London’s Southbank Centre in 2020-2021


Southbank Centre’s 2020/21 classical music season goes on sale to Southbank Centre Members at 10am on Thursday 27 February and then on sale to the general public at 10am on Tuesday 3 March.

For more information or to buy tickets please visit the Southbank Centre website HERE.

Southbank Centre, together with its unparalleled line up of Resident Orchestras – London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London Sinfonietta – and Associate Orchestras – Aurora Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Chineke! Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – today announces a distinctive 2020/21 classical music season with over 230 concerts across Southbank Centre’s internationally renowned venues, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.

  • The season is defined by musicians who are changing music, led by three new Southbank Centre Associate Artists: Gramophone Artist of the Year, pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, Grammy Award-winning violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and composer Bryce Dessner, one of the very few artists to have won Grammy Awards both as a classical composer, and in rock (with his band The National).
  • Daniel Barenboim returns to Southbank Centre performing the complete Beethoven Piano Trios alongside his violinist son Michael Barenboim and cellist Kian Soltani.
  • For the first time, there are premieres by an equal number of female and male composers, with a line up of over 40 premiere performances (and more to be announced), including UK premieres by Sofia Gubaidulina, in the year she turns 90, and 94-year-old Betsy Jolas in the return of major global new music festival, SoundState.
  • Conductor Vladimir Jurowski conducts 14 concerts in his final season as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of London Philharmonic Orchestra including two semi-staged performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle and the world premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s Christmas Oratorio.
  • In his 13th and final season as Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen focuses on music inspired by Greek myth, including Strauss’ Elektra with soprano soloists Irene Theorin and Lise Davidsen and the European premiere of his own work Gemini.
  • Andris Nelsons and Europe’s oldest civic orchestra, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig mix tradition with a fresh approach to Bruckner as part of their ongoing partnership with Southbank Centre.
  • The first major UK focus on the music of Canadian composer Claude Vivier includes a rare performance of his final work, the text of which eerily predicts his own murder.
  • There are London premieres for contemporary operas addressing powerful subjects: Harriet: Scenes in the life of Harriet Tubman by Mexican composer Hilda Peredes explores the life of American abolitionist and campaigner, Harriet Tubman; Naciketa, inspired by Brahmin spiritual texts, is the next step in a line of operas in which composer Nigel Osborne integrates modernist and traditional music to create innovative music theatre. Ariel Dorfman’s libretto marries traditional musical forms with a storyline that takes place in communities which Osborne has come to know as an aid worker and Dorfman has defended as a human rights activist.
  • London premiere of James Dillon’s Pharmakieta, one of nine London Sinfonietta premieres during 2020/21.
  • All-female line up of sitarists in autumn 2020 events marking the centenary of Ravi Shankar’s birth and the finale of Southbank Centre’s Shankar 100 season: Zubin Mehta conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and soloist, Southbank Centre Associate Artist Anoushka Shankar in Ravi Shankar’s Sitar Concerto; Darbar’s SitarFest features leading sitarists Anupama Bhagwat, Mita Nag and Roopa Panesar, and a rare chance to hear Sukanya Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s widow, in conversation.

Further highlights include:

  • Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra continue their acclaimed exploration of Mozart concertos.
  • Marking five years since its inaugural concert at Southbank Centre, Associate Orchestra Chineke! champions the work of ‘forgotten’ BME composers including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who enjoyed huge success at the start of the 20th century, his daughter Avril Coleridge-Taylor and 18th century composer Joseph Boulogne.
  • Southbank Centre Artist in Residence, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard explores Beethoven and his influence on modernist composers, and cellist Matthew Barley and Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon present an unusual take on Beethoven cello sonatas, interspersed with new compositions and improvisation (the culmination of Southbank Centre’s 2019/20 Beethoven 250 series).
  • World premiere of a new work by Errolyn Wallen marks International Women’s Day.
  • Aurora Orchestra takes music for a dance with Piazzolla tangos and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Story performed from memory, alongside music by Frank Zappa.
  • Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launches interactive BAROQUEBUSTERS game show, exploring the 18th century musical hits still known to millions through films, adverts and ringtones.
  • National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings a burst of youthful energy in the European premiere of Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s Téenek.
  • Vasily Petrenko, Music Director Designate of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducts the RPO four times.
  • Southbank Sinfonia showcases the exceptional talent of its 33 young graduate musicians in wide ranging concerts.
  • Southbank Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra both feature in BBC Radio 3’s Unclassified Live, which returns for a second season at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Gillian Moore, Director of Music at Southbank Centre, comments: 

‘This 2020/21 classical season is what Southbank Centre is all about, from traditional repertoire to the newest of the new, all performed by the world’s most enquiring musicians. It’s a season defined by musicians who are changing the musical landscape, from our uncompromisingly brilliant new Southbank Centre Associate Artists to the line up of composers in SoundState, the musical ambition of our world-leading Resident orchestras to the ‘game-changing’ Chineke! Orchestra, born at Southbank Centre five short years ago and Aurora Orchestra, redefining classical music for new – and existing – audiences. This is music that really has something to say, and we are strongly focused on widening the audience it speaks to. 

It’s crucial that classical music better reflects the world around us and there is a strong thread of socially engaged contemporary music and opera in 2020/21. It’s important that for the first time, an equal number of female and male composers feature in our extensive line-up of premieres and more music by black and minority ethnic composers, past and present (with additional new music programming to be announced later in the year). Taking a lead from our history, as ‘The People’s Palace’ of post-war culture, we are leading the way in stripping away barriers to concert going so that everyone, regardless of background, education or opportunity, knows that classical music at Southbank Centre is there for them. This informs everything we and our Resident and Associates do and it finds full voice in the joyous range of music in our 2020/21 season.’

Thousands of seats for classical concerts at Southbank Centre are available for £15 or under, alongside many free events. An online Newcomers Guide to Classical Music offers a warm welcome to people new to classical music.

Southbank Centre 2020/21 season highlights in more detail

Musicians who are changing music 

 ‘I think we musicians can do much more but we just don’t trust ourselves. The musical boundary is wherever you want to locate it and if you simply push it away to the horizon there are lots of wonderful things you can do.’- Southbank Centre Associate Artist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and composer Bryce Dessner are announced as new Southbank Centre Associate Artists. All three are known for marrying extraordinary musicality with a fearless and adventurous approach to programming and performance which is reflected in their Southbank Centre appearances during 2020/21 classical season (with further plans for the 2021/22 season to be announced). 

  • Associate Artist from October 2020 (and continuing in the 2021/22 season), the ‘breathtakingly brilliant’ [Gramophone] Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s 2020/21 season of concerts features music ranging across four centuries, from Rameau to new works. Appearances include two piano recitals, his London Philharmonic Orchestra debut in Grieg’s Piano Concerto and, as part of SoundState, a performance of Papillon by Bent Sørensen and a newly commissioned work by Edmund Finnis in a Philharmonia Music of Today early-evening concert. Ólafsson comments: ‘I admire people who keep an open ear, who challenge what they know about music and are not afraid to re-explore it. For me, there is no one way of doing things in music. With this in mind, I am grateful to have the chance to perform on so many occasions in Southbank Centre’s 20/21 season as an Associate Artist. Southbank Centre is always bursting with life and it will be exciting to build an even closer rapport with its wonderful audiences through programmes which I hope will be diverse and colourful.’
  • Associate Artist from Spring 2021 and extending into the following season, multi-award winning violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja brings leading Swiss chamber orchestra Camerata Bern, of which she is Artistic Partner, to Southbank Centre for the first time, and gives full rein to her intensely theatrical approach to music in the title role of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, which she describes as ‘the most beautiful flower in an incredibly crazy garden’. Also Southbank Centre Associate Artist from Spring 2021, with further events to follow in 2021/22, American composer Bryce Dessner features in a BBC Radio 3 Unclassified Live concert, with André de Ridder conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor in the UK premiere of Voy a Dormir for mezzo-soprano & orchestra, a setting of four ‘deeply moving’ poems by Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni. The Philharmonia profiles Dessner’s music in an early evening Music of Today concert. Bryce Dessner comments: ‘Southbank Centre is an exciting space where creation in all its facets is celebrated and boundaries are happily blurred. As Associate Artist I’m looking forward to seeing where that journey takes us. To start things off, I’m thrilled to be working again with André de Ridder, BBC Concert Orchestra and Kelley O’Connor and the Philharmonia Orchestra.’

Dynamic music-making echoes across classical music at Southbank Centre, where an unparalleled line up of Resident and Associate Orchestras marry the highest musicality with an adventurous approach to programming, concert presentation and commissioning. 

  • Conductors Vladimir Jurowski, Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, have each made a huge impact on Southbank Centre audiences, at the helm of memorable performances and outstanding orchestral series which have expanded the way in which we hear and think about music. This distinctive approach continues in multiple, ambitious appearances during Southbank Centre’s 2020/21 classical season, their final season in their respective roles. There are also several appearances by Jurowski and Salonen’s successors: Santu-Mattias Rouvali, Principal Conductor Designate at the Philharmonia conducts three distinctive concerts, and Edward Gardner, Principal Conductor Designate at the London Philharmonic Orchestra, opens the orchestra’s season (the first of four appearances).
  • Chineke! Orchestra, which has been supported by Southbank Centre since its inaugural concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2015, continues to champion vital change and celebrate diversity both on and off stage. Evelyn Glennie joins Chineke! founder Chi-chi Nwanoku and orchestra in a world premiere by American composer Jill Jarman and young British composer James B Wilson commemorates the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, which arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ black or Asian bus crews.
  • Associate Orchestra since 2016, Aurora has staged a richly varied collection of ‘Orchestral Theatre’ productions at Southbank Centre that span diverse musical genres and art forms. These orchestral adventures offer bold new ways to experience classical music, incorporating elements of design, film, lighting and choreography; music by Zappa, Piazzolla (with tango dancers) and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, performed from memory, all feature in 2020/21.
  • Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launches an interactive game show exploring the 18th century hits which are still known to millions today. BAROQUEBUSTERS revisits music from almost 400 years ago made famous through films, adverts, ringtones and pop songs, with live performance and smartphones at the ready. For many of their performances, the OAE will introduce the music from the stage to share insights and connect with the audience.
  • London Sinfonietta offers public participation and on the spot audience collaboration in a new work by composer Cathy Milliken. A second London Sinfonietta project, Assemble, will fill Royal Festival Hall foyers with free new music, installations and performance, giving all-comers the chance to compose and perform music.
  • There’s a burst of youthful energy from the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, in a concert that includes the European premiere of Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s Téenek and Jess Gillam as the soloist in John Harles’ saxophone concerto Brigflatts (inspired by Gillam’s home county, Cumbria).

Visiting artists also embody this enquiring approach to music.

  • Daniel Barenboim, exploring the complete Beethoven Piano Trios, alongside his violinist son Michael Barenboim and cellist Kian Soltani (RFH, 16 & 17 Jan 2021), leads an international line up of guest musicians that reads as a ‘who’s who’ of classical music.*
  • Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester continue their four year partnership with Southbank Centre in two concerts focused on Bruckner Symphonies. In the first concert, Nelsons conducts Bruckner’s Symphony No.7 and Wagner’s Wesendonk Lieder (RFH, 15 Feb 2021); the second concert features Bruckner’s final symphony (No.9) alongside the Prelude to Act 1 and Isolde’s aria Mild und leise from Act 3 of Wagner’s Tristan and IsoldeAndris Nelsons comments: ‘The Gewandhausorchester has a uniquely rich tradition and its impact on music history was and is immense. From the beginning, the Gewandhaus was home to the greatest composers of any given era from Bach and Mendelssohn to Schubert and Bruckner. The Gewandhausorchester’s sound reflects this history: it is flexible, sensitive, velvety and transparent, characterised by a deep understanding of the respective composers. But there is a human factor as well, I really feel a connection to these extraordinary musicians and I am euphoric about all the future possibilities of this orchestra, which has shaped music history so much already. I vividly remember the amazing reception we got at Royal Festival Hall at the start of our partnership with Southbank Centre in 2018 in the early days of my role as the Gewandhauskapellmeister. The audience was incredibly warm and made us feel so welcome; I’m very glad to be returning.’
  • Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra continue their critically acclaimed exploration of Mozart’s Piano Concertos with Piano Concerto No.18 in B flat, K.456 and No.21 in C, K.467, alongside Janácek’s woodwind sextet Mladi (Youth) (RFH, 12 Mar 2021).
  • Concluding Southbank Centre’s Beethoven 250 celebrations, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, in his final season as Southbank Centre Artist in Residence, examines the composer’s modernist legacy in recital, and in a chamber concert alongside cellist Jean Guihen-Queyras and clarinettist Mark Simpson.
  • British cellist Matthew Barley and Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon explore the variety and colour of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas, interspersed with new compositions, in an evening shaped by the power and excitement of improvisation, with pianist Tim West.
  • Southbank Centre’s recital and chamber series feature the world’s finest instrumentalists. The International Organ Series centres on the music of JS Bach, with Olivier Latry, organist at Notre Dame de Paris and James McVinnie amongst the organists playing Royal Festival Hall’s magnificent 7,866 pipe organ. The International Chamber Music Series ranges over 500 years, from early music pioneer Jordi Savall’s unveiling of rarely performed music from the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV to an exceptional line up of new music and contemporary chamber opera. Imogen Cooper and Maurizio Pollini are amongst the pianists returning to the International Piano Series, with Eric Lu, winner of the 2019 Leeds International Piano Competition and the winner of the 2020 Chopin Piano Competition making their International Piano Series recital debuts.

New Music

Southbank Centre’s award-winning composer weekends and seasons of new music make Southbank Centre a home-from-home for the world’s most inspiring composers. There are over 40 premieres during the 2020/21 classical season, with an equal number of female and male composers (with further premieres to be announced later in the year). New music highlights include:

  • In May 2021, Southbank Centre will present the first major UK focus on Canadian composer Claude Vivier, following in the footsteps of acclaimed celebrations of the music of composers Ligeti (2018), Stockhausen (2019) and the forthcoming 2020 Varèse weekend. Vivier (1948-1983) was fatally stabbed in his Paris apartment aged 34 years old; his murderer, a 19-year-old man who may have been a prospective lover, was later caught and sentenced. His final (un-completed) work foretold his own murder, breaking off after the line:“Then he removed a dagger from his jacket and stabbed me through the heart.” This prescient final work, Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (Do you believe in the immortality of the soul) features in Southbank Centre’s focus on the music of Vivier, alongside his mesmerising vocal works (some written in an invented language) and chamber music. Performers include Canadian contemporary music ensemble Soundstreams, London Sinfonietta and Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble, conducted by Ilan Volkov, soprano Clare Booth, with the world premiere of specially commissioned homages to Vivier by composers Christopher Mayo and Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. (13-15 May 2021).
  • Major new music festival SoundState returns in 2021, with Southbank Centre joining forces with Resident Orchestras London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Philharmonia Orchestra to bring together contemporary music’s most enquiring musicians and composers in a celebration of new music on a global scale. From large orchestral concerts to platforms for young artists, the SoundState line-up includes African American composer George Lewis curating a spotlight on composers from the diaspora, a Philharmonia Music of Today spotlight on jazz drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey, first SoundState appearances from celebrated New York ensemble Roomful of Teeth and the Arditti Quartet and UK premieres by new LPO Composer in Residence Brett Dean. Additional premieres from Sofia Gubaidulina, Betsy Jolas, Tansy Davies, Shiva Feshareki, Dai Fujikura, Liza Lim, Bent Sørensen and Eric Tanguy (24 – 27 February 2021).

A strong line up of contemporary opera addressing powerful subjects includes:

  • The life of African American abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman (subject of a recent Golden Globe and Oscar nominated film) is the inspiration for Belgium’s Musiektheater Transparant’s acclaimed production of Hilda Peredes’s opera Harriet: Scenes in the life of Harriet TubmanClaron McFadden takes the title role in the London premiere of the Ivor Novello Award-winning production (QEH, 3 Oct 2020).
  • Composer Nigel Osborne’s Naciketa, with words by playwright Ariel Dorfman, is a new contemporary chamber opera steeped in the ragas of India, the ancient Indian form of song, Dhrupad, the edgy urban Hi-Life rhythms of Africa and the melos of Chilean Nueva canción. It’s the next step in a line of operas in which Osborne integrates modernist and traditional music to create innovative music theatre. Ariel Dorfman’s libretto marries the traditional musical forms with a storyline that takes place in communities which Osborne has come to know as an aid worker and whose human rights Dorfman has defended. The story is inspired by the Upanishads, the Brahmin spiritual texts in which two protagonists, Music, and the boy, Naciketa, wrangle with Death/Yama, and by the fate of the lost children of our time; child prostitutes, child soldiers and those orphaned through oppression and conflict. Commissioned and produced by Opera Circus, with music performed by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Kokoro ensemble (QEH, 2 June 2021).

Further new music highlights and premieres include:

  • Elizabeth Alker’s cult BBC Radio 3 programme Unclassified, which showcases an exciting new generation of composers, leaves the studio for Queen Elizabeth Hall with new music by Bryce Dessner, Julia Holter, Matthew Herbert, Aïsha Devi, Qasim Naqvi and Shards, played by BBC Concert Orchestra and the Southbank Sinfonia. André de Ridder conducts.
  • London Sinfonietta gives nine world premieres during 2020/21, including Luke Bedford’s In the Voices of the Living, with tenor Mark Padmore, Laura Bowler’s setting of the Extinction Rebellion manifesto, Extinction, the London premiere of James Dillon’s Pharmakeia in the composer’s 70th birthday year, and new works by George Lewis, Cathy Milliken and Nicole Lizée.
  • London Philharmonic Orchestra gives the world premieres of Sir James MacMillan’s Christmas Oratorio, a new guitar concerto by David Bruce, with soloist Miloš Karadaglić and Danny Elfman’s Percussion Concerto, with soloist Colin Currie; European premiere of Piano Concerto No.3 by Elena Kats-Chernin; UK premieres of Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No.2, Brett Dean’s The Players for accordion & orchestra and Alexey Retinsky’s De Profundis.
  • Philharmonia Orchestra gives the European premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Gemini, two concertos by James Newton Howard and works by Sky MacKlay and Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir.
  • BBC Concert Orchestra gives the world premiere of David Knott’s Guitar Concerto, with soloist Craig Ogden and Dobrinka Tabakova’s Concerto for orchestra.
  • Southbank Sinfonia features new works by young composers Blasio Kavuma and Yfat Soul Zisso.
  • London Chamber Ensemble celebrates International Women’s Day, with a concert featuring one hundred years of British music by women, including the world premiere of a new work by Errolyn Wallen, and music by Rebecca Clarke, Helen Grime, Judith Weir, Thea Musgrave and rarely performed music that was almost destroyed by its composer Grace Williams (QEH, 8 March 2021).

Music for everyone

Through its annual Imagine Children’s Festival and events throughout the year, Southbank Centre is a go-to destination for families. BBC Concert Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra and Southbank Sinfonia all give family concerts in 2020/21. Highlights include: the Philharmonia in the London premiere of Gaspard’s Foxtrot by composer Jonathan Dove, with live narration and illustration by the creators of the Gaspard the Fox books, Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew; the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s FUNharmonics Pied Piper of Hamelin (based on the Michael Morpurgo book).

Southbank Centre’s online Newcomers Guide to Classical Music offers an accessible and informative welcome to classical music including reflections of a first time concert goer, an ‘eye-spy’ tour of Southbank Centre’s iconic concert halls and advice on attending a first concert.

Southbank Centre is a nexus for professional development of musicians and composers. Its Women in Music Breakfasts, which offer a supportive platform for women from across the music industry to meet and share their experiences, continue in 2020/21; Southbank Centre’s pioneering model has attracted international attention. Southbank Centre is a second-home to many composers: its Composers Collective offers a chance for emerging composers to meet their distinguished counterparts; there are also informal young composer gatherings and the chance to meet and hear from composers and performers as part of Southbank Centre’s burgeoning new music programme. SoundState 2021 new music festival will feature a comprehensive range of free workshops and advice sessions for nascent composers. Several music and performance organisations call Southbank Centre ‘home’, including award-winning jazz collective Tomorrow’s Warriors and street-arts organisation, Kinetika Bloco and Southbank Centre also partners with organisations including Streetwise Opera, who rehearse and meet at Southbank Centre.

There are also hundreds of opportunities for people of all ages to make music at Southbank Centre. Each month, workshops, talks, lectures and behind the scenes tours (many free) also offer people the chance to make music and learn more about the stories and artists behind the music. Wide ranging events include: the chance to go ‘behind the pipes’ of Royal Festival Hall’s organ; Voicelab, Southbank Centre’s vocal initiative which encourages people to explore their voice and perform as part of Southbank Centre’s classical season; What You Need to Know in depth study days, and the chance to play Southbank Centre’s Javanese Gamelan (the centre has been running gamelan workshops since 1987, the longest running public programme in the UK).

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