To some, the United Kingdom is the home of rugby; to others it signifies good whisky or breath-taking landscapes. To music lovers, it is home to a rich history and vibrant musical culture.
Let us travel first to the 17th century, where we encounter Henry Purcell sung by Jakub Józef Orlin´ski and Joyce DiDonato. The mezzo-soprano is also heard in Georg Friedrich Händel’s Theodora – a work by a German composer who was uncommonly successful in England and whose life’s trajectory made him European avant la lettre. His output includes the oratorio L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, interpreted by Les Arts Florissants. Its Italian title camouflages the fact that its text was written by the English poet John Milton.
While it may not be a unique feature of this tradition, British music does have a special connection to literature and particularly to William Shakespeare, as Rolando Villazón’s programme demonstrates. The Francophile Benjamin Britten, on the other hand, set Arthur Rimbaud’s poems Les Illuminations to music, performed by Sabine Devieilhe. The same composer’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra has been a favourite of listeners of all ages since its premiere in 1946 and is featured twice this season on the Philharmonie programme. Great Britain is also home to an ancient and worldrenowned choral tradition, epitomised by the cathedrals and the colleges of the University of Cambridge, where the Choir of St John’s College is one of its mainstays. Thomas Trotter, who appears alongside the choir, stands for the British Isles’ venerable tradition of organ-playing.
The Grand Auditorium will also invite to the stage many outstanding musicians who are part of the UK’s musical landscape: the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in two performances, as well as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, a collective that has been based in London since its foundation. It is the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg that features music from England on its programmes, being led by the British conductor Andrew Manze in Edward Elgar’s Symphony N° 1 and performing Thomas Adès’ latest violin concerto in another concert. The pianist Tamara Stefanovich presents world premieres of works by the composers Emma-Ruth Richards and Martin Suckling. Finally, the picture would be incomplete without mentioning the Londoner Damon Albarn or Northern Ireland’s Neil Hannon, the founder and front man of The Divine Comedy, two author-composer-performers making their contribution in a progressive pop field.
From Trafalgar Square to the Place de l’Europe – the story of British music and its fruitful European relationships does not stop, but continues to be interwoven.