2019, the 150th anniversary of his death, has been a splendid year for Berlioz. There have been numerous performances of his works in the UK, many of them led by our distinguished conductor Patrons – from large-scale pieces such as the Symphonie Fantastique, The Damnation of Faust, the Requiem and Benvenuto Cellini to smaller, less well-known ones including overtures, choral works and songs with piano accompaniment. Many fine new recordings have been released, including several Berlioz box-sets, one of them comprising 27 CDs with the ambitious, if not quite 100% accurate, title of The Complete Works.
There has been considerable Berlioz-related media coverage. BBC Radio 3 aired a national weekend-long musical celebration of Berlioz in February, and he featured as their Composer of the Week during March. The year reached a suitable conclusion with the recent publication of David Cairns’s fine new book Discovering Berlioz, mentioned below.
Berlioz 150 has run several events, starting with our anniversary launch at the Institut Français in March. This was followed by a memorable event at the V&A in May, with three East London primary school choirs giving “pop-up” performances at different locations within the Museum, before joining in a Berlioz song recital given by mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly. In July Tony Matharu held a cocktail event for us at his Blue Orchid Wellington Hotel in Westminster. Then in September Dame Mary Archer hosted a dinner at the Science Museum for supporters of our work, followed by attendance at the late-night Royal Albert Hall Prom performance of the Symphonie Fantastique, brilliantly played from memory by our Patron Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra. This was just one of five memorable Berlioz performances during the BBC Proms 2019.
Our work continues beyond the anniversary year itself. During 2020 we will launch our Fantastique! for Schools downloadable teaching resources, using the Symphonie Fantastique as a vehicle to engage schoolchildren through a series of highly practical, hands-on, participatory learning modules enabling them to experience the joy and the power of classical music. And of course our longer-term goal is to deliver a Fantastique! massed children’s choir event with a record-breaking 10,000 singing children, inspired by Berlioz’s own experience of hearing 6,500 children singing together in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1851. Together with our key partners, Young Voices, Tim Rhys-Evans of the Aloud Charity and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, we are working towards a date in June 2022 – later than first planned, in the light of the lead times needed to determine the content and guest artists, recruit participating schools, prepare and train the children and raise the necessary funding.
So you will continue to hear from us, albeit perhaps on a less regular basis, for some time to come! Meanwhile we in the Berlioz 150 team thank you for your enthusiasm and support during 2019, and wish you a very happy Christmas and an enjoyable, successful and rewarding New Year – with plenty of opportunities to listen to and learn about the great Hector!
Chairman, Berlioz 150