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Barbican announces its 2020-21 classical music season

Thomas Ades conducting vigorously

The season runs from September 2020 – July 2021. Tickets go on sale online to Barbican Members Plus from 9 March, Barbican Members on 11 March and to the general public on 16 March. The detailed listings can be found here:

Thousands of discounted tickets at £5, £10 or £15 are available to 14 – 25-year-olds through the Young Barbican scheme. The scheme launched in 2014 and there are now over 70,000 members.

  • Collaborations, major artist focuses and innovative projects
  • Thomas Adès at 50 – a season-long celebration of British composer and conductor Thomas Adès
  • World-class visiting orchestras and some of the most exciting soloists of our time
  • Several performances of operas in concert and in staged versions
  • In-depth explorations, festivals, premieres and rediscovered music

Huw Humphreys, Barbican’s Head of Music says:

'This new season is a wonderful example of the kinds of partnerships and collaborations that the Barbican does best and that make its programme stand out. Together with our resident orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and our associate orchestra and ensembles, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and the Academy of Ancient Music, as well as our International Orchestral Partner, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and our International Associate Ensemble at Milton Court, Australian Chamber Orchestra we have been able to put together series of concerts that explore many different aspects of some of the most electrifying artists of our time. We are privileged to be able to have focuses on Thomas Adès, Joyce DiDonato and Sir Antonio Pappano, and together we are able to commission and perform a wonderful range of new works as well as shine a light on forgotten masterpieces.

'I’m excited to welcome a great selection of visiting orchestras and artists to the Barbican, such as The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as part of its first tour since 2002, The Cleveland Orchestra, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in his first Barbican Hall recital, and music theatre projects and opera by artists including Errollyn Wallen, Netia Jones, Sarah Kirkland Snider and John Adams. We continue to work closely with our neighbouring Guildhall School of Music & Drama on projects such as our Milton Court Artist-in-Residence: the pioneering violinist Pekka Kuusisto. In short: this is going to be a season to remember.'

Collaborations, major artist focuses and innovative projects:

  • The Barbican and its national and international family of orchestras come together for a major series to celebrate the acclaimed British composer and conductor Thomas Adès, who turns 50 in 2021. The Thomas Adès at 50 series includes the world premiere of a new work, a concert performance of the ballet score to Dante, a concert performance of Adès’ opera The Tempest, the Luxury Suite from his Powder Her Face, and his orchestral work Asyla. The concerts are performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo, The Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti, and Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel. Thomas Adès himself will conduct performances with the LSO, the LA Phil and Britten Sinfonia.
  • Joyce DiDonato’s Favourite Things – multiple Grammy Award winner, and the winner of 2018 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato is an artist focus at the Barbican in 2020-21. She performs three of her signature projects across the season: in songs by Duparc (LSO/Pappano), Baroque arias in My Favourite Things with Il Pomo d’Oro and Francesco Corti, and arias from Berlioz’ Les Troyens in a concert with The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
  • Sir Simon Rattle and Barbican Resident Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra launch Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano, a two-year exploration of music written in the first half of the 20th century, a time of political turbulence, hectic innovation and increasing danger in Europe. ‘Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano’ is a phrase Alban Berg and others used to describe the febrile atmosphere in Germany in the 1930s. The season includes music by Berg, Hindemith, Orff, Stravinsky, Bartók, Varèse, Webern, Weill and others.
  • Pappano and Friends – conductor and pianist Sir Antonio Pappano brings together some of his closest artistic collaborators and important influences this season at the Barbican. In a series inspired by the human voice, he conducts the LSO and Joyce DiDonato in a programme of Duparc, Szymanowski, Martinů and Liszt, and the Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle. Pappano also appears as a pianist in recitals with tenor Jonas Kaufmann and with mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili.
  • In its 90th season, Barbican Associate Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates the 90th anniversary of its first broadcast concert on 22 October 2020, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Dalia Stasevska. The season looks back at a number of major works the orchestra has introduced to the UK including work by Bartók, Copland, Janáček, Schoenberg, and Saariaho, alongside the music of today with a range of UK and world premieres from Helen Grime, Betsy Jolas, Michael Jarrell, Dai Fujikura and Bernard Rands.
  • Errollyn Wallen: Dido’s Ghost (world premiere) – in her new opera Dido’s Ghost, co-commissioned by the Barbican and Dunedin Consort, composer Errollyn Wallen frames Purcell’s original opera within a haunting story from Ovid. Aeneas, now living with his new wife Lavinia in the kingdom he was destined to found, welcomes Dido’s sister Anna as a shipwrecked refugee. But tragic events repeat themselves when Dido’s ghost warns her sister of his jealous wife’s murderous intentions. This world premiere performance with Dunedin Consort is staged by Frederic Wake-Walker. (5 June)
  • Pekka Kuusisto: Milton Court Artist-in-Residence – the Finnish violinist performs several concerts across the season at Milton Court Concert Hall as part of the Barbican Presents 20-21 season. The programmes include a collaboration with Nico Muhly on the piano (featuring music by Glass, Pärt, Bach and Muhly); a date with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in music by Missy Mazzoli and Andrea Tarrodi; and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with close artistic collaborators. The Milton Court Artist-in-Residence is a joint project with Guildhall School, and offers the opportunity for Guildhall musicians to work side by side with leading international musicians.
  • This season’s LSO Artist Portrait highlights violinist Christian Tetzlaff who takes on three violin concertos from the 20th century: Elgar’s Violin Concerto conducted by Robin Ticciati; Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1 with Sir Antonio Pappano; and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1 in a programme conducted by Susanna Mälkki. Tetzlaff also curates a series of concerts at LSO St Luke’s featuring his guests Lars Vogt, Tanja Tetzlaff, Tetzlaff Quartett and Jörg Widmann. (Oct, Nov)
  • An Anatomy of Melancholy is a portrait of a man engaged in a forensic examination of his own sadness. Drawing on the work of Robert Burton (Anatomy of Melancholy, 1628), Sigmund Freud (Mourning and Melancholia), as well as Darian Leader (The New Black) and other contemporary psychoanalysts, the project takes inspiration from the notion of art as a consolatory and cathartic tonic. Countertenor Iestyn Davies, lutenist Thomas Dunford and director Netia Jones present the world premiere of this immersive and intimate music theatre piece, featuring songs of melancholy by John Dowland and video design by Netia Jones. The performance examines humanity’s relationship with sadness, depression, and melancholy – both the emotional and the scientific. An Anatomy of Melancholy is supported by Wellcome, Classical Futures Europe and the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. Part of the Barbican’s Inside Out season. (9-12 Sep)
  • Inspired by Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Sarah Kirkland Snider’s song cycle Penelope is a meditation on memory, identity and what it means to come home. Suspended somewhere between art song, indie rock and chamber folk, the music moves from moments of elegiac strings and harp reflection to dusky post-rock textures with drums, guitars and electronics. Barbican Associate Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia is joined by the extraordinary vocalist Nora Fischer, renowned for her adventurous approach to live performance. (29 Apr)
  • The Future is Female – pianist Sarah Cahill and co-curator Helen Wallace present a marathon day of music and talks, shining a light on female composers from the past 400 years to the present day. A pianist who has commissioned and premiered over sixty compositions for solo piano, Cahill was named a 2018 Champion of New Music, awarded by the American Composers Forum (ACF). (6 Mar)
  • Barbican Associate Ensemble, Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) performs John Christopher Smith’s oratorio setting of Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, with the AAM’s brand new edition of the score. First performed in 1760, Paradise Lost was Smith’s greatest success and helped elevate him to the position of artistic director of the Covent Garden Royal Theatre. This revival performance directed by Richard Egarr, promises to shed greater light on the neglected masterpiece. (28 Mar)
  • The BBC SO invites YouTube stars Melodica Men for their UK debut and a night of musical hilarity. (9 Oct)

World-class visiting orchestras

  • Barbican International Orchestral Partner, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, return for their regular Barbican residency in May 2021. Highlights include two European premieres: Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s new piano concerto, performed by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson; as well as American composer Gabriella Smith’s Tumblebird Contrails. The orchestra also performs Thomas Adès’ Dante ballet music, inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, and brings its acclaimed contemporary-classical Green Umbrella series to London for a free late-night concert, in which Adès conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. (May)
  • Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti are the Barbican’s International Associate Ensemble at Milton Court and return for their regular residency in October 2020. The programmes include a concert of sacred music by Bach and Pärt, featuring the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; and an Indies & Idols concert which includes music by Lutosławski, Bryce Dessner, Jonny Greenwood, Penderecki and Szymanowski. The concert will be performed side-by-side with Guildhall School musicians. The ACO also participates in the Thomas Adès at 50 series with the world premiere of a new work, complemented by Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata and Janáček’s String Quartet No 1 “Kreutzer Sonata”, arranged by Richard Tognetti. (19-21 Oct)
  • The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from New York begins its first tour since 2002 with a concert at the Barbican, performing an all-Berlioz programme conducted by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and featuring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. (29 Jun)
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla perform a concert of Ravel and Stravinsky, plus Sibelius’ Violin Concerto featuring Nicola Benedetti as soloist. (21 Sep
  • The Cleveland Orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Möst make a rare UK visit and participate in the Thomas Adès at 50 series with his Angel Symphony. They also perform Scriabin’s Symphony No 2 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9 with soloist Igor Levit. (12 Oct)
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Zubin Mehta in a programme of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements and Dvořák’s Symphony No 7. (25 Jan)
  • Czech Philharmonic and music director Semyon Bychkov perform the haunting Mystery of Time by 20th century Czech composer Miloslav Kabeláč, and Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos featuring Katia and Marielle Labèque. On the programme is also Dvořák’s 9th symphony, the same work that Dvořák himself conducted as part of the orchestra’s first concert in January 1896 – 125 years ago. (13 Feb)
  • Laurence Equilbey brings her Insula orchestra and accentus choir to the Barbican for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. (13 Oct)
  • Le Concert Spirituel and Hervé Niquet return to the Barbican for a performance of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. (15 Jun)

Exceptional soloists:

  • Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason makes his Barbican Hall recital debut, performing Beethoven, Britten and Bridge together with his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. (25 Mar)
  • In a veritable supertrio, pianist Yuja Wang, cellist Gautier Capuçon and clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer perform clarinet trios by Brahms and Zemlinsky. (12 May)
  • Pianist Krystian Zimerman performs all Beethoven piano concertos with the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle, culminating on an extended evening concert on 17 December, Beethoven’s christening day. Pianist Alice Sara Ott performs Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No 2 with the LSO (13 Jun) and Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, and Peter Donohoe joins the LSO for Tippett’s Piano Concerto in the season opening concert conducted by Sir Simon Rattle (13 Sep).
  • Further pianists in the season include Khatia Buniatishvili in recital (10 Feb), Isata Kanneh-Mason in recital at Milton Court (3 Nov), Jean-Yves Thibaudet performing Debussy’s complete preludes (23 Nov), Behzod Abduraimov in recital (22 Mar), and Piotr Anderszewski performing a selection from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 (7 Apr).
  • Violinist Maxim Vengerov returns for a recital with music by Mozart, Medelssohn, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky (26 Apr), and violinist Janine Jansen joins the LSO for Britten’s Violin Concerto (25 & 28 Feb).
  • Three LSO co-commissioned violin concertos will have their world premieres this season: Unsuk Chin’s second violin concerto performed by Leonidas Kavakos (7 Jan), a new violin concerto for Patricia Kopatchinskaja by Francisco Coll (11 Mar), and a violin concerto by Mark Simpson to be played by Nicola Benedetti (11 Apr).
  • Violinist Rachel Podger joins the AAM for a programme that pays homage to composers who liberated and transformed the violin’s stature, including Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi (3 Mar).
  • Tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss perform Schumann’s Liederkreis (8 Dec), and countertenor Iestyn Davies journeys through works by Vivaldi, Handel and Purcell with the AAM (20 Nov).
  • Soprano Barbara Hannigan joins the LSO and Rattle for a performance of Dutilleux’s Correspondances (21 Mar), and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann presents an evening of song dedicated to The Power of Love, featuring music by Schubert, Fauré, Chausson and Debussy (11 May).

Several operatic performances with stellar casts:

  • The BBC SO welcomes back John Adams to conduct the UK Premiere of his opera Girls of the Golden West. The concert staging boasts a star-studded cast led by Julia Bullock, Davóne Tines and Paul Appelby. (17 Jan)
  • Sir Simon Rattle conducts two concert performances of Berg’s opera Wozzeck featuring Christian Gerhaher in the title role and Anja Kampe as Marie (15 & 17 Sep).  In other programmes, Rattle conducts the LSO in Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin, Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde (23 Sep), as well as two concert performances of the second Act of Tristan and Isolde with Stuart Skelton as Tristan and Nina Stemme as Isolde (29 Nov & 1 Dec).
  • The English Concert and music director Harry Bicket perform Tamerlano, the darkest of Handel’s operas and a tale of defeat, love, and betrayal, set against the backdrop of conflict between the Tartars and the Ottoman Empire. The stellar cast includes Bejun Mehta, Michael Spyres, Avery Amereau, Jakub Józef Orliński and Sophie Bevan. (12 Apr)
  • The Thomas Adès at 50 series culminates in his second opera The Tempest, inspired by Shakespeare’s play of the same name. The composer himself conducts Britten Sinfonia in this concert performance. (28 Jun) 

In-depth explorations:

  • The BBC SO presents two Total Immersion days in the 2020-21 season: Totally Tanglewood is based on the iconic festival (12 Dec 2020). Sibelius the Storyteller (13 Mar 2021) is a day of discovery of the stories that inspired Sibelius to write some of his tone poems, songs and orchestral work; from the Kalevala and beyond. Both days include concerts with Guildhall School musicians.
  • Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, pianist Angela Hewitt and fortepiano specialist Aline Zylberajch explore the music by Domenico Scarlatti, looking at his Spanish-influenced compositions from three contrasting perspectives and on three different instruments. (31 Jan)
  • The BBC SO continues its survey into Mahler’s symphonies with chief conductor Sakari Oramo opening the season with Symphony No 6 (3 Oct); Semyon Bychkov conducting Symphony No 9 (26 Feb); and Sir Andrew Davis presenting his final Symphony No 10 (18 Nov).
  • Throughout the season, the BBC SO explores Stravinsky’s neoclassical world with his filmic Symphony in Three Movements, and two works the orchestra premiered in the Symphony in C and Perséphone.
  • Britten Sinfonia’s Brahms Symphony Cycle in partnership with Sir Mark Elder continues with Symphony No 3. By using a smaller, more specialist string ensemble group they allow the woodwind and brass textures to emerge from Brahms’s rich sound-world. (7 Nov)
  • Tenor Ian Bostridge and violinist Jacqueline Shave join forces with Britten Sinfonia for a musical journey across Europe, exploring folk-inspired chamber music from Scotland, Ireland, Romania and Denmark. The concert features folk songs arranged by Benjamin Britten, and also the world premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s Three Scottish Songs. (18 Feb)
  • In Eight Seasons, Britten Sinfonia juxtaposes the ferocious energy of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Piazzolla’s tango-inspired The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and, in between, performs John Cage’s enigmatic String Quartet, also divided into Seasons. Thomas Gould directs from the violin, taking the soloist’s role in both Vivaldi and Piazzolla. (3 Dec)
  • The AAM embarks on an exploration of musical lineage with music of the Elder and Younger Mozart, performed by one of the world’s leading Mozart specialists, Robert Levin. A frequent collaborator with AAM and featured artist with Christopher Hogwood on the celebrated early-instrument accounts of Mozart’s piano concertos, here Levin joins the Academy of Ancient Music to both perform and direct from the keyboard. (29 Oct)
  • Sound Unbound, the Barbican’s free weekend-long, boundary-blurring festival that presents different musical styles from across the ages, takes place 17-18 April 2021.
  • Darbar Festival (26 Sep-4 Oct), the UK’s leading festival of Indian Classical Music returns to the Barbican in September 2020. In addition to the concert offering, there will be an Indian Music Appreciation Course and yoga classes accompanied by live music.

Further premieres and rediscovered music:

  • The LSO opens its season on 13 September with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s tribute to Oliver Knussen, Last Song for Olly. Further premieres in the season include two works commissioned through the Panufnik Composers Scheme by Joel Järventausta (27 May) and George Stevenson (8 Nov).
  • The AAM and Music Director Richard Egarr continue their From Her Pen project, revealing the work of female composers of the baroque and classical eras
  • In a season built on works the BBC SO brought to UK audiences for the first time (Bartók, Prokofiev, Schoenberg), the orchestra also gives the world premiere of Lior Rosner’s Metamorphosis – Rosner is best known for creating the theme for The Ellen DeGeneres Show – and 10 UK premieres by composers including Helen Grime, Dai Fujikura and Betsy Jolas. The UK premiere of Shadow Walker marks Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 60th birthday this year.
  • The ECHO (European Concert Hall Organisation) Rising Stars series returns to the Barbican’s programme this spring, presenting emerging young talent tipped for stardom by the directors of Europe’s premier concert halls. Each performance will feature a new short work commissioned by ECHO from a range of international composers.