Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano

'Our theme for the next two years is 'Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano' ... it's an extraordinary expression, one that inspires us to explore what was happening in the musical world in the first half of the 20th century.'  LSO Music Director Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle, conducting

‘In the 2020/21 season we are launching something completely new. Our theme for the next two years is ‘Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano’, a phrase Alban Berg and others used to describe the febrile atmosphere in Germany in the 1930s, as Europe lay on the cusp of fascism. It’s an extraordinary expression, one that inspires us to explore what was happening in the musical world in the first half of the 20th century.

Our season offers portraits of composers as human beings. How did they react in a time of anxiety? Ravel volunteered as an artillery lorry driver during World War I and was traumatised by the experience; in some of the pieces we will hear, there is an undertow of tragedy. Even in the Britten Violin Concerto, there is palpable fear.

Many composers sought refuge in America, creating an extraordinary diaspora and mixture of influences. Rachmaninoff fled there from Russia, while Kurt Weill escaped Germany and was writing pieces about the 1920s, but looking for a sound that hadn’t existed before.

In my own concerts I will explore music by Berg – including two concert performances of one of the seminal works of the era, his opera Wozzeck – plus Webern, Bartók, Hindemith and others. The Orchestra’s family of conductors also take up the theme: Gianandrea Noseda continues his cycle of Shostakovich’s complete symphonies, while François-Xavier Roth presents a series of the major works of Varèse, another composer who was searching for new sound worlds. His works offer a visceral assault on the senses, but also extraordinary moments of tenderness and melancholy.

The era inspired some of the darkest music possible. Webern’s Six Pieces, which we hear in the opening week of the season, prefigure the future catastrophes: rich, but tiny and intense with the power of concentrated hydrochloric acid, they go to the heart of absolutely everything. And that’s exactly where we hope to take you this season.’

Sir Simon Rattle OM CBE
LSO Music Director

Delve deeper 

Read our article by Paul Griffiths who introduces the music, the time and our season. 

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