Exclusive interview: Martin Feinstein discusses Southbank Centre’s Bach Weekend 2012

What are you particularly looking forward to about playing The Bach Weekend at Southbank Centre next year?

The Bach Weekend is always very exciting for us, and at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday 24 March we’re performing the Magnficat, the Easter Oratorio and the Trauer Ode. The Trauer Ode contains some of Bach’s most beautiful music – it uses orchestration of such exquisite beauty. It is truly sublime. So the Magnificat is a kind of antidote to that… The Trauer Ode is quite dark but the Magnificat is bright and sparkly with trumpets and timps – another kind of wonderful orchestration.

We’re forming a partnership with the London Bach Singers – they are our sister group and we really enjoy performing with them. Working together we feel very much like we’re a family. We try to make the Weekend as rich and varied as possible, and invite lots of soloists to join us. This is our fifth Bach Weekend, and we want eventually to leave no stone left unturned – we want to play everything in the end. So we’re very excited about moving a little further towards that goal this year!

And you are going to talk at the Bach Weekend about the piece that you think is the most important work in the flute repertoire, the Flute Sonata in B minor, BWV.1030. Why that piece?

This transcends almost anything else Bach wrote. The first movement is a monumental, symphonic, extraordinary thing, a thing so wonderful that other instruments keep wanting to steal it! Which is quite unusual for flute repertoire. So when we perform it at Southbank, hopefully we’ll be able to convey some of that magic…

Do you find it challenging to bring a new perspective to music as well-known as, say, the Brandenberg concertos?

Yes – I don’t intentionally try to be different but doing the Brandenbergs here at Southbank Centre was a particularly memorable concert for me because we played on instruments specially made for the concert, pitched at 392. This pitch is even lower than a normal Baroque pitch, and is the pitch Bach probably intended them to be played at – the sonorities are completely different and it was very exciting to hear that. The recorder at that pitch gives a real honking, juicy sound.

You’ve performed at Southbank Centre lots of times – has there been a particular performance here that was very special to you?

When you play in Queen Elizabeth Hall you feel as if every note can be heard, which is extremely exciting. A concert I remember with great fondness is our performance of the B minor mass in March this year, which is so stunning – it is a huge edifice of a work with not a spare bit of gristle on it. So I am very much looking forward to getting the same kind of thrill from the repertoire we’re performing at this year’s Bach Weekend.

London Concert Choir return to Southbank Centre

Following their outstanding performance of Verdi’s Requiem in March this year, the London Concert Choir return to Southbank Centre with Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.

Both works were composed in the shadow of approaching war. Mass in Time of War (Haydn’s own title) was written in 1796 as Napoleon was advancing on Vienna. It is one of his finest compositions, symphonic in scale and richly devotional in spirit. Vaughan Williams composed his profoundly moving cantata in 1936 to words taken principally from the Bible and the poems of Walt Whitman. The martial sounds of trumpets and drums feature prominently in both works and each ends with the heartfelt plea ‘Dona nobis pacem: Grant us peace.’

Here’s a clip from their performance of Requiem earlier in the year.


Hear the London Concert Choir at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 27 September 2011. Get tickets here.

Massive Messiah: your chance to sing with The Sixteen

Harry ChristophersWe are searching for 750 singers from around the country (or beyond!) to join conductor Harry Christophers and The Sixteen in a giant performance of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday 14 May. You will need to know the music in advance, but there’s the option of taking part in rehearsals in London ahead of the performance date. Click here to find out more.

You can also simply buy a ticket for the performance and listen, or if you’d like to stand up and sing just the famous ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus, buy a ticket and then come to a free workshop on the day. Click here to book.

“One of classical music’s wrens” – Mark Padmore on Gerald Finzi

Mark Padmore

Mark Padmore Photo: Marco Borggreve

“Birds with striking plumage usually have horrible voices and it is the dull brown birds that sing beautifully – contrast the magpie with the wren… I want to make a case for taking the time to get to know a composer whose song is quiet and subtle.”

Read more from tenor Mark Padmore on the joys of discovering Finzi’s music in his Guardian article.

On Wednesday 9 February at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Mark Padmore and Britten Sinfonia perform Finzi’s Dies natalis, settings of poems by Thomas Traherne expressing the amazed vision of a newborn child experiencing the world for the first time. The programme also includes music for strings by Tippett, Purcell and Walton. Click here for full details and to book.

Griff Rhys Jones


Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones presents an evening of classical favorites in aid of The Passage

 Comedian and actor Griff Rhys Jones, soprano Joan Rodgers, mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds and violinist Jack Liebeck are just some of the stars contributing their talents for free to ‘A Night Under the Stars’ on Thursday 7 October.

 In 2009 the event raised £80,000 for homelessness charity The Passage, and we hope the 10th anniversary extravaganza will raise much more.

Griff Rhys Jones, host of ‘A Night at the Opera’, says:

“It will be a superb concert but the event is firmly focused on being of direct benefit to the wonderful things The Passage does. The performers, our sponsors, and all those that make donations and attend the evening itself are effectively supporting The Passage’s successful track record in giving a ‘hand up’ as opposed to ‘hand out’ to the homeless. Many of those the charity has helped will participate in the evening.”

The work of The Passage

Based in London’s Victoria, the ground-breaking work of The Passage’s day centre, night hostel and training flats helps over 250 people every day. It provides resources that encourage, inspire and challenge homeless people to transform their lives. As well as providing canteen meals, showers, laundry and clothing, there’s pastoral mentoring and advice on everything from housing to job applications and benefits. There are also medical, education and training services, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse support to computer and literacy skills. Over the past 30 years, The Passage has helped over 100,000 homeless people.

Click here for concert information and tickets.

Behind the scenes: Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Go behind the scenes with the Philharmonia Orchestra and one of the most passionate love stories ever told. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen gives insight into this tragic love story and get a sneaky peek of what to expect at this epic performance on Sunday 26 September at Royal Festival Hall.


REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony

On Thurday 6th May the day of the UK general election Southbank Centre plays host to a very special event called REwind.

REwind – A Cantata for Voice, Tape & Testimony combines vocal soloists, chorus, and string octet with stunning projected images to celebrate the human spirit in South Africa that rose above the horror and evil of the deeds that were committed in the name of Apartheid.

Composer Philip Miller has endeavored to express in music the South African spirit as it manifested itself during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings that began in East London, South Africa in 1996. The songs in REwind, which mix operatic and traditional South African styles, are built around actual testimonies and weave recorded audio samples from the hearings into the music. The physical environment, designed by Gerhard Marx, creates a visual context that illuminates the full power of the cantata. Through the use of ingeniously animated projections of photographs and text the testimonies literally take form, enveloping the chorus on stage. And as the words and images settle onto the everyday world, the spaces between the victim and transgressor, those who deliver testimony and those who listen, merge.

REwind is a work with no real parallel: both an extraordinary piece of music and digital art and a historical document with tremendous topical relevance. Above all, it is a commemoration of the dignity of those victims who suffered under the regime.

‘An enduring masterpiece of diverse choral musical, cultural and oral traditions.’
– The Star, South Africa

‘The Cantata brought together the cry of our country – our pain and fears, our hopes and especially our triumphs and joys – in the way we as South Africans can best express these emotions – in music and song. It was a deeply moving, most powerful and uplifting experience. It is so much more than a concert. It is a wonderful vehicle for telling our history and a contribution to nation building.’
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus

Book tickets for this one-off concert at Royal Festival Hall here.