LSO Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth introduces his 2020/21 season focus on Varèse & Berlioz
‘I find the theme behind this season fascinating, because you get to experience the fragility of composers, yet strangely enough, there was more creativity in this difficult period. Varèse is a completely unique example in 20th-century music and a champion of modern music. He’s one of my heroes.
Varèse found new ways of making a symphony orchestra sound like it had never sounded before, for example in Arcana. I have many friends who came to classical music through this work because it’s so powerful. It’s like the first time you walk through Manhattan. You look up at the towers and think, ‘I didn’t imagine the world could be like that’. You have to experience it in a concert hall with all the sounds coming at you.
At the same time, Varèse was interested in forming new ensembles, and with every piece he created a new form. Ionisation is a masterwork of the 20th century written just for percussion, and the first time a composer showed that these instruments behind the orchestra could have expression like any other instrument.
I like to combine composers, and Varèse and Berlioz work very well together. Berlioz was a radical person, someone who thought that music could change our lives. For the first time in music history, with his Symphonie fantastique we see the composer really explain that his own emotions, stories, doubts and love were the work’s material. It speaks to us immediately because we too have dreams, nightmares, joys and disappointments.’