Lang Lang, Mahler, highlight UK Southbank season

Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:48pm EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London's Southbank Center, home to four orchestras, announced a new season on Friday featuring Chinese piano superstar Lang Lang, vast amounts of Mahler and so much music that recession seemed banished from the airwaves.

"We have to be brave," Jude Kelly, Southbank's artistic director, said at a news conference, acknowledging the programing, also featuring internationally known soloists and visiting orchestras, was ambitious in tough economic times.

"We don't really know what the economic climate of the future is going to look like," she added. "But we have to commit ourselves and dedicate ourselves actually to serious and demanding work."

Among the highlights will be Lang Lang working with young pianists, plus a festival billed as "the world's most significant Mahler anniversary celebration" with 27 concerts marking 150 years since the Viennese composer's birth.

Finland's Esa-Pekka Salonen will conduct Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" with a video by artist Bill Viola, and there will be a residency for a new "El Sistema" orchestra out of Venezuela -- the program that teaches underprivileged youngsters how to play professionally.

For movie buffs, the center will mount what it said in a press release will be the first concert performance of the original score of the Hollywood classic "Singin' in the Rain," as well as a screening of the original 1925 "Phantom of the Opera" with a live orchestra playing the soundtrack.

Southbank has made a big effort to reach out to the community, including encouraging musicians to work with children from a nearby social housing cluster. But the bulk of its programing still appeals to the hard-core classical music fan.

Chief Executive Alan Bishop said fears that when recession struck people were going to "hunker down at home and watch DVDs" had proven false, and that as long as ticket sales remained strong and funding held out, Southbank would provide what he called programing of "extraordinary quality."   Continued...