'Bartók is a composer I conduct more and more, and who has always fascinated me. It is very interesting to see how one of the most popular figures in Central European music created modernism in his time, and this focus on Bartók, which you will see threaded throughout the season, is a major highlight for me,' says Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth.
I am conducting several works of his this coming season with orchestras in Europe – the Gürzenich Orchestra in Frankfurt and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in particular – but I will present him in a different way with the LSO, by conducting the ballets contrasting other works. Firstly, Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin in counterpoint to Elgar’s Cello Concerto (19 December). These are two works written in same year , and for me it’s very interesting to experience how the audience 100 years ago heard such contrasting musical styles – the post-Romanticism of Elgar combined with Bartók’s scary, strange, erotic, disturbing work. The Wooden Prince, this amazingly poetic ‘pantomime’, will be played alongside and his Dance Suite (18 & 19 March), and I will also conduct Stravinsky’s The Firebird (11 June), written around the same time, which shows how composers at the beginning of the 21st century, once again fascinated by this rather abandoned genre.
I get the sense from orchestral players that they really appreciate doing completely different works. I imagine hardly any of them will have played much more of Dukas’ work than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so I’m excited to be bringing Polyeucte and his Symphony in C (22 March). Dukas was famous, but for one piece! For him, his success was a tragedy because after that he wouldn’t dare to compose much in case he could never live up to his success. I love to bring my French “cakes” and I hope the audience and orchestra will discover this amazing composer who was such an important figure in France.
It’s my impression that the audience at the Barbican are intelligent and curious, and don’t only want to hear the things they already know; they like to be surprised. So this is a great time with Sir Simon Rattle in charge at the LSO. He’s so courageous and puts together such adventurous combinations of pieces. This is something that inspired me years ago when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and I wasn’t a conductor yet. I looked at the complexity of his programmes and I was like, ‘Oh my God! Brilliant!’
It’s something I have brought to my own concerts, especially when we present world premieres by composers from the Panufnik Composers Scheme. It’s a scheme I’m so proud of, having been involved from the start , and it really is now something you can say is ‘made in the LSO’. When we open a concert with a new piece by one of our composers it’s always healthy, interesting and joyful for the audience and for the Orchestra because we are proud of these young composers. We cheer them and we try to help them create the most amazing music for a symphony orchestra. I’m very proud to present Sophya Polevaya’s (Panufnik Composer 2017) music this season (19 December), and when Sir Simon opens the season with a work by Emily Howard (14 September), who took part in the Scheme a decade before, you can understand the legacy.
Working with orchestras is like having a second family of musicians, and it’s the same for soloists. You need to understand each other; you need to trust each other and be challenged. I work with orchestras and soloists whom I know we can produce great music together. Alicia Weilerstein (cello, 19 December), Isabelle Faust (violin, 19 March) and Antoine Tamestit (viola, 11 June) – these are all my regular collaborators. I am totally fascinated with what Isabelle does as a musician. The whole process; the instruments she uses; the programme she plays; her contact to the modernity and to the repertoire, is to me exemplary. I have great admiration for her. Alicia, she’s completely crazy! I love her craziness, she’s a personality with so much humour, so much intensity in the playing; she’s one of the best of our time, and the generosity… I love it. Antoine is a gentleman of the viola. He has the most refined sound that you could imagine on this instrument. He is also extremely generous with the new commissions he makes for viola. It’s such a pleasure to work with him and I know the Orchestra loves playing with him very much too.