Lang Lang, Rattle, Brazil and Bell: the musical season ahead

The National Concert Hall and the Irish Baroque Orchestra have revealed ambitious programmes for the next 12 months

Simon Rattle  conducts the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Haydn’s Creation at the National Concert Hall this Sunday

Simon Rattle conducts the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Haydn’s Creation at the National Concert Hall this Sunday


It’s the time of year when details of the new season are made public. The National Concert Hall is always early out of the blocks, and the hall, which for years presented just two major series, has a five-strand offering to run between September and May 2014 – Great Artists, Piano Masters, International Orchestral Series, International Choral Series and a Sunday Matinee Series, 21 concerts in all.

Some of the standout visits are part of the new choral series, with Simon Rattle conducting the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Haydn’s Creation (this Sunday), Harry Christophers’s choir The Sixteen in two concerts in October (offsite in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Palestrina, Allegri and James MacMillan on October12th, and in an all-Handel programme at the NCH itself the following night), and a return to Ireland by San Francisco’s Chanticleer, which modestly describes itself as “the world’s top male a cappella chorus” (February 9th).

Irish debuts in the orchestral concerts include Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko. Opening the season on September 4th, he will be conducting the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, whose principal conductor he becomes at the start of the next season. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra appears under its Ukrainian principal conductor Kirill Karabits (October 26th), and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop will become the first South American orchestra to play at the hall, on October 26th.

The NCH’s strands are a little arbitrary in what they put in which category. British clarinettist Michael Collins directs the City of London Sinfonia (April 12th, 2014) as part of the International Orchestra series. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Beethoven and Stravinsky (November 24th) as part of the Piano Masters series. Violinist Joshua Bell directs the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in Bach, Beethoven and Brahms (January 21st) and US baritone Thomas Hampson appears with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in a programme of Schoenberg, Brahms, Barber, Wolf and Schubert (January 29th).

The Great Artists lineup is completed by the Danish String Quartet (April 22nd), and the Piano Masters by Philip Martin (November 6th), John Lill (in an all-Beethoven 70th birthday concert on February 20th), Lang Lang (who returns to play Mozart and Chopin on April 19th, 2014).

Irish musicians feature in the new Sunday Matinee (3pm) strand which is opened by mezzo soprano Ann Murray with pianists Dearbhla and Finghin Collins (October 6th). The Brazilian Guitar Quartet (October 27th) appear a day after the São Paulo orchestra, and baritone Jonathan Lemalu is joined by pianist Malcolm Martineau on November 10th. A three-concert survey of the Beethoven violin sonatas by Catherine Leonard with Hugh Tinney on piano rounds off the season (April 27th, May 11th and 25th, 2014). The only Irish composer featured is Philip Martin. Details are on

The Irish Baroque Orchestra season will run from a celebration of Ireland’s Golden Age (Handel, Carolan, Geminiani, Dubourg) on May 15th in Dublin, May 16th in Cork, to Die alte Schule (The Old School ), featuring Bach’s wonderful Actus Tragicus and Sixth Brandenburg Concerto next February in Dublin and Portlaoise. There’s a new series of violin master classes with artistic director Monica Huggett from June 24th to 29th and Towards Enlightenment, featuring Haydn, WF Bach, Quantz and Kirnberger under Roy Goodman in September in Dublin, Bandon and Sligo.

There are concerts at the Ardee Baroque Festival in November, Handel’s Messiah under John Butt in Dublin, Cork and Galway in December, and A Baroque Christmas with the National Chamber Choir under Paul Hillier at the NCH. Details are on

Period piece
One of London’s pioneering period-instruments bands, the Academy of Ancient Music, was back at the National Concert Hall on Thursday, with German counter tenor Andreas Scholl replacing the indisposed Austrian mezzo soprano Angelika Kirchschlager. The programme, directed from the fortepiano by the voluble and volatile Richard Egarr, was modelled on the taste of the 18th rather than the 21st century – a bit of this, a bit of that, a symphony to start, a concerto in the middle, and arias and songs wherever you liked them.

The energy in Mozart’s Symphony No 33 was somehow blunted, and Scholl sounded not quite fully at home in songs by Mozart. With the arrival of some Handel arias everything began to gell, and Egarr’s own account of Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D, as pointed and zesty as you could have wished for, was the evening’s highlight.

Lovingly patient
Friday’s RTÉ NSO programme under Pascal Rophé took a while to hit its stride, too, with the handling of Ibert’s Escales ( Ports of Call ) lacking in impressionistic refinement, and pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger bringing an unwelcome sense of striving to Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand.

Rophé’s lovingly patient account of Messiaen’s early L’Ascension gave the music all the space it needed to radiate the composer’s particular religious fervour. It’s a rare pleasure to hear Messiaen played with such unflinchingly calm pacing. It’s a filling one, too, andalthough the orchestral concert was followed by a performance of the later organ version of L’Ascension, played by Mark Duley, I found I didn’t have room for it. The NSO will launch its new season with a free lunchtime concert on May 14th.

Birthday treat
Composer Seóirse Bodley turned 80 on April 4th and the landmark was celebrated at the Hugh Lane Gallery’s Sundays at Noon series with performances of his Goethe settings, and the launch of a new book, A Community of the Imagination: Seóirse Bodley’s Goethe Settings, by his wife Lorraine Byrne Bodley.

Bodley’s major vocal work is his 1978 A Girl, setting texts by Brendan Kennelly in a style heavily influenced by traditional Irish music. His Mignon und der Harfner (2004) for soprano, baritone and piano harks back to an earlier, angular, fragmented style. Gretchen (2012) for soprano, mezzo soprano, chorus and piano, adopts a smoother manner, using what you might call the building blocks of tonal music but without actually living in a tonal world.

The short Wandrers Nachtlied (2003) for soprano and piano finds a concentration and an expressive focus that draws words and music together in ways the other pieces singularly don’t. All three were well served by soprano Sylvia O’Brien, mezzo soprano Imelda Drumm, pianist David Adams, and the Chant Ensemble conducted by Ruaidhrí Ó Dálaigh.