Spring concerts preview

First published in The Herald on 24 January, 2018

New year, new batch of orchestral behemoths. At its Glasgow HQ on Killermont Street, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is limbering up to play some of the biggest symphonies in the repertoire, from the blazing fanfares of Sibelius’s Fifth this week (Carlisle, January 26; Aberdeen, January 28) to the epic life force that is Bruckner’s Eighth (Perth, February 22; Edinburgh, February 23; Glasgow, February 24) to Mahler’s obliterating Ninth (Edinburgh, June 1; Glasgow, June 2).

Fans of Leonard Bernstein should look forward to a collaboration between the RSNO, its chorus and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland marking 100 years since the birth of the iconic American composer/conductor (Glasgow, April 27 – May 5). Concerts include his Chichester Psalms, his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and his controversial pop-classical fusion 1971 Mass, written in opposition to the Vietnam war and to mourn the deaths of JF Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Richard Nixon famously refused to attend the first performance; if only classical premieres still held such political charge.

Across town at City Halls, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra goes lateral this year with its excellent Composer Roots series. It’s the pet project of the orchestra’s chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard, who loves folk music (enough that he intends to learn the bagpipes during his Scottish tenure) and loves investigating links between classical composers and the traditional cultures of their home countries. So we get a mini Bartok festival complete with Hungarian folk music (Glasgow, Feb 22, 25 & March 1); we get Carl Nielsen, who grew up playing fiddle in the local dance band before becoming Denmark’s most revered composer, in the context of traditional folk tunes played by the terrific Danish String Quartet (Glasgow, March 25); we get Rachmaninov via the orthodox chants that inspired, or plain provided, some of his most epic melodies (Glasgow, May 13). And we get Sibelius, a complex nationalist icon, in the company of the Lund University Male Voice Choir and the popular songs that shaped Sibelius’s own sense of identity (Glasgow, May 17).

Other choice BBCSSO programmes? Martyn Brabbins conducting Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Tippett’s early Symphony in B-flat, which was withdrawn by the composer and never played by a professional orchestra until now (Glasgow, February 1), and Steven Osborne playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique to round off the night (Glasgow, April 12; Gateshead, April 13 – Osborne plays Ravel’s G Major Concerto instead of Beethoven in Gateshead).

A couple of keyboard greats stand out in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra spring season. 72-year-old Elisabeth Leonskaja, residing doyenne of the Russian old school, plays Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on four consecutive nights (St Andrews, January 31; Edinburgh, February 1; Glasgow, February 2; Aberdeen, February 3) while Piotr Anderswezki, elusive Polish-Hungarian pianist of singular and fascinating logic, plays a pair of Mozart concertos (Edinburgh, May 3; Glasgow, May 4).

At 81, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara wrote his luminous concerto Incantations for Scottish percussion whiz Colin Currie, who joins the SCO for the work’s Scottish premiere (Dumfries, February 28;  Edinburgh, March 1; Glasgow, March 2; Inverness, March 3). The orchestra’s superb principal cellist Philip Higham plays fleet-footed music by CPE Bach (St Andrews, April 18; Edinburgh, April 19; Glasgow, April 20). And Robin Ticciati reaches the end of eight superlative seasons as SCO principal conductor with final concerts that include Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with Maximiliano Martin as soloist and, aptly, Dvorak’s nostalgia-steeped New World Symphony (Edinburgh, March 22; Glasgow, March 23). The orchestra’s next principal conductor has yet to be appointed.

There’s plenty worth seeing at Scottish Opera this spring. If you missed Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek at the Edinburgh International Festival, make sure to catch its brief Glasgow revival next weekend. This Oedipal tale of disenfranchised yoof and thwarted social mobility is still raw, unfortunately still relevant. The production by Joe Hill-Gibbins is fun and unflinching, and Alex Otterburn is brilliant in the lead role (Glasgow, February 2-3).

Remember the case of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian refugee who lived for nearly 20 years in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport without being allowed to leave the building? His story inspired Jonathan Dove to write a sweet-poignant comic opera, Flight, whose Scottish premiere happens next month via an excellent production from Opera Holland Park (Glasgow, February 17 – February 24; Edinburgh, March 1-3).

And a couple of repertoire bulwarks: Richard Strauss’s beautiful farce Ariadne auf Naxos, whose central character isn’t actually a marooned Greek heroine but a prima donna performing for the richest man in Vienna (Glasgow, March 22 – March 28; Edinburgh, April 5- 7) and Tchaikovsky’s Pushkin tragedy Eugene Onegin (Glasgow, April 27 – May 5; Aberdeen, May 10 – May 12; Inverness, May 15 – May 19; Edinburgh, May 23 – May 31).

The Scottish Ensemble take their courageous Goldberg Variations dance collaboration to Washington’s Kennedy Centre in April; meanwhile closer to home, their latest mini tour sees mezzo-soprano Christine Rice joining the ensemble for a beguiling programme that frames music by Haydn, Purcell and Berlioz with Stravinsky’s limpid ballet Apollon musagete (Edinburgh, February 20; Glasgow, February 21; London, February 23).

Professor John Butt’s latest exploits include becoming guest director of Poland’s prestigious early music festival Misteria Paschalia for a year. At the press conference in November, he delivered a punchy speech covering everything from everything from Brexit to the internationalism of baroque music; suffice it to say, the latter made neat mockery of the former. Butt takes his Dunedin Consort to Krakow for several concerts during Misteria Paschalia; back at home, don’t miss their annual eastertide Bach Passion – this year the mighty Matthew Passion (Edinburgh, March 23; London, March 25). Also keep diaries free for a programme of spry Vivaldi violin concertos featuring Dunedin leader Cecilia Bernardini (Glasgow, April 4; Findhorn, April 5; Edinburgh, April 6).

And for the best in experimental, underground and DIY music, head to Counterflows (Glasgow, April 5-8) or to the BBCSSO’s groundbreaking, genre-defying weekend Tectonics (Glasgow, May 5-6). For the next generation of new music makers, test the current at PLUG — a festival dedicated to original compositions by the students of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Glasgow, beginning of May).