Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Sir Simon Rattle; Stephen Hough; Raymond Yiu

Thursday, 14th January

Sir Simon Rattle conducting

Sir Simon Rattle

IT’S an extraordinary thought that next Tuesday, Sir Simon Rattle – who many still remember as the gilded youth of British music (known to orchestras as “Baby” Rattle) – hits 66 and becomes a pensioner. Not that he’ll need his State handout, because it’s just been announced that in 2023 he’ll be taking charge of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich – and at the same time leaving his present job with the London Symphony, which is a serious blow to everybody here who thought he’d be a fixture of the city’s music-making for a good long time. It was little more than three years ago that he took over the LSO, amid extravagant celebrations at the Barbican, which was only too pleased to have nabbed him. Now the party’s over, sooner than expected. But before we all go into mourning, he’s still going to be around for the next year or so. And what’s more, you can see him in action next week – because on Jan 21 he’s at the LSO’s Moorgate headquarters, St Luke’s, conducting the Berg Violin Concerto (soloist Leonidas Kavakos) and Schubert’s 9th Symphony. There won’t be any audience present, but it will stream online, 7pm, at www.marquee.tv/series/lso And it’s free to watch for the next seven days, after which there’s a charge. So don’t hang around, and make the most of it. From now on, Rattle’s days with us are numbered.

Thinking of numbered days, the North London pianist Stephen Hough has a new CD out next week called Vida Breve: a themed recital on the passing of life which includes things like Chopin’s 2nd Sonata (with its famous Funeral March) and Busoni’s morbidly portentous Fantasy on themes from Bizet’s Carmen – as well as a recent work by Hough himself that lends the disc its name. Issued on the Hyperion label, it’s not cheerful listening for the times we’re in; but it is thoughtful, clever, and superlatively well-delivered by one of the most compelling personalities on the international keyboard circuit – not that he’s been very active internationally in the past months, thanks to Covid, which is why you often find him these days trudging through the mud on Hampstead Heath. Pondering soulful subjects for his next recording.

• Someone else you’ll find taking his lawful exercise on Hampstead Heath is the Chinese-born but Camden-based composer Raymond Yiu, who has a new CD out on the Delphian label. Called The World Was Once all Miracle, after one of the pieces on the disc, it features the BBC Symphony Orchestra in works by Yiu that have made his name in recent years – including a symphonic song cycle based on poems about gay love that I remember bringing the house down when it premiered at the Albert Hall Proms in 2015.
Yiu is an outstanding and distinctive voice in British music – all the more so for his Asian origins, which throw up issues of identity that he explores productively as well as playfully in what he writes. Walking the Heath, he opts for the identity of a distinctive woolly panda hat. It’s cute. But underneath it is a very serious talent. Listen to the new CD and be amazed.

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