Birtwistle at 80 – Barbican Centre celebrates

13 May 2014

May 2014 sees the first major retrospective of Harrison Birtwistle’s works in London for 10 years, when their resident groups give performances of some of his most important scores over six concerts.

At the heart of the series are performances of two of his most contrasting music theatre works – the opera Gawain, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins on May 16, and his ‘mechanical pastoral’ Yan Tan Tethera, given by Britten Sinfonia and Baldur Bronniman on May 29. Both performances feature new concert stagings by director John Lloyd Davies and include a cast of major British singers including Sir John Tomlinson (Green Knight), Leigh Melrose (Gawain) and William Towers (Bishop Baldwin) in Gawain, and Roderick Williams (Alan) and Omar Ebrahim (Caleb) in Yan Tan Tethera.

The London Symphony Orchestra and its Principal Guest Conductor Daniel Harding perform his monumental score Earth Dances on May 20, whilst Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s portrait concert presents significant works ranging from Tragoedia and Silbury Air from the 1970s through to the recent Fantasia Upon All the Notes on May 25 under Oliver Knussen.

The Britten Sinfonia return on May 30 to round off the series with a concert which places Birtwistle within the context of the British pastoral traditional, and includes Melancolia I alongside works by Holst and Vaughan Williams. Immediately prior to that the Arditti Quartet perform his 2008 work The Tree of Strings.

Later in the summer the BBC take up the mantel when they bookend the BBC Proms with performances of Night’s Black Bird (BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena) on July 30 and Exody (BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton) on September 10, alongside a portrait prom in their Cadogan Hall series on September 6.

There is plenty of new Birtwistle to be heard too, with the Wigmore Hall presenting the London premiere of his song-cycle Songs from the Same Earth on May 18 (Mark Padmore/Andrew West) and a new work for Nicolas Hodges (piano) on September 14.

Then in autumn 2014 comes Birtwistle’s first large-scale orchestral score since 2010’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra with the first performances of Responses written for pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard and given in Munich (Bayerische Rundfunk Orchester/Stefan Asbury), Porto (Orquestra Nacional do Porto/Peter Eotvos), London (London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski) and Boston (Boston Symphony Orchestra/Valdimir Jurowski).

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