is that of the English concerto. Before the season ends with a new clarinet concerto written and performed by Mark Simpson, the orchestra’s preternaturally gifted Composer in Association, the BBC Philharmonic are performing all five concertos for string instruments by Elgar and Walton, Tippett’s thrilling work for solo piano and orchestra, and the world premiere of the first trumpet concerto by Robin Holloway. This unpredictable mix of well-regarded classics and enticing new music is, in many ways, a microcosm of the season as a whole.
Two concerts in November mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, which brought the First World War to a close. January sees a one-off concert under the Symphonic Cinema banner, when works by Ravel and Stravinsky will be performed alongside dramatic films edited live to match the music. There’s a concert performance of Béatrice et Bénédict, Berlioz’s Shakespeare-inspired opera. And there are plenty of guests: conductors such as Vassily Sinaisky and John Wilson, soloists including Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Paul Lewis, singers like Roderick Williams and Daniela Mack.
But for all that, the orchestra’s season is perhaps best approached for the broad and brilliant eclecticism of its programme, which juxtaposes familiar favourites (Holst’s Planets, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) and underplayed repertoire (Martinů’s Fourth Symphony, Bax’s beautiful November Woods) with new music from living composers such as Kaija Saariaho, Valentin Silvestrov and Sir James MacMillan.
Here are our picks
The BBC Philharmonic celebrates Robin Holloway’s 75th birthday with a brand new work by the treasured English composer, given its world premiere by guest soloist Håkan Hardenberger. Also tonight, a rare performance of Valentin Silvestrov’s transcendent Fifth Symphony, one of the best-kept secrets in contemporary music.
Bohuslav Martinů and Igor Stravinsky both fled Europe during the Second World War – and tonight’s concert is centred on two works they composed in the USA: Stravinsky’s expressive ballet and Martinů’s inspiring Fourth Symphony. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was also part-written in America, but it sings of the composer’s Bohemian homeland.
The final symphony completed by Franz Schubert before the composer’s death at just 31, the epic Ninth is ‘Great’ in both nickname and nature. Before it, Clemens Schuldt directs the brilliant Alina Pogostkina in Prokofiev’s riveting First violin concerto. Also this evening – a homage to French Baroque music from Thomas Adès.
BBC Philharmonic favourite John Wilson returns to The Bridgewater Hall to celebrate our green and pleasant land with this all-English programme, taking in Vaughan Williams’s impassioned Fourth Symphony, Bax’s reflections on autumn and Walton’s iconic Violin Concerto – performed by acclaimed Canadian soloist James Ehnes.
Steven Osborne made the definitive recording of Tippett’s masterpiece several years ago – and tonight, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, he joins the BBC Philharmonic to perform it live. Also on the programme, two symphonies by 20th-century pioneers: Sibelius’s brilliant Sixth, and a vital work written by Stravinsky ‘to the glory of God’.
Either side of Sophie Bevan’s performance, conducted by English National Opera’s Music Director Martyn Brabbins, two epic fourth symphonies by great Britons, each a single movement: James MacMillan’s kaleidoscopic masterpiece, premiered at the 2015 BBC Proms to huge acclaim, and Michael Tippett’s punch-packing odyssey from birth through life to our inevitable end.
Edward Elgar was a violinist as well as a composer – and his soaring Violin Concerto opens this evening’s concert. Following Christian Tetzlaff’s performance of this towering work, John Storgårds conducts the BBC Philharmonic in Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony, a wonderful homage to his native Russia.
Dmitry Shostakovich lived much of his enigmatic life in the shadow of Stalinist Russia – and turbulence in his homeland led him to keep his magnificent, Mahlerian Fourth Symphony under wraps until Stalin’s death. Before it, conductor Mark Wigglesworth is joined by British baritone Roderick Williams for some of Mahler’s most romantic songs.
A previous winner of both the BBC Young Musician and BBC Young Composer of the Year awards, Mark Simpson is both the soloist and composer of tonight’s world premiere – his Clarinet Concerto. Either side, leading British soprano Elizabeth Watts joins the BBC Philharmonic for three Mozart arias and Mahler’s majestic Fourth Symphony.