Orchestras: these are the champions
A league table for British orchestras?
From The Times, 1 September 2006
Yes, Richard Morrison, The Times Chief Music Critic, puts his neck on the block and identifies who’s top of the table. And it’s not a London band…
Home ground Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Changes at the top None. Mark Elder continues his revitalising reign.
Strengths Not since the days of Barbirolli has Manchester enjoyed such a powerful combination of inspirational maestro and fired-up orchestra. Aided by Lyn Fletcher, the Hallé’s exceptional leader, Elder has turned the Hallé into a passionate yet well-drilled outfit, as capable of delivering sumptuous Elgar as of snarling sardonically through Shostakovich.
Weaknesses Superb concerts are sometimes played to half-full houses of middle-aged punters in a city packed with students. Why don’t they hand out unsold tickets in the college bars?
Season highlights With typical panache a Bach Brandenburg concerto is paired with Mahler’s tumultuous Fifth Symphony in the season’s first concert (Sept 28). And don’t miss the celebrations next June, when Elder marks his 60th birthday and Elgar’s 150th.
2 LONDON SYMPHONY
Home ground Barbican. Changes at the top – Huge upheaval as urbane Sir Colin Davis gives way to the volcanic Valery Gergiev.
Strengths Quality players throughout the band, a glitzy international profile, lashings of panache, financial backing from the Corporation of London, pioneering work in education, and a visionary management style nurtured by Sir Clive Gillinson and continued by his successor Kathryn McDowell.
Weaknesses Favoured soloists and conductors — Rostropovich, Boulez, Mutter, Davis himself — tend to recycle the same old repertoire. Fresh thinking urgently needed; Daniel Harding’s arrival as principal guest conductor will help. But Gergiev’s reputation for doing eight shows a week on minimum rehearsal may plunge the LSO back into bad old habits painstakingly eradicated during the Gillinson years.
Season highlights Gergiev’s first stint as principal conductor includes lots of rarely played Russian music (Jan to Jun). And Mozart piano concertos are explored throughout the season by stellar soloists.
3 NORTHERN SINFONIA
Home ground Sage, Gateshead Changes at the top None. Thomas Zehetmair continues his stylish direction, often from the violin.
Strengths With its breathtaking Foster architecture, revolutionary intermingling of educational, community and professional music-making, and passionate support from Gateshead Council, the Sage has quickly become the most exciting music venue in Britain — and the Northern Sinfonia has raised its game to match its new home.
Weaknesses Repertoire is heavily geared toward mid-scale 18th and 19th-century pieces — the odd bit of Thomas Adès, Gerald Barry and Ligeti notwithstanding. Apart from Zehetmair, conductors tend to be fledgelings or also-rans.
Season highlights Zehetmair’s Schumann symphony cycle should be stimulating (Dec), and Adès conducts a bracing night of Stravinsky, Dallapiccola, and his own music (May 10).
4 BBC SYMPHONY
6 BBC PHILHARMONIC
7 LONDON PHILHARMONIC
8 CITY OF BIRMINGHAM SYMPHONY
9 BOURNEMOUTH SYMPHONY
10 ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
- BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
- Ulster Orchestra