The Mozart Question: Education resources

Sunday 5 December, 3.30pm, Royal Festival Hall

The Mozart Question is a story accessible to young and old, but it is also one rooted in a dark and challenging period of history. To accompany their performance of The Mozart Question, the London Philharmonic Orchestra in association with the Holocaust Education Trust, have created online resources. These resources are designed to help you engage with the history behind the story, they contain suggestions for how to approach this subject with your children, as well as further reading and events.

Look at the resources

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Interview with Charles Dutoit on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform at Southbank Centre on Friday 17 January 2011. The perform Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Mischa Maisky, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

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Soprano Barbara Hannigan looks the part for Ligeti

Versatility can take many forms in the career of an international opera singer – and in the case of Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan it involves changing from evening dress to PVC and fishnets mid-concert to mark a move from Mozart arias to Ligeti’s tour de force Mysteries of the Macabre. Watch the video here  of her performing with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil, and don’t miss her concert with the Britten Sinfonia, at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 30 November.

Read on to find out more about what makes Barbara Hannigan tick.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Difficult question….I would have to say, looking back, that Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre has given me so much inspiration that it holds the #1 spot.

 Any low points?

Ha ha, if there are highs there must be lows, but I am glad for them, because those moments always led me to a new path and enriched my life in some way.

When are you happiest?

Two answers: in rehearsal, or having dinner with my husband.

What is your earliest musical memory?

Watching Horowitz on Sesame Street.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Wrong entrances are always a downer….costume malfunctions con be rather distracting…I have a small list….oh wait! Unknowingly planning my wedding during important rehearsal days for an opera!!! That took some juggling…

What is your most treasured possession?

My memory.

What would your super power be?


If you were an animal what would you be?

A nightingale.

What is your most unappealing habit?


What is your favourite book?

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?


Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

A great chef.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I am happy in the present.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I might have to say learning learning Boulez’ Pli selon pli. That was really an overwhelming process.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Take more taxis (actually I learned this from my teacher in Canada).

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?

Be here at this moment.

Barbara Hannigan sings Mozart and Ligeti with the Britten Sinfonia at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 30 November. The concert also includes Weber’s Concertino for Horn and Orchestra with soloist Richard Watkins, and two Rossini overtures. Click here for full details and to book.

Violinist Julia Fischer talks total Schumann

Julia Fischer, photo by Julia Wesely

Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen previously recorded and toured the complete violin and piano works of Schubert. This time they’re tackling Schumann on a three-date tour, including Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 29 November.


What is the appeal of single composer programmes, and why Schumann? ‘When I play a traditional recital it tends to be more about me than the pianist; for example, in a mixed repertoire programme there is often a solo piece,’ explains Julia Fischer. ‘When I have an artist like Martin playing in concert with me, I want to have a full project to present.’


That the duo this time plumped for a composer from the same period and country is unsurprising. ‘Martin is really the best pianist of his generation for the German classical and romantic repertory, meaning Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms,’ she says – a compliment that could equally apply to herself as a violinist. ‘So for me it was obvious that our next project had to be about one of those composers.’


Of the five composers Fischer mentions however, Schumann is the least renowned as a composer of violin music. She acknowledges that his three violin sonatas are relative rarities: ‘The Schumann violin sonatas are underestimated and not often enough performed in concert.’ This is not, she says, because Schumann is a difficult composer, as is so often suggested. ‘It is not true that musicians and audiences find Schumann’s music awkward, because in his output you find some of the canon’s most popular works – the piano concerto, cello concerto and lieder,’ she says.


Rather, Fischer subtly observes that, as a pianist, Schumann ‘couldn’t reward the violinist in the way he might have otherwise’. It is a gentle way of saying that Schumann’s violin writing wasn’t always fluent, even if, as a melodist, he was unrivalled. ‘If you take the violin part of his violin concerto, for example, and simply play it on the piano, it sounds absolutely marvellous,’ she says. ‘But if you have to play it on the violin, you really have to figure out how to make it sound right. Schumann tends to stay in a low register, which is rarely rewarding for a soloist. It is dangerous technically too, because although the notes themselves can appear simple, you have to be really smart in terms of fingerings and bowings.’


This is a challenge that Fischer relishes, but it is not an intellectual exercise. She places great importance on balancing the intellectual and emotional aspects of performing – something she appreciates in Helmchen too. ‘He is a very intelligent musician; he really thinks very deeply about what he is doing and how he performs,’ she says. ‘But he doesn’t forget that in the end it is about emotions and feelings. He can close his intellectual door and just enjoy playing music. This combination is really important.’


Both artists clearly enjoy the total immersion approach to preparing recitals. ‘When we did the Schubert project, we tried to learn everything about him,’ remembers Fischer. ‘And with Schumann it will be the same way.’ Ultimately, she believes that the musical complexity and intensity of expression that is inherent in all Schumann’s music is better explored in isolation. ‘If you have an entire evening of Schumann, rather than slotting one piece into a programme, audiences really get to know his musical language and get a feeling for how he wrote for these instruments,’ she says. ‘That is only possible if you have the courage to dedicate the whole evening to him.’


Will Fischer and Helmchen dedicate a whole disc to Schumann too? ‘We will work on that,’ is all she will give away.


Interview by Tim Woodall


Click here to book for Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen’s 29 November recital.  

‘Imagine looking through a thick, close-knit sock’

Brazilian pianist Marcelo Bratke has enjoyed great success as a composer, and has played at more than 1,000 live concerts for three million people. Despite achieving all of this, few were aware that the musician couldn’t read music or see the audience and musicians around him during concerts.

Marcelo was born in 1960, with thick cataracts in both eyes, and his vision was severely impaired for almost 50 years. ‘I wasn’t in total darkness,’ says Marcelo, ‘but imagine looking through a thick, close-knit sock and then begin to shut your eyes as well. At the point when they’re almost shut, when everything is blurred and colourless, that is what my vision was like through the left eye – the one I thought was my “good” eye.’

Marcelo was nervous about having an operation to try and remove the cataracts because of the risk that he could become irreversibly blind. However, with the support of his wife Mariannita, in January 2004 he decided to make one last attempt at finding a surgeon that would be willing to operate.

When the bandages were removed he was shocked by the vivid colours and sharp lines that were before his eyes, and remembers the feeling of being able to see properly for the first time: ‘It all seemed to me to be very aggressive – the shapes and textures of everything with their details and strong colours. Even beige was shocking and extravagant, as if the colours were screaming at me loudly.’

Marcelo Bratke performs a concert of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ music and influences on Thursday 2 December in Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Click here for more info.

Click here to check out a sample of the track ‘Carneirihno, Carneirao’ from his CD: ‘Heitor Villa-Lobos’, complete Solo Piano works vol1.

Quick questions with Vasily Petrenko

What do you fear the most?

As a husband and father – to loose my family, as a conductor – neglection.

Which mobile number do you call the most?

Sadly – IMG Artists.

What – or where – is perfection?

Perfection is in ourselves, but the whole life is not enough to find it…

Who is your favourite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?

To be honest, I haven’t found one yet! (Maybe because last book I’ve re-read is “Besy” by Dostoevsky and it doesn’t have non-controversial hero)

What’s your favourite ritual?


Which living person do you most admire (and why)?

I do admire my parents the most, because they did everything for me and never will let me down.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?

As an amateur football player (weekly with RLPO!) I’d like to have at least 0.00001% of what Pele or Maradona have, but…..

Tell us about a special memory you have of Southbank?

Once I’ve been waiting at the artist entrance for nearly 20 minutes to be allowed to go through for a rehearsal ))))

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?

I love to perform in Southbank every time and it’s so many great artists around!
What’s your favourite website? of course!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Today you must be better than yesterday. And tomorrow better than today.

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?

At the moment – Mahler 5

Vasily Petrenko performs with LPO on 24 November

Listen Again: London Philharmonic Orchestra

If you’re missing the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Southbank Centre concerts while they’re away for a two week tour, you can catch a recent performance online instead!   As part of their ListenAgain programme of online concerts you can hear Mendelssohn, Brahms and Mahler online for free until 15 November.

Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)
Mahler Kindertotenlieder
Brahms Symphony No. 3

Vladimir Jurowski conductor
Sarah Connolly mezzo soprano