Philharmonia Orchestra announces 2021/22 London Season, its first under new Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducting the Philharmonia

The Philharmonia Orchestra announces the first half of its new season as Resident Orchestra at London’s Southbank Centre. The full orchestra of 80+ musicians returns to the Royal Festival Hall, joined by Featured Artist Pekka Kuusisto, alongside soloists Hilary Hahn, András Schiff, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and more. A diverse and ambitious programme ranges from epic Strauss and Stravinsky to an all-Mozart evening and a live film screening with a mesmerising Philip Glass soundtrack.

 Key highlights:

  • Electrifying young Santtu-Matias Rouvali takes over as Principal Conductor – just the sixth in the Orchestra’s 76-year history.
  • Santtu opens the London season with an epic Strauss double bill, welcoming over 100 musicians back to the Royal Festival Hall stage.
  • Human / Nature: Music for a Precious Planet runs from 30 Sep – 2 Dec, looking at how composers across the centuries have responded to the natural world, and exploring the ways today’s composers are addressing the global climate crisis. Human / Nature is supported by Kathryn and Andrew Davis / The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.
  • Featured Artist Pekka Kuusisto plays Sibelius’s Violin Concerto alongside a focus on new music – performing a new concerto commissioned as part of Human / Natureby Bryce Dessner, conducting the world premiere of a new work by Isobel Waller-Bridge; and directing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons from the violin with improvisation between movements.
  • Kuusisto refreshes the Philharmonia’s contemporary series Music of Today, curating and directing two performances, featuring composers including Gabriella Smith, John Luther Adams and Anna Thorvaldsdottír.
  • Other key artists include pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in a birdsong-inspired programme featuring music by his teacher Olivier Messiaen, András Schiff play-directing an all-Mozart programme, conductor Xian Zhang performing Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde alongside Sarah Connolly and Andreas Schager, and violinist Hilary Hahn playing Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1.
  • Philip Glass’ landmark environmental film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance on the Royal Festival Hall’s huge screen, with the influential minimalist score played live.
  • The season marks a return to live large-scale symphonic concerts with a continued commitment to streaming first-class performances around the world.
  • The second half of the 2021/22 season (Feb – Jun 2022) will be announced in the autumn.

The Philharmonia announces the first half of its 2021/22 Season at Southbank Centre, which will be Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s first as Principal Conductor of the Orchestra. The sixth in the Orchestra’s history, he succeeds Esa-Pekka Salonen. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Riccardo Muti, appointed as the Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia in 1973 at 32, 34-year-old Rouvali is one of the youngest-ever artists appointed as Principal Conductor of a London orchestra.

Santtu takes up his position this autumn with a season focused on music inspired by the natural world and humanity’s role within it. To open the season Santtu conducts an epic Strauss double-bill with over 100 musicians taking to the stage (30 Sept).The following week he conduct Stravinsky, Revueltas and the UK Premiere of a new Violin Concerto by Bryce Dessner, with Pekka Kuusisto as the soloist (3 Oct). He returns in November to conduct Wagner’s The Ring Without Words and Strauss’ Four Last Songs with soprano Miah Persson. Santtu will close the Human/Nature series conducting Sibelius and Beethoven (2 Dec) with the season’s Featured Artist Pekka Kuusisto, a concert which will also be available to watch online on demand.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali said: “The environment is a very important topic for me and when I am not conducting, I spend a lot of my time in nature at home in Finland – and I know first-hand how it is both powerful, and delicate. This inspiring series, Human / Nature with the Philharmonia, allows us to show how composers have used music to reflect nature and that brings us together to understand what the natural environment means to us, and its importance. I am hugely proud to join the Philharmonia Orchestra, one of the world’s leading orchestras, as Principal Conductor, and I am looking forward to returning to stage and welcoming our wonderful audiences in London and across the UK to our concerts this coming season.”

Santtu was born in Lahti, Finland, where his parents were both members of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and he grew up in and around the orchestra. Trained as a percussionist and with experience playing drums in rock bands, he took up conducting at a young age, and studied at the Sibelius Academy. His first principal conductorship, which he still holds, was in Tampere, Finland, where the orchestra has had to repeat concerts because of the “Santtu Effect” on audiences for classical music in the town. He is also Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

The Human / Nature series explores how composers have addressed humanity’s relationship with the natural world, how mountains, forests, rivers, oceans have been a spark for creativity since the dawn of music-making.  Some composers have sought to express, and inspire, a spiritual reverence for nature, from a sense of awe seen in the grandeur of Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, to the minutely observed detail of Messiaen’s Réveil des oiseaux. Others have delved into aspects of human nature – our capacity for love, pleasure and empathy is a theme running through Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, while a tendency towards violence and destruction shapes works such as Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi (Life out of Balance). Masterpieces as different as Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring are testament to the ways the rhythms of our planet affect our minds, our bodies and our emotions.  And the Philharmonia are looking forward, shining a light on this major issue of our time. With the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference taking place in the UK this autumn the Philharmonia have turned the spotlight onto a rising generation of activist artistic voices, including composer Gabriella Smith, and violinist Pekka Kuusisto, who are confronting the climate emergency with ingenuity and imagination.  Human / Nature is supported by Kathryn and Andrew Davis / The Shelby Collum Davis Charitable Fund.

In the first half of the 21/22 season there will be a focus on Finnish violinist and conductor Pekka Kuusisto, who is playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto and a new concerto commissioned as part of Human / Nature by American composer (and co-founder and guitarist of The National), Bryce Dessner; and later he conducts the world premiere of a new work by Isobel Waller-Bridge and directs Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons from the violin with improvisation between movements. Bringing together some of the most exciting names in contemporary music, Pekka Kuusisto also takes up the role of curator of the Philharmonia’s new music series, Music of Today. In this series presented in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, Kuusisto will play Gabriella Smith’s Anthozoa, inspired by the vibrant life of the coral reefs of French Polynesia, and John Luther Adams’s evocative work inspired by the desert of the US Southwest, there is no one, not even the wind (3 Oct). In Glass, Metal, Wood, Water he directs and performs on both violin and live electronics in a programme inspired by the forces of nature featuring composers from Iceland, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, including Anna Thorvaldsdottír and Andrea Tarrodi (28 Nov).

Other highlights of the season include Sir András Schiff, one of the most admired musicians of our time, following in Mozart’s footsteps, directing from both the piano and the podium in A Feast of Mozart (18 November). The Orchestra opens 2022 with cellist Steven Isserlis, performing Haydn under the baton of Philippe Herreweghe (16 Jan). Alongside the core symphonic repertoire, the Philharmonia presents a programme of Christmas classics (9 Dec) and Christmas film scores (12 Dec), as well as a suite from Tchaikovsky’s seasonal favourite, The Nutcracker (5 Dec) in a concert featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman and Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali

The 2021/22 Season features a raft of major conductors, instrumentalists and singers. Joining Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s performances this autumn, the Philharmonia welcomes pianist Yefim Bronfman (5 Dec 2021) and soprano Miah Persson (4 Nov 2021). Conductor Xian Zhang appears alongside mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and violinist Alina Ibragimova (11 Nov 2021), and the autumn offers an opportunity to hear regular Philharmonia collaborators Pablo Heras-Casado (28 Oct 2021) and Elim Chan (7 Nov 2021).

Alexander Van Ingen, Chief Executive of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “It’s a great feeling to be back performing large-scale concerts with a real live audience, and what better way to bounce back than an epic Strauss double-bill to start the season? We’re thrilled that Santtu-Matias Rouvali will kick off his new Principal Conductor position with the Philharmonia with big, bold programming, and a full series of concerts centering on our shared natural environment. It is a topic close to Santtu’s heart, and through music we hope to inspire, encourage reflection, and remind people what the natural world means to us. The past 15 months have been incredibly challenging for everyone, and we are very grateful to the Philharmonia’s family of supporters who have helped us through. We eagerly look forward to reconnecting with people in a creative way, though a range of programmes with some of today’s foremost artists and composers which offer an unforgettable live music experience.”

Human / Nature is supported by Kathryn and Andrew Davis / The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.

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