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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Beethoven’s 250th; The Lark Ascending; Open-air N8; Owen Wingrave

10 December, 2020 — By Michael White

Beethoven as painted by Joseph Karl Stieler

IN more normal circumstances, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven would have been the musical highlight of 2020, with massive celebrations worldwide when it falls officially next week on Dec 17 (though he may actually have been born the day before: no one quite knows).

As things are, the champagne won’t be flowing so conspicuously, thanks to Covid cancellations. But something that survives is the marathon performance of all five piano concertos that elusive keyboard legend Krystian Zimerman will play with Simon Rattle and the LSO at the Barbican, 6pm-10pm on Thursday.

With reduced seating, your chances of getting a ticket are slim – though try www.tickets.lso.co.uk for returns. But you can watch online through a new venture called DGStage, which is a viewing platform for concerts launched by Deutsche Grammophon.

The live marathon will be parcelled up into three events streamed over Dec 17, 19 and 21, for which you have to register and pay €10. It’s worth it. Details: www.dg-premium.com/dg-stage

• Another anniversary this week is the centenary of the premiere of that rhapsodic English classic, Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. Year after year it tops the Classic FM listeners’ poll. And with its potent sense of reaching back into a past where things were better than they are today, it’s never been more popular. But not everybody knows that this miniature concerto began life in 1920 as a duet for violin and piano – which is how it will be done on the day of the centenary, Tuesday, at St John’s Smith Square, as part of a concert by players from the English Sinfonia. The violinist is Janice Graham. Concert repeats 1.05pm and 7pm. Advance booking essential: www.sjss.org.uk

• Back in the summer I raved about the impressive open-air concerts organised by soprano Mary Bevan at St Mary’s Tower, off Hornsey High Street, N8. And they’re back for a short winter run, starting 5pm this Sunday with seasonal music led by stars like larger-than-life tenor Nicky Spence and Mary herself, with Onyx Brass. There will be carols – it’s allowed! – and mulled wine from the nearby pub, which makes it the closest you may get this year to a traditional Christmas singalong. Just turn up – it’s a minute from Hornsey station – and donate.

• Finally, for those who like a winter’s evening ghost story, Britten’s opera Owen Wingrave – based on a tale by Henry James about a haunted room you sleep in at your peril – has been filmed on location by Grange Park Opera and put on their magnificently well-stocked website: www.grangeparkopera.co.uk. It’s a fascinating piece of work, accessible for free until the end of 2020. And while you’re there, take a look at all the other things GPO is streaming free for your seasonal delight – including a show exploring the life of Rachmaninov through his songs, which I can wholeheartedly recommend because I devised it. Unmissable.

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