Celebrate the pioneering music of George Benjamin, one of the greatest British composers of the 20th century, during a weekend festival exploring his remarkable career on 12 & 13 May.

Described as one of “the most formidable composers of his generation” (New York Times), George Benjamin is renowned for his diverse repertoire of music rooted in harmony, inventiveness and meticulous craftsmanship. This retrospective is a unique opportunity to both hear and see the highly acclaimed composer, who will be present over the weekend as conductor and speaker, as well as to experience contemporary classical music at its’ most exhilarating.

The festival features performances by young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music and the London Sinfonietta, and will culminate with a performance of Benjamin’s invigorating work Jubilation (1985). This piece, originally commissioned by the Inner London Educational Authority for young performers, will be brought to life as George Benjamin conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a specially formed youth choir and ensemble of local young musicians playing a vibrant mix of brass, percussion, recorders and steel pans.

Find out more about George Benjamin and his work through BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week

 To book tickets, click here

Getting to Know Yekaterina Lebedeva

Southbank Centre welcomes the return of internationally acclaimed pianist Yekaterina Lebedeva, who will be performing in the Purcell Room on 10th May. Yekaterina is well known for her exciting innovative programming which explores ways of linking music with other art forms such as dance, poetry and visual arts. We catch up with her ahead of her forthcoming concert.

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre?
I find it a thrilling experience to play at the Purcell Room. It feels particularly special this time because I haven’t played here for a while. I am a real world traveller and have played in some faraway places, but there is nothing like playing in London at the Southbank Centre! I am also very excited because I am going to play music by one of my favourite composers: Alexander Scriabin. He is such an enigmatic composer! A man who thought himself to be God’s messenger to bring people together through art and creativity. A man who believed that music should be experienced with all our senses: vision, smell, touch. Even though I am unable to provide the “full” experience as Scriabin envisaged, there will be something special for people to take away from the concert. There are 2 great enthusiasts of Scriabin that I happen to call friends: the design consultant/artist Paul Bagshawe and the public artist Martin Firrell. Once they heard about this concert, the idea was born to create a piece of art work which will follow Scriabin ideas. So there is a surprise in store for everyone who will come which they will be able to take away with them!

How did you choose the programme and the title of your concert?
I find Soviet composers fascinating. They are the realists of the title, and they had to be in order to survive in those days. They wrote stuff to please the censors on occasion, and yet they managed to describe the true human condition in the oppressive regime they lived in. For example, in Sviridov’s Partita the first movement reminds me of Konchalovsky’s film Runaway Train and similarly here the massive “Soviet Locomotive” arrives nowhere. The hero dies early on, as the 3rd movement is a funeral march. Lastly the triumphant music feels to me like it is written in the style of passacaglia. Prokofiev had to apologise to Stalin for writing “anti-Socialist music” and yet he delivered such a remarkable theme of love in Romeo and Juliet. And of course, Scriabin, at the other end, did not have to deal with the Soviet Regime but he was a mystic – pure escapism from reality.

Is there a piece of music you would pick out as one of the ‘best’ works ever written?
Music is like a vast universe of sounds drawn together. You can find everything in it reflecting every moment in life. It is difficult to speak of the “best” work. There are also different instruments which speak in different voices. My musical love affair goes through stages depending on what else goes on in my life. At the moment I am very involved in Scriabin 3rd piano sonata. It is the last Sonata he wrote in separate movements. It is called “Etats d’âme” which translates as “States of the Soul” and in a way it represents the life’s cycle.

And is there a work that is for you, emotionally, especially important?
For the moment it is the Scriabin Sonata No.3. I particularly love the third movement because I imagine that this is like a real paradise would be or like being in love (which is a beauty of life). It is full of exquisite harmonies and displays a wonderful embroidery of musical lines. I also love the second movement which reminds me of the scene in one of my favourite books – “Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov – when the two lovers were taken by Voland (the devil himself) to the place of rest and peace and they race through the night sky on his horses. The fourth and first movements are exhilarating to play with their sheer burst of energy and life.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I am happy with what I already have. If it was something different, it wouldn’t be me!

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
I would love to hear Krystian Zimerman play with Tasmin Little or with Isaac Perelman and hear Radu Lupu play Brahms piano concerto with Furtwängler conducting.

What is the most played piece of music on your mp3 player or in your CD collection?
It is probably piano concerto by Poulenc. It always cheers me up!

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
Well, I do not know if this is a strange ritual, but I do try to sleep in the afternoon before the performance. Ancient Greeks who invented siesta, knew what they were talking about!

Click here for more info and to buy tickets to Yekaterina’s concert 

Crouch End Festival Chorus – special ticket offer

Don’t miss your chance to hear the Crouch End Festival Chorus perform Haydn’s popular Nelson Mass on Thursday 26 April, 7.30pm at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The first half comprises two contemporary works, the London premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament, which received its world premiere in Istanbul in 2010. As a tribute to the composer David Bedford, who died in October, the choir and strings will perform A Charm of Joy.

As a special late deal, all tickets are offered at £15. To take advantage of this offer, call 0844 847 9910 and quote ‘Nelson’.


Southbank Centre is offering a special discount of £2 off all tickets for the Spring Remembrance Concert, which takes place on the 9th May in the Purcell Room. All you need to do is quote the promo code SPRING when booking online, by phone or in person.

The all star line-up features the talented Jubilee String Quartet, 1st Prize winners of the Val Tidone International Chamber Music Competition. Other performances include virtuoso violinist Jack Leibek and Katya Apekisheva, one of Europe’s foremost pianists.

Click here to buy tickets for this exciting evening of works for the violin and piano.


To celebrate the centenary of Conlon Nancarrow’s birth, Southbank Centre is hosting Impossible Brilliance: The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, a two-day festival taking place on 21 & 22 April in Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room.

Described as “one of the most singular musical minds in history” (The Daily Telegraph), Conlon Nancarrow is remembered for creating some of the most rhythmically intricate music ever written through more than 50 etudes for the player piano – an instrument able to produce complex rhythms at a speed unplayable by human hands.

Although he is today considered one of the most innovative composers of 20th century music, Nancarrow’s musical achievements remained largely unrecognized until late in his lifetime. Early performances of his works frequently failed to impress as they eluded both musicians and audiences with their rhythmic complexity. His political leanings led to the composer being refused a US passport application in 1940 and he emigrated to Mexico where the contemporary music scene was no better equipped to do justice to his compositions. Frustrated with his career, Nancarrow decided to purchase a player-piano – if musicians couldn’t or wouldn’t play his “impossible music” then a machine could do the job instead.

To celebrate his unique brilliance, the festival will feature performances by the London Sinfonietta, the Arditti Quartet and Trinity Laban’s Contemporary Music Group, as well as the complete “Studies for Player Piano “performed on an original Marshall and Wendell Ampico reproducing piano, identical to Nancarrow’s own.

You can buy tickets from our website


Colin Currie and Kalevi Aho in conversation

Read an interview with Colin Currie (CC) and Kalevi Aho (KA) about the new percussion concerto written for him by Aho in what is one of the most eagerly-anticipated premieres of the season .

CC Kalevi Aho – your new “Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra”, entitled  “Sieidi”, represents a colossal milestone within the Solo Percussion with Large Symphony Orchestra genre. This work is vast in scope and depth, as well as having a highly developed poetic and dramaturgical sense. Did indeed the project of percussion and orchestra present to you a near-optimum canvas to unleash the full power of your music, both its lyricism and explosiveness?

KA I cannot say which is for me the most optimum canvas to unleash my musical visions. If you write a concerto, every instrument has its own unique possibilities, which you only must find out. But the percussion world is exceptionally rich and gives such opportunity towards a very many-sided and rich musical expression, from the most silent and lyrical nuances to wild rhythmical drive and musical explosiveness.

CC The percussionist has a bold and commanding role in this work, playing a variety of instruments. I’m delighted with the inclusion of two ‘ethnic’ hand-drums in the work too, djembe and darabuka. Can you tell of your interest and study of these drums?

KH In the middle of the 90s I began to ponder, which elements of the music I should use in a richer way in the future. One element was the rhythm and the percussion instrumentation of the orchestral works. I was a little bit tired also with the western drum-set instruments, which dominate especially pop and light music. That time I began to study non-western classical music cultures, and heard a lot of Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and African music. I noticed that the rhythm in the western music is quite primitive compared especially with the Arabian and African rhythms. At the same time I found the djembe and darabuka, which I used for the first time in my Symphony No. 11 (1997-98), written for six percussionists and orchestra (the solo group in its premiere was the Swedish Kroumata percussion ensemble). I liked the sound of those instruments a lot; it is not as hard as the sound of the drums, which you play with sticks. You can get from the djembe and darabuka very many nuances. Especially the darabuka is also a quite difficult instrument if you use by playing the finger technics, as the Arabian and Persian percussion virtuosos do. I would like to use in my works sometimes also the Indian tablas, but almost no western percussionist can really play the tablas, and the Indian masters cannot read notes. In my many orchestral pieces and concertos, written after the 11th Symphony, you can hear a lot of influences especially from the complicated Arabian and African rhythms.

CC  Indeed – and I feel that the very keenly developed rhythmic language you use in the work will be thrilling in live performance. Seldom can influences from far-flung continents be integrated safely and effectively into our westernised compositional world, but here we see a highly compelling result.Could you tell us something about the very evocative title of the work, ‘Sieidi’?

KA The Percussion concerto has three commissioners, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luosto Classic Music Festival and the Gothenburg Symphony orchestra. The concert on 12 August at Luosto, in Finnish Lapland (with the BBC Philharmonic) is a very special happening, because it is an outdoors concert on the slope of the mountain Luosto. Some hundred years ago the sami people lived in that area. They had many cult places, which they called ‘Sieidi’. Sieidi is a Northern Sami word meaning `cult images’, and referred to objects such as strange, big rocks, cliffs or entire mountains situated at strategic locations for the hunter, fisherman or reindeer herder. It is well possible that the mountain Luosto was for them a ‘sieidiŽ, too. The drumming of the djembe and darabuka at the beginning and the end of the concerto is quite shamanistic; you could imagine that it is a drumming of a shaman at a ‘sieidi’.

CC Very magical imagery, and as such then, the work has at least one specific reference to Finnish folk culture. This concerto, and indeed your whole output as a composer is part of the overwhelmingly valuable contribution to classical music in general made by Finland, a staggering and inspiring piece of recent history. Can I ask you more broadly for some comments on the culture for classical music in Finland and the legacy of the music of Jean Sibelius?

KA Sibelius was the leading musical personality in Finland in his time, and his works still dominate the repertoire of the Finnish orchestras. However, his style has had in Finland no imitators because he didn’t teach a lot, and his music is so original. It is difficult to find any influences of Sibelius also in my music; I have worked from other starting points. The situation of the classical music in Finland is probably one of the best ones in the world. The state and the cities financially support the orchestras. The Finnish concert programmes are very many-sided – it is typical that the orchestras like to combine contemporary and classical music in the same concert. The composers have a lot of commissions, and the state and the foundations give grants for the artists. For many composers from abroad Finland seems to be almost like a paradise to live in.

CC All in all, it is a great honour for me to be a part of this scene, and to give the premiere of this landmark in percussion repertoire. I look forward very much to taking ‘Sieidi’ home to the mountains of Lapland this summer, and seeing you in April in London for the premiere!

Colin Currie premieres ‘Sieidi’ with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Wednesday 18 April at Royal Festival Hall.

Find out more / book tickets

Tickets for SIMON THACKER’S SVARA-KANTI only £5!

Svara-Kanti, brainchild of visionary guitar virtuoso Simon Thacker, will premiere major commissions by legendary American pioneer Terry Riley, British intercultural master Nigel Osborne, India’s greatest composer Shirish Korde and Simon Thacker himself in the intimate atmosphere of Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on Wednesday 18 April.

As a special offer as part of our Alchemy festival, we’re offering tickets for only £5. Simply quote SVARAKANTI when booking online, by phone or in person.

The Indo-Western supergroup seamlessly fuses two of the world’s greatest and most diverse musical cultures by bringing together leading performers in Indian classical, contemporary Asian and Western classical music to create inspiring and powerful new sounds. Their impressive repertoire includes music by legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar and Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winning songwriter AR Rahman

For this special performance, Thacker will be joined on stage by Svara-Kanti’s new lineup -renowned tabla player Sarva Sabri, who has a musical lineage stretching back ten generations to the Royal Court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, violinist and leader of Britten Sinfonia Jacqueline Shave and South Indian vocalist Japit Kaur.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear a formidable group of musicians effortlessly blend Indian and Western styles for a mesmerizing performance.

Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti, Wednesday 18 April, 7.45pm, Purcell Room.

To book tickets please see the webpage here.