2022 Arts Preview: the year ahead in classical music

Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra PIC: Chris Christodoulou

Will 2022 be the year classical music sees green shoots after nearly two years of repair? The signs were good before Omicron reared its ugly head and some Christmas concerts bit the dust, asking the question, can we still look to the future with great confidence?

To be sure, movers and shakers have learned to better cope with the uncertainties Covid has inflicted on concert planning, including how often guest performers are still forced to cancel at the last minute. So yes, there are concert series released that take us into the summer festival period, but with the unwritten caveat that things may need to be changed along the way.

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Taken together, the orchestral seasons have a lot to offer. From the RSNO, there is a return visit (after his invigorating environmental project Cop 26) in February by charismatic violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja to perform Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, and later idiosyncratic Gavin Bryars conducts his own music, including including the iconic Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, at Sonica 2022 in Glasgow.

Highlights of the SCO include a three-concert residency by outgoing Finnish violinist / director Pekka Kuusisto, and more from their explosive partnership with Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev. The two orchestras continue to provide complementary online digital content. At the heart of the upcoming BBC SSO Spring Season is a much-anticipated Carl Nielsen Complete Symphonies Survey conducted by Thomas Dausgaard.

It will be Dausgaard’s swan song after five years as an SSO conductor, which begs the burning question: who will succeed him? He hasn’t seen him in Scotland for almost two years, as the pandemic scuttled his Beethoven Festival in 2020 and everything beyond. An article on the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s website (of which Dausgaard is musical director) says undisclosed “personal turmoil” played a role in his prolonged self-confinement in Denmark.

His departure leaves the SSO with a crucial appointment to make. Despite imaginative programming, Dausgaard’s scenic relationship with players was never such as to set the heather on fire. The challenge is to find a successor with the compatibility and charisma to reload SSO. It shouldn’t be a rushed decision.

While orchestras are collectively busy – look for a combined RSNO and SSO performance of John Adams’ Harmonielehre at the Association of British Orchestras conference in February in Glasgow – should opera fans feel a bit changed?

Major Scottish opera offerings in 2022 have so far been limited to a new production by Domenic Hill, in February and March, of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a revival, in May and June, of Sir Thomas Allen’s 2013 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with a unique semi-staged double performance in Perth from Rachmaninoff’s The Miserly Knight and Stravinsky’s Mavra.

Given that there has only been one full-scale production so far this season – an excellent version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers – are we seeing financial recovery from the pandemic? Hopefully the unannounced summer months and the start of the 2022-2023 season will prove to be restorative.

When it comes to perennial festivals details are scarce, but judging by the ingenuity and perseverance they showed last year – from the St Magnus and East Neuk festivals to Paxton House, Edinburgh, Lammermuir and Cumnock Tryst (not yet in a position to name his new performance hall at Robert Burns Academy) – hopes are high. East Neuk’s announcement (June 29-July 3) is that pianists Christian Zacharias, Elisabeth Leonskaja and Pavel Kolesnikov will be in attendance, as will the ardent Pavel Haas and Elias Quartets.

The question on everyone’s lips for the month of August: what goodies will Fergus Linehan concoct to mark the 75th Edinburgh International Festival, which is also his final as a director? Everything is very secret for now, but few will doubt that Linehan, whose quick wit and cunning saved the last two Festivals from the constraints of Covid thanks to a quality use of digital technology and imaginative modeling of the places, has the creative means to make this “big party” that he promised.

In terms of infrastructure, work should finally start this year on SCO’s new 1,000-seat Edinburgh concert hall, scheduled to open in 2025. And with the planning battle won over the future of the former Royal High School, expect positive progress on the development of The National Music Center supported by Nicola Benedetti of Edinburgh and the new home of St Mary’s Music School. Both are symbols of a new optimism in the arts, exactly when they are needed.

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