Christopher Morley on the season ahead as the venue celebrates a milestone
Once all the Christmas and New Year jingle-jingles have been tidied safely into their box for another year, the 2012 classical music season begins in earnest with the biggest blockbuster imaginable: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.
This Royal Opera House production of Wagner’s great comic masterpiece (though there is as much poignancy and tragic introspection as laughter in this near five-hour epic) comes to Symphony Hall on January 11, launching the great venue’s six-month-long 21st birthday celebrations.
Antonio Pappano conducts, and the cast includes Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs (in which role he was unforgettable in Welsh National Opera’s recent production of the opera), Sir John Tomlinson as Veit Pogner, the guildsman who foolishly offers the hand of his daughter Eva as prize to the winner of a song competition, and Toby Spence as Sachs’ apprentice David.
The performance begins at 4.30pm, and is scheduled to run for 5 hours 30 minutes, including two intervals.
And this is just the first of several Wagnerian treats Symphony Hall audiences can look forward to in the next few months. On March 3 Andris Nelsons follows on from his triumphant Lohengrin of a couple of seasons ago with Tristan und Isolde.
Among the soloists joining the CBSO and its Men’s Chorus are Torsen Kerl as Tristan, and the Isolde of Lioba Braun. Christianne Stotjin sings Isolde’s confidante Brangane, and Matthew Best, probably the best exponent of the role I have ever heard, is King Marke (4pm, 5 hours 15 minutes with two intervals).
Good Friday (April 6) is the appropriate date for a performance of Wagner’s Holy Grail opera Parsifal, with the wonderful, consolatory Good Friday music at its heart, brought by soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg, and their charismatic music director Valery Gergiev (4pm, running time 5 hours 45 minutes including two intervals).
Symphony Hall’s WagnerFest concludes on June 30 (also drawing the curtain on the 21st birthday bash) when Opera North brings the latest instalment of its semi-staged complete Ring cycle after its stunning Das Rheingold last year.
Now it is the turn of Die Walkure, the most human and heartbreaking of the tetralogy.
Richard Farnes conducts, and the cast includes Alwyn Mellor as Sieglinde, moving across from the wonderful Brunnhilde she is portraying in Longborough Festival Opera’s own ongoing Ring cycle (4.30pm, 5 hours 30 minutes, including two intervals).
But these are not the only operatic offerings at Symphony Hall during the first half of 2012, with the actual 21st anniversary of the official opening of the Hall by The Queen on June 12 being marked by an evening in which Bryn Terfel joins the CBSO and its Chorus in a selection of operatic arias and choruses including the closing scene from Act One of Puccini’s Tosca and the Toreador’s Song from Bizet’s Carmen. (7.30pm, repeated next evening).
And there’s a highly unusual piece of music-theatre on May 26, when in a presentation supported by Birmingham Repertory Theatre Symphony Hall hosts The Infernal Comedy starring the actor John Malkovich.
This stage play for baroque orchestra, singers and actor is based on the real-life story of the convicted killer Jack Unterweger, with Malkovich’s monologues taking us on a journey through the life and mind of this notorious Viennese womaniser, writer and murderer. The musical selection embodying joy, hatred, love, grief, and desire includes works by Vivaldi, Beethoven, Haydn, Weber and Mozart (7.30pm).
At the other end of the musical spectrum, there is a strong Bach presence during these celebratory six months, beginning with the countertenor Andreas Scholl making a welcome return visit to Birmingham Town Hall almost exactly a year since he electrified a packed audience there with his incomparable artistry.
Scholl is accompanied by the renowned Kammerorchester Basel in a programme including two of the most poignant and profound among Bach’s hundreds of cantatas (February 1, 7.30pm).
A whole weekend is devoted to Bach early in March, beginning with Jeffrey Skidmore’s Ex Cathedra Consort and Andrew Skidmore (cello) bringing a programme of Bach motets and cello suites (Birmingham Town Hall March 8, 7.30pm).
Saturday March 10 brings guest speakers and live performers to a Bach Discovery Day at the Town Hall, beginning at 11am, and the same evening brings a mouth watering programme of Bach orchestral music from the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment to the venue (7.30pm).
Sunday March 11 sees the highly-acclaimed Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt returning to the Town Hall for a fascinating programme of Bach keyboard music (7pm).
And while all these glories have been gracing a Town Hall built much less than a century after the great composer’s demise, Symphony Hall will be the venue for a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Friday March 9, when the descendants of the composer’s own Thomaner Choir in Leipzig, and the esteemed Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra are conducted by Bach’s successor as Cantor in the great St Thomas’ Church, Georg Christoph Biller (7pm).
Returning to home-grown musicians, Maundy Thursday (April 5) sees Jeffery Skidmore’s Ex Cathedra bringing to Symphony Hall Bach’s St John Passion, sung in German with English surtitles (7.30pm).
Liturgical music, yes, but grippingly theatrical in expression; thus, in operatic terms, we have come full circle.
* Details of all Symphony Hall and Town Hall events at www.thsh.co.uk.