Toby Deller takes a look ahead at a year of significant date.
The coincidence of Wagner’s and Verdi’s anniversaries should make their 200th birthdays the big story. But since both wrote more or less only operas, there is much less scope for special celebration beyond mounting more productions.
To make your commemoration more eye-catching you could provoke outrage in the manner of La Scala, which chose to open its dual commemoration with Lohengrin rather than anything by Verdi, sparking a furore among Italian commentators.
In the UK, however, the main companies are going for one or the other, Longborough Festival Opera pairing its Ring cycle, for instance, with Puccini (www.lfo.org.uk). NI Opera and Scottish Opera have both opted for Dutchman and Welsh National Opera for Lohengrin. (It would be timely to mention that WNO also gives the first UK staged performance of Wagner’s Dream, the late Jonathan Harvey’s take on some Wagner fragments.)
The Royal Opera House prefers Verdi, with Nabucco in early spring, Don Carlos in May and Simon Boccanegra in the summer. English National Opera meanwhile, restricts itself to La traviata and Glyndebourne takes on Falstaff. Opera North takes its production of Otello to Salford, Nottingham, Newcastle, Belfast as well as Leeds, while English Touring Opera crosses the country from Truro to Perth with Simon Boccanegra.
As the year progresses, doubtless more productions and events will emerge. One such is Wagner 200 (www.wagner200.co.uk). It does not open until 22 May – a gala concert with the Philharmonia – but the organisers promise a London-based festival in association with numerous venues and producers including the Royal Opera House, ENO, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall, Kings Place, British Library, BBC orchestras, the Wagner Society, Opus Arte and the London Jewish Cultural Centre.
For musicians and the music industry in the UK, the big story is the centenary of Britain’s best composer since, well, since Tippett (b 1905). Over the centenary year – running from November 2012 to December (the month of his death) 2013 – there are hundreds of individual concerts and mini-events. A good place to check is the website www.britten100.org, run by the Britten-Pears Foundation. It includes a basic intro to the composer, alongside tributes to him about him, but most importantly a directory of Britten events around the world.
Clearly, Aldeburgh is the focus of these, and there is a full guide to events in the town, and at Snape Maltings and in East Anglia, on the special website set up for the occasion: brittenaldeburgh.co.uk (which also includes visitor information).
An obvious eye-catching pick is the production of Peter Grimes on the beach in June (there’s also a theatrical production by Punchdrunk entitled The Borough, an exploration of Aldeburgh in the context of the opera), plus Opera North’s 2007 festival production of Death in Venice. Other than that, a full programme of concerts, walks, lectures, exhibitions, films and so on, as well as events focusing on the region, its influence on Britten and vice versa.
Of the many events nationwide, cellist Matthew Barley’s ‘Around Britten 2013’ pilgrimage, promising 100 events to mark 100 years (www.matthewbarley.com), is one that stands out. Its aim is specifically to take Britten to a hotchpotch of unlikely venues: so, Tudor houses, medieval barns, castles as well as theatres and Britten’s own Red House. Barley will be performing Britten’s third cello suite alongside solo music by Bach, Dai Fujikura, James MacMillan and DJ Jan Bang, with specially commissioned visuals and a CD/series of downloads accumulating through the year, plus accompanying workshops.
Among the various academic conferences dedicated to Britten around the world is the University of Nottingham’s three-day focus on Britten on Stage and Screen (www.nottingham.ac.uk/music). The full programme is yet to be confirmed, but will include contributions from tenor Andrew Kennedy and performances of lesser-known works such as the incidental music to the play The Ascent of F6.
Along with Britten, the other great centenary this year is the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski. There is a website collating details of events dedicated to him, including a composition competition (it does have a closing date of 25 January, however): www.lutoslawski.org.pl.
The Philharmonia is among those commemorating the birthday with its ‘Woven Words’ series (www.woven-words.co.uk), a pan-European festival launched by the orchestra and its principal conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen that sees the orchestra giving a number of concerts in European halls. After an initial series in London that runs until 21 March, interspersed with visits to Tokyo in February and Warsaw in March, the orchestra then goes to Modena, Madrid, Dresden, Vienna, Ljubljana and Berlin with programmes of Lutosławski and 20th-century works.
This year will see the 50th anniversaries of the deaths of three 20th-century mavericks: Poulenc, Hindemith and Hartmann. If Hindemith’s inventiveness falls largely on deaf ears, Hartmann is even less appreciated, so it is perhaps no surprise that events acknowledging their half centuries are few and far between.
Poulenc is a different matter however, and Keele University’s proposed conference, ‘Re-thinking Poulenc: 50 years’ on (21-23 June;
www.keele.ac.uk/music/concerts-events-forums/poulencconference), takes the contrast between the popularity of his music and its
marginal status within musical modernism as one of its starting points.
That is not the only contrast. The City of London Sinfonia is devoting a mini-festival to his work in ‘Perspectives on Poulenc’ in April. The two sides – sacred and profane – of the composer are reflected in the contrast in venues, with a pair of concerts in ecclesiastical settings (Southwark Cathedral, St Giles Cripplegate) and one in a converted warehouse-cum-cultural hub in a trendy part of town
(Village Underground). Each concert consists of a separate pairing, Poulenc with a contemporary: Ravel, Satie or Milhaud. Another area of contrast of great relevance to Poulenc will be explored in a discussion, hosted by the Rev Richard Coles, on the subject of religion and sexuality.
Of the much earlier composers with notable anniversaries in 2013, John Dowland is one who stands out and Theatre of the Ayre (featuring lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and countertenor Robin Blaze, among others; daviesmusic.com/ensemble/theatre-of-the-ayre) is touring a Dowland programme in honour of his 450th birthday. Keep an eye out too for performances of Carlo Gesualdo’s extraordinarily complex music – perhaps the best ever written by a multiple murderer. The Tallis Scholars sing his Tenebrae Responsories at Cadogan Hall in a concert marking both 400 years since he died and their own 40th.