World orchestras shun London

World orchestras shun London


norman lebrecht

March 22, 2023

The Barbican has just released its programme for September 2023 to January 2024.

It contains just two visiting ensembles – the opera orchestra from Munich and the esoteric Insula orchestra from France.

The world’s major orchestras are absent, yet again, as they are at London’s South Bank.

Brexit and Covid have combined to kill London as an orchestral capital.

Barbican highlights below.
– Bayerisches Staatsorchester with a 500th anniversary year season-opener double-bill of Strauss’ majestic An Alpine Symphony and Mahler’s enchanting Symphony No 4 led by Vladimir Jurowski
– Clarinettist Anthony McGill, the first African-American principal player of the New York Philharmonic, embarks on his tenure as Milton Court Artist-in-Residence, including the European premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis’s You Have the Right to Remain Silent
– Laurence Equilbey and her Insula Orchestra and Accentus Chorus collaborate with artist Mat Collishaw to present a multimedia performance of Fauré’s Requiem
– San Francisco string ensemble Kronos Quartet mark their 50th anniversary
– Pianist Beatrice Rana makes her Barbican recital debut with Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B Minor
– London Symphony Orchestra’s 22 concerts feature conductors Barbara Hannigan, Sir Antonio Pappano, André J Thomas, Duncan Ward, Susanna Mälkki, Gianandrea Noseda, and Sir Simon Rattle.
– GRAMMY Award winning US vocal group Roomful of Teeth return to the Barbican for the first time since 2018’s Sounds and Visions festival
Soprano Natalie Dessay brings her new project: Women’s Words with the music of Alma Mahler, Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn, and Clara Schumann at its heart
– Violinist Johan Dalene joins Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Tebogo Monnakgotla’s Globe Skimmer Surfing the Somali Jet (Violin Concerto)
– Violinist Fenella Humphreys and writer Leah Broad present Quartet and the music of the four trailblazing women featured in Broad’s acclaimed book of the same title
– Darbar Festival returns for a long weekend of mindful, magnificent Indian classical music
– Britten Sinfonia gives a rare performance of Mozart’s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah and joins soprano Elizabeth Watts for Finzi’s Dies Natalis and a new song cycle by Richard Blackford, setting texts by young Afghan writer Nadia Anjuman
– The Academy of Ancient Music launches its 50th anniversary season with Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, an iconic work that has been a mainstay of the orchestra’s repertoire since its inception
– Musician and producer Matthew Herbert and the London Contemporary Orchestra journey into the origins of music in The Horse
EFG London Jazz Festival returns for its 31st year of cutting-edge music from some of the world’s most exciting artists to be announced


  • MacroV says:

    So the absence of foreign orchestras for a four-month period in fall/early winter next year is indicative of anything? Is that a time of year that orchestras tend to come to London – when it’s cold and dark?

    What about at the RFH?

    • William Evans says:

      The RFH is part of the aforementioned Southbank Centre.

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      If you compare for exemple with the Paris Philarmonie, you will see that almost all the best orchestras of Europe (exept Dresden I don’t know why they don’t like France) come there at least once every two years. For exemple Budapest was in town yesterday, previsously it was La Scala, Sant-Cecilia, Amsterdam or Prague. And San Francisco came two weeks ago… Maybe there’s a problem with the two “B” Barbican and Brexit. I don’t know.

      • Iain says:

        “If you compare for exemple with the Paris Philarmonie”

        Perhaps they hope that money will be thrown at them?

        • Concertgebouw79 says:

          I make a comparaison because Paris and London are two big capitals with a public faithful who like classical with a kind of tradition in both cities. Look at the program of the Paris Phirlamronie…. And it’s sad that a city like London don’t have the concerts today the city deserves. I imagine what it was in the 80’s with Abbado or before with Haitink…. And by the way, the LSO likes to come to Paris frequently.

          • Barry says:

            I think Iain might have been referring to events in Lille.

          • Michael Mitchell says:

            London has Wigmore Hall. I think it is the greatest concert hall in the world. It’s not all about orchestras.

      • Pedro says:

        Dresden and Vienna go to the Théâtre des Champs Élysées.

    • Derek H says:

      Your point is valid, of course.

      However, I believe that Covid and fear of Terrorism have changed the view of U.S. Orchestras. I know that Cleveland, Boston and Dallas have cancelled tours to the U.K.

      Also, there has been a noticeable reduction in visiting European orchestras, even before the pandemic. Several of the major orchestras used to visit British cities on tour but that hasn’t been happening for some years.

      I appreciated their concerts and miss the opportunity to see them in the U.K. as any visits to Europe cannot often be combined with convenient concert dates.

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        This year I have seen Philadelphia ans San Francisco on tour in Europe. Cleveland if you hear me…

    • Captain Obvious says:

      It’s equally cold and dark in other spots of northern Europe, as well as in New York, Chicago, Seattle, etc. And yes, this is the time that people often times go to such concerts – when it’s too miserable outside to partake in competing outdoor activities. Sorry for being Captain Obvious.

  • Nik says:

    Norman, not long ago you were complaining that the orchestra touring circus was unsustainable and needed to be reduced. Now that that’s happening you’re also complaining.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    Perhaps they are abiding by your periodical admonitions for everybody to fly less.

  • Maria says:

    Only so much room in London for so many more orchestras, a cost of living crisis for audiences with the cost of living only spiked today. And then the Prom programme comes out next month, so see who turns up there.

    • Derek H says:

      Yes, The Proms will attract some to visit and cost is a factor at the moment.

      I hope that, in the future, they will consider touring to Birmingham. Manchester, Glasgow etc. as they used to do and not be restricted to London and thus make the visit more rewarding.
      Surely, the better European orchestras have the quality and drawing power to attract large audiences.

      The Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic, Gewandhaus Leipzig and Budapest, to name a few, all used to tour and I would go see them all.

  • Andrew Powell says:

    Norman, “the opera orchestra from Munich” was founded in 1811, originated in 1523, can hold its own against ANY orchestra in the world, and has a name!

    • JGHuber says:

      I heard them in February with Maestro Zubin Metha. They were fantastic, so much when playing Bruckner 7. I can definitely recommend the Staatsorchester not only as an opera orchestra

      • Andrew Powell says:

        I recommend the Mahler 7 as led by Kirill Petrenko (Amazon B08YS637TC). The Beethoven 7 under Carlos Kleiber (B000E9X6JE) is not bad either.

      • MacroV says:

        Their performance of Rosenkavalier with Petrenko at Carnegie Hall (nearly 5 years ago to the day) was a thing of wonder.

  • Samach says:

    Because it’s easier and cheaper for Londoners to fly to European cities to visit than for European orchestras to get visas into London to work.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      If the people arriving on rubber lifeboats don’t need visas why should international orchestras? Seems there’s a lot of discrimination and hypocrisy about these days.

  • Herbie G says:

    …but at least the programmes are really diverse. What a relief.

    • Mystic Chord says:

      Is this necessary? There is a huge amount of traditional repertoire in this programme. At least there is for me – I’m booking at least 10 concerts.

      Yes it’s a shame there aren’t more visiting orchestras but I’m most grateful for the quality of those we have in London.

  • pjl says:

    Surely the poor acoustic of the two halls is a major factor: much more enjoyable to play in the Paris Philharmonie. Though, as said above, why do the orchestras not realise that in Manchester and Glasgow there are halls with much better acoustics? Levelling up needed!

  • Paul Johnson says:

    I’m booking Mahler 3 with the LSO and Michael Tilson Thomas.

    • Mystic Chord says:

      Excellent – I sang in the boys choir for Mahler 3 & MTT in the Roman Theatre at Orange , France, 1977-ish. A special memory.

  • Jenni says:

    Seems like the UK is trying to kill itself as fast as America is. The blind leading the blind.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Now wait a minute. I think we Yanks managed our process much slower. The UK seems to be out to set a speed record (Actually, I think it’s more likely just a very bad bump in the road).

  • sonicsinfonia says:

    Wouldn’t be anything to do with time and cost of work permits, visas, customs carnets and additional administration since we left the EU, would it?

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    Although Ms. Watts is a fine soprano, Finzi’s “Dies Natalis” is best heard through a tenor voice.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Dublin has now better concerts on than London. Brexit the gift that goes on giving. I am doing the Handel Fest in July and the Arts one in Kilkenny if I can get the “Prince of Darkness” electrics of my 1952 XK 120 drophead Coupe working.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Brexit has totally banjaxed the Arts in UK.