Celebrations in honor of the new-and-improved RFH began this past weekend with The Overture, 48 nonstop hours of music, dance, spoken word, film and visual arts running from dusk on Friday (June 8) to dusk on Sunday (June 11). All four of the Southbank Centre's resident orchestras were on hand, as were choirs from across England, jazz bands, DJs, dancers, visual artists and others. Among the highlights: Paul Daniel conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and a 2,000-strong choir in Beethoven's 9th Symphony; the London Sinfonietta leading a mass performance of Terry Riley's In C on the floor of the Centre's Ballroom; a combination Baroque and gospel concert with a mass gospel choir, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Sixteen; "Silent Disco," a spectacularly lit dance party on the Riverside Terrace with music provided over headphones distributed to those attending; and the Southbank Gamelan hosting other gamelan ensembles from around the U.K. in a specially built replica of a pendopo, a traditional Javanese performance pavilion.
Tonight is the Royal Festival Hall's official opening, with a First Night Gala featuring all four resident orchestras — the London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment — 250-plus musicians, some of whom have never collaborated before. The program includes (among other works) Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Ligeti's Atmosphres and music by Birtwistle, Ives, Purcell and Ravel; the concert closes with the final movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Ravel's Bolero. The vocal soloists are Joan Rodgers, Patricia Bardon, Simon O'Neill (stepping in on short notice for an indisposed Philip Langridge) and Neal Davies; sharing the podium are conductors Marin Alsop, Christoph von Dohnšnyi and Vladimir Jurowski.
The First Night Gala launches the Centre's Signature Concerts, a roster of celebratory performances running into September. Scheduled to perform are such superstars as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Alfred Brendel, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Charles Mackerras and Mitsuko Uchida; the series will also include the world premieres of works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Heiner Goebbels, who was commissioned by the Centre to write Songs of Wars I Have Seen for members of the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The work combines music and theater, surveying connections between Shakespeare's The Tempest and Gertrude Stein's memoirs from Paris, parts of which will be spoken by female orchestra members.
On June 30, the Centre presents a concert celebrating the OAE's 21st birthday. Conductors include Mark Elder, Vladimir Jurowski, Charles Mackerras and Roger Norrington, all of whom have longstanding relationships with the group; among the vocal soloists are countertenor Robin Blaze and tenors John Mark Ainsley and Philip Langridge; period keyboard specialists Richard Egarr and Robert Levin will play fortepiano in Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos (K. 365). The program also includes suites by Purcell and Rameau, Haydn's Symphony No. 63, the Act II finale of Weber's Der Freisch‹tz and Handel's Royal Fireworks Music.
Other Southbank Centre highlights through September include Meltdown, a multi-arts rock festival; one of London's biggest public art commissions, by sculptor Antony Gormerly; and the inception of the Centre's London Literature Festival, featuring world premieres by Roger McGough and Brian Patten as well as the release by Penguin Books of 1,000 free books on site. Also appearing at the center in July are Bryn Terfel in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, jazz musicians Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, and George Piper Dances (the Ballet Boyz). Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson rounds out the opening festivities with six concerts in September.
For more information about the Royal Festival Hall and the Southbank Centre, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk.