London festival

Michael White’s musical news: Last Night; Pavel Kolesnikov; LSO; Rigoletto; London American Music Festival; Islington balls

THIS week marks a turning point in the musical year which is always a big deal, but more important this time around than usual. Balls come to an end. Almost immediately, all the other rooms come alive with their new seasons. And for many of them, they will be back in business for the first time since the Covid crisis hit.

The Proms end with two events, one intimate, the other grandiose. Intimacy is this Friday (September 10) when I can guarantee you that the Albert Hall will be held in suspense by a solo pianist, Pavel Kolesnikov, playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations: music which, the story tells, was written at the request of an insomniac patron to help him through the night.

Pavel Kolesnikov. Photo credit: Eva Vermandel

It is not easy for an unaccompanied soloist to control the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, but in Kolesnikov you get a pianist of poetic genius: charismatic and intense. If anybody can do it, they can – then expect this ball to be remarkable.

The big event on Saturday is the Last night, and it will be interesting to see how well the traditional spirit survives Covid’s restrictions on standing. There will certainly not be as many flag wavers as usual, but the BBC programs most of the usual flag waving repertoire. And for serious content there is Wagner – with famous tenor Wagner Stuart skelton in the spotlight. Details: And all on Radio 3 (as well as TV for Last Night).

• The LSOis the new season at Barbican gets off to a quick start on Sunday, with Simon Rattle conducting an all-English program by Vaughan Williams, Purcell, and the world premiere of a new piece by one of Britain’s greatest contemporary composers, Julian Anderson. For those who think modern music has no melodies, there is also the adorable Orkney Wedding with Sunrise by Peter Maxwell Davies – the sun proclaimed by the spectacular arrival on stage of a Scottish bagpiper, who always pleases the public.

• And like racing dogs out of the trap, the Royal Opera is fast the next day, September 13, with a new production from Verdi Rigoletto – notable as director Oliver Mears’ first full staging since taking over the company. With Antonio Pappano, the musical director of the ROH, to direct, it will be an internal declaration of the genre “Here we are post-Covid”. And showing, hopefully, that Covent Garden is in poor health.

• Other things to listen to this week include the return of the small but adventurous London American Music Festival to Deposit, Waterloo, September 13-18. Directed as always by pioneering conductor Odaline de la Martinez, this year’s program features transgender operas, a series of British premieres and plenty of Florence Price whose music has become the central repertoire of Radio 3, so you’ll know How’s it going.

• There is also the Islington balls run to St James’s, Prebend Street, N1, with performers like pianist Daniel Grimwood (September 11), choral group Recordare (September 12) and two eminent sopranos: the eternal fabulous Emma Kirkby singing Dowland and the wonderful Claire Booth singing Schumann (September 17).

• Finally, given the grim significance of September 11, let us note the Band of heroes, a group of former military brass players who fundraise for charity. They have a concert at Covent Garden St Paul tonight. Book on