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The 2021 International Festival pairs international soloists and conductors with established UK-based orchestras.

Last year, Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were billed to perform a dazzling season at the Barbican to mark the orchestra’s 90-year anniversary. A week after their first concert, the UK went into lockdown. Yet, despite the challenges of the past year, Stasevska – who is the youngest person and the first woman to be given a titled conducting role in the BBC SO – proceeded to win the Royal Philharmonic Society’s coveted 2020 Conductor Award and now leads the orchestra’s triumphant return in the International Festival’s Opening Concert. Setting the tone for this year’s classical music series, Stasevska conducts a sunlit concert filled with optimism and drama.

Unlike the BBC SO, 2021 marks Chineke! Orchestra’s sixth year of performing. In a relatively short period of time, it has become an internationally renowned ensemble, recently reopening the Royal Festival Hall after an extended closure due to Covid restrictions. Chineke! Orchestra, the first majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra in Europe, takes up residency at the International Festival with two concerts and is joined by American conductor William Eddins for their second performance. Eddins’ familiarity in conducting both opera and modern classical music makes him perfectly poised to lead the orchestra in the unique song cycle, This singular work, including influences of jazz and blues, is performed for the first time in Scotland by mezzo soprano Andrea Baker.

Scotland’s major orchestras also make significant appearances with other world-leading international conductors, including eminent American conductor Marin Alsop and the widely sought-after young conductor Elim Chan. Alsop returns as a frequent International Festival visitor to conduct the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Chan makes her Festival Debut with the first of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s three concerts. And lastly, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra closes the classical music series with Japanese maestro Kazushi Ono, who conducts two established classics, alongside two pieces that evoke the sounds of Japanese musical instruments within a Western orchestra context.

Discover the full classical music programme here.

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