Brighton Festival 2024 – Classical Preview

This year’s Brighton Festival (4-26 May) opens with a superb programme: the London Symphony Orchestra always fills the Dome Concert Hall to capacity. It’s our good fortune on 4 May to welcome their new Chief Conductor Designate, Sir Antonio Pappano, a truly international British star – with full-blooded Italian temperament, American entrepreneurship and all the experience and cultural breadth of twenty-two years as the music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The concert starts in sombre mode with Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, then, once we are all settled, the French virtuoso pianist Bertrand Chamayou will join the orchestra for Ravel’s wonderfully lush Piano Concerto in G. The jazzy first movement is followed by a blissfully sensuous slow movement and an adrenalin rush of a finale. We’ll need the interval to cool down, after which we can relax into the vastness of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, an hour of sumptuously romantic escapism with even more ‘big’ tunes than the Ravel. This splendid programme may already be sold out but it’s well worth trying for tickets.

Mahan Esfahani

Mahan Esfahani is not only a brilliant harpsichordist but a great communicator. His talks on Radio 3 are always fascinating. He clearly likes prestige venues. In 2011 he gave us Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the Music Room of the Royal Pavilion. This year on 5 May he will be enjoying the generous acoustics of Glyndebourne in a Sunday afternoon programme of four Bach concertos, including the Brandenburgs 2 & 5, playing with a small ensemble of Britten Sinfonia led by Jacqueline Shave.

Hilary Summers

On Wednesday 8 May Welsh contralto Hilary Summers and pianist Andrew West will take a jolly hour asking ‘What’s So Great About Opera?’ I’m looking forward to experiencing the newly refurbished Studio Theatre and this event should be an excellent test of the acoustics, especially as half the time is given to ‘a one-woman reduction of The Magic Flute’ (known for its stratospheric soprano and cavernous bass)!

Talking about newly improved venues, the fabulous wood panelling in the Corn Exchange reminds me of The Maltings, Snape. It has created perhaps the best acoustics in Brighton. This will certainly be needed on Thursday 16 May for the enterprising 12 Ensemble’s concert which is complemented by an immersive holographic display, created live and directed by artist Ben Ditto. The theme is the transformative power of music, ‘Metamorphosis’.

Their adventurous programme includes new works by Edmund Finnis and Oliver Leith. I don’t know their work but I expect great things as Finnis is a Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music and back in the day he worked closely with local composer Jonathan Harvey who was Professor of Music at Sussex University. Leith is Doctoral Composer-in-Residence at the Royal Opera House. We will also have the rare opportunity to hear Claude Vivier’s ‘Zipangu’. “the land of sunrise”. It is considered by many to be this troubled composer’s most aggressive and “unforgiving” piece!

12 Ensemble-photo credit Raphael Neal

12 Ensemble is a collection of audacious string players whose programme will be exciting and fascinating. For me the best part will likely be Richard Strauss’ heart-rending lament for war-torn Germany ‘Metamorphosen’, which Festival goers last heard in a rain-sodden, dilapidated market space on the occasion of the composer’s 150th birthday in 2014.

States of Innocence

Another highlight in this year’s Festival programme is the premiere of a new opera on 19 May: ‘States of Innocence’ by Ed Hughes, Professor of Composition in Music at Sussex University, with a libretto by Peter Cant, inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost It marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Milton, the poet, prophet, dreamer. Conductor Andrew Gourlay has gathered a very distinguished ensemble of players to accompany the singers led by Lewes based international opera star, Sir John Tomlinson, who portrays John Milton in this concert performance. It is directed by Tim Hopkins with video projections by artist Ian Winters. They are both research fellows at the University of Sussex.

These are just a few headline events of what promises to be another fantastic Brighton Festival. Look out for the Lunchtime Concerts – always top quality and excellent value, and you may like to support our excellent young local talent: the Brighton Festival Youth Choir on Saturday 11 May at All Saints Hove; and the Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra with the Brighton and Hove Youth Wind Orchestra on Monday 13 May in the Dome.

There’s so much to enjoy.

Booking details are found on

Andrew Connal
April 2024

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