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Michael White’s classical news: Royal Festival Hall; English Music Festival; Perth Festival

27 May, 2021 — By Michael White

Chineke! play the Royal Festival Hall on May 28

SEVENTY years ago this month, something extraordinary happened just across the Thames from Charing Cross.

The country had been slumped in post-war misery. A so-called “tonic for the nation” was prescribed, the Festival of Britain. And at its centrepiece would be a glittering new concert venue, the Royal Festival Hall, which opened its doors for the first time in May 1951.

Seven decades on, the RFH is opening its doors again – this time after the long closure of Covid – with another festival: not on the scale of 1951, but hopefully still able to provide a sort of tonic (which God knows the nation needs just as it did before).

It starts May 28, with cellist-of-the-moment Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing the Dvořák Concerto with BAME orchestra Chineke!.

May 30 has the superstar sitar-player/composer/actress-and-so-much-else Anoushka Shankar with her own ensemble.

On June 2 the big guns arrive, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under its music director-designate Vasily Petrenko in the most poignantly beautiful of 20th-century symphonies, Vaughan Williams’ 5th.

And June 4 brings a chamber group like no other, made up from four dazzling solo-status players – cellist Alban Gerhardt, clarinettist Mark Simpson, pianist Steven Osborne and violinist Alina Ibragimova – who join forces for what should be a shattering account of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time: a masterwork written in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp but looking beyond the wretchedness of its immediate surroundings toward hope and benediction. Music not just for the end of time but for ours.

All concerts start 7.30pm, with audience. Be there, masked and cheering. Details

• If you’re itching to leave London over the bank holiday weekend and feel like heading south to Horsham (only 50 minutes from London Bridge), it’s the location for this year’s English Music Festival – a fixture based around the pastoral, loveable but often little known work of 20th-century composers like Finzi, Warlock, Bax and Howells.

The genial, non-strident face of sonic patriotism, it has some must-hear programmes, May 28-31, most of them at St Mary’s Church which is an easy stroll from Horsham Station, with favourite artists like baritone Roddy Williams and pianist Christopher Glynn. Take a picnic.

• Perth in Scotland is a bit more of a hike (though not so far as Perth, Australia), but you don’t need to go there to enjoy this year’s Perth Festival because it’s all online.

Over the next few days you can watch leading vocal ensembles from the Gesualdo Six to The Sixteen (depending on how many singers you want in your sitting-room), violinist Nicola Benedetti, saxophonist Manu Brazo, and a show I can heartily recommend because I devised it called Russian Soul: the story of Rachmaninov in Song – featuring the fabulous soprano Ilona Domnich.

Everything is filmed in Perth locations, to give a sense of being north of the border (and before Nicola Sturgeon makes you produce a passport to cross it). Tickets & details:


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