2022 Arts Preview: The Year Ahead in Classical Music

It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Scotland’s orchestras, writes Ken Walton, but will we see more activity from Scottish Opera? And what does Fergus Linenan have in store for the 75th Edinburgh International Festival?

Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra PIC: Chris Christodoulou

Will 2022 be the year when classical music sees green shoots after nearly two years of make do and mend? The signs were good before Omicron reared its ugly head and some Christmas concerts bit the dust, begging the question, can we look forward yet with any great confidence?

Certainly, the movers and shakers have learned to cope better with the uncertainties that Covid has inflicted on concert planning, especially the frequency with which guest artists are still forced to call off at the last minute. So yes, there are published concert series that take us towards the summer festival period, but with the unwritten caveat that things may have to be modified along the way.

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

Among the SCO’s highlights are a three-concert residency by extrovert Finnish violinist/director Pekka Kuusisto, and more from their explosive partnership with principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev. Both orchestras continue to provide complementary online digital content. At the heart of the BBC SSO’s upcoming Spring season is a much-anticipated survey of the complete symphonies of Carl Nielsen conducted by Thomas Dausgaard.

This will be Dausgaard’s swan song after five years as SSO chief conductor, which raises the burning question: who will succeed him? He’s not been seen him in Scotland for almost two years, the pandemic having scuppered his celebratory Beethoven Festival in 2020 and anything beyond. An article on the Seattle Symphony Orchestra website (where Dausgaard is music director) points to undisclosed “personal turmoil” playing a part in his extended self-confinement in Denmark.

His departure leaves the SSO with a critical appointment to make. Despite some imaginative programming, Dausgaard’s stage relationship with the players has never been one to set the heather on fire. The challenge is to find a successor with the compatibility and charisma to recharge the SSO. It shouldn’t be a rushed decision.

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

Main scale Scottish Opera offerings in 2022 are so far limited to a new Domenic Hill production, in February and March, of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a revival, in May and June, of Sir Thomas Allen’ 2013 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with a one-off semi-staged double bill performance in Perth of Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight and Stravinsky’s Mavra.

Given there’s only been one full-scale production so far this season – an albeit excellent take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers – are we witnessing the financial payback from the pandemic? Let’s hope the as-yet-unannounced summer months and early 2022-23 season will prove restorative.

As for the perennial festivals, details are scarce, but going by the ingenuity and perseverance they demonstrated last year – from the St Magnus and East Neuk Festivals to Paxton House, Edinburgh, Lammermuir and Cumnock Tryst (as yet unable to christen its new performing venue at Robert Burns Academy) – hopes are high. Advance word from East Neuk (29 June to 3 July) is that pianists Christian Zacharias, Elisabeth Leonskaja and Pavel Kolesnikov will be featuring, as will the red-hot Pavel Haas and Elias Quartets.

The question on everyone’s lips for August: what goodies will Fergus Linehan come up with to mark the 75th Edinburgh International Festival, which is also his finale as director? It’s all very hush-hush for now, but few will doubt that Linehan, whose quick-thinking and cunning rescued the two most recent Festivals from the constraints of Covid through quality use of digital technology and imaginative venue modelling, has the creative wherewithal to make this “the great celebration” he has been promising.

In infrastructure terms, work should finally start this year on the SCO’s new 1,000-seater Edinburgh Concert Hall, due to open in 2025. And with the planning battle won on the future of the old Royal High School, expect positive progress on the development of Edinburgh’s Nicola Benedetti-backed National Centre for Music and new home for St Mary’s Music School. Both are symbols of fresh optimism in the arts, exactly when they’re needed.

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