Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A little déjà vu as the London Symphony Orchestra announce their 2011/12 season

At risk of sounding like a broken record, given I said this when the London Symphony Orchestra unveiled their current season, and indeed the preceding one, January is a little early for a season launch, leading to bookings almost 18 months ahead. I much prefer the March and April timeframe adopted by the three main Scottish orchestras. And this time round it didn't even seem like the LSO themselves were quite ready to launch: the website went live on Monday yet it took another two days before a PDF download of the season appeared. For an organisation normally such a slick exemplar of how an orchestra should do digital engagement, this looked sloppy. If you haven't finished the brochure you shouldn't be launching. In fairness to the LSO, they aren't alone - often organisations seem to announce with PDFs following later in the day, or days. It's baffling: how hard can it be? Still, it's the content that matters at the end of the day.

The first thing that jumped out at me was this programme of Beethoven's 1st and 9th symphonies from John Eliot Gardiner. It jumped out because I was at that exact concert last February - even the soloists were identical. Indeed, when I saw an advance copy back in January I wondered if this was a mistake. Now, I suppose one should expect Beethoven 9 to come up fairly often, but what about a different pairing, or something different?

There is a strong feeling of déjà vu elsewhere. In part this is down to many details already being known rather than repetition: the remainder of Colin Davis's series pairing Beethoven concerti (with Misuko Uchida) and Nielsen symphonies was announced with the 2010/11 season. Judging by reports from the earlier concerts, these will be worth hearing, even if the first CD to be produced doesn't seem to have captured this magic, and it is nice to see Nielsen in the concert hall and not just 4 and 5. Given I was complaining only the other day about the lack of Haydn in the concert hall, it's an added bonus that each of the three programmes contains one of his London symphonies. Similarly, it is already been revealed that Gergiev is mounting a complete cycle of Tchaikovsky's symphonies for LSO Live, so it is no surprise to find the final three.

Indeed, Gergiev seems to be firmly sticking to what he does best - Russian repertoire - with his concert programmes built around Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. In one sense this is very good, in another, though, it makes me wish the LSO had a music director who excelled in a slightly wider range of material and stretched them further.

The concert I'm most looking forward to comes on April fools day with Semyon Bychkov directing the orchestra, Christianne Stotijn and the ladies of the Chorus in Mahler's 3rd symphony. Bychkov has yet to fail to impress me, whether in the concert hall, the opera house, on radio or on disc.

Other interesting items include Marin Alsop with a concert performance of Honegger's Joan of Arc at the Stake, a celebration of Steve Reich's 75th birthday. The orchestra's Principal Guest Conductor Daniel Harding makes just one appearance, pushing the title further towards misnomer, yet he is bringing Bruckner's 6th symphony, not one of the most popular but certainly one of my favourites. (In fairness, Harding may be touring with the LSO next season.)

As always, there's the what is LSO Live recording game to be played (they generally only record concerts given two performances so they can edit). Aside from the Tchaikovsky and Nielsen mentioned, this suggests we'll be seeing a Britten War Requiem, including Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside, and Weber's Der Freischütz (with a cast including Christine Brewer), both under the baton of Colin Davis, in CD shops in the future. Both should be well worth attending.

Interestingly, given he's been a mainstay of the label, it doesn't look like Bernard Haitink will be committing anything to disc. But he's not wholly absent, presenting two fine looking programmes in June 2012, both featuring a Mozart concerto with Maria João Pires and, more interestingly, some Purcell (in the second case an arrangement of the Funeral Music for Queen Mary by Steven Stucky). The concerts are rounded out in turn by Schubert's great C major and Bruckner's 7th. I suspect they will be hot tickets.

It's good year for fans of Michael Tilson Thomas (amongst whose number we do not count ourselves), who conducts no fewer than six programmes, including Mahler's 1st, 4th and 5th symphonies. And if you're getting pangs of déjà vu again, that's because both 1 and 5 have appeared this season (ditto the Symphonie Fantastique he's doing next January).

Lastly, Robin Ticciati, best known up here for his role as Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (and tipped in some circles for Glyndebourne after Jurowski leaves), returns to the LSO with a programme including Mahler's Kindertotenlieder and Brahms' 2nd symphony. Interestingly, this is not a million miles from the programme with which he debuted in the SCO job. My only reservation is the choice of Christopher Maltman as the soloist - I have no quibble with his artistry, but I much prefer the songs from a mezzo.

There are, then, some potentially very fine programmes. Yet, I can't shake the feeling of being slightly underwhelmed by it all. And, with so much great music out there, we surely don't need to see so many repeat appearances.

Booking opens online from Monday and by phone and in person from 26 February.

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