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What does it mean to be human? What is our place in the world? What are we dreaming of?

These are fundamental questions that humans have pondered for centuries and composers have attempted to answer through music.

In the 2022–23 season with Music Director Vasily Petrenko, we took a journey through the facets of the human character with music as our guide. Prokofiev invited us to feel the ecstasy of the first flush of love, Mahler transported us to a space beyond this world, Berlioz immersed us in a psychedelic dreamscape and Grieg guided us through our planet’s breath-taking landscapes.

At the Royal Albert Hall, we brought you Mahler’s three choral symphonies. From the titanic ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ to the illumination of the soul in the ‘Resurrection’ and the nature-infused Symphony No.3, Mahler’s ambition was to create symphonies that would embrace the whole world.

A kaleidoscope of sounds came to the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, from Berlioz’s wild and unpredictable Symphonie fantastique and the delirium of Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy, through masterpieces such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (featuring the 'Ode to Joy' and conducted by special guest Sir Andrew Davis) and Elgar’s Cello Concerto, to moving personal journeys from Jennifer Higdon’s musical memorial to her brother in blue cathedral and inner conflicts woven into Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

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Fancy an encore? As part of our #MoreMusic series, we go beyond the concert's repertoire, discover other pieces by the composers' contemporaries and the music that inspired the repertoire.

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Look back on the series as it happened...


On Sunday 2 October we performed the opening concert of Journeys of Discovery in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall. The journey began with Wagner's dramatic and develish Faust Overture, which was followed by Grieg's deeply Romantic Piano Concerto, performed by Simon Trpčeski. The concert concluded with Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, a musical interpretation of Nietzsche's existentialist search for meaning, most famous for its opening Sunrise movement.

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Long-awaited was our performance of Mahler's Symphony No.8, commonly known as the 'Symphony of a Thousand', since its three-year delay caused by the pandemic. On 23 October 2022 the Royal Philharmonc Orchestra and the amassed forces of the City of London Choir, Philharmonia Chorus and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus in addition to two boys choirs, the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and Tiffin Boys' Choir, brought Mahler's colossal choral and symphonic work to a packed Royal Albert Hall in a concert The i described as "a glorious experience that nobody is going to forget in a hurry."

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After the Orchestra toured Germany Belgium in January, Journeys of Discovery kicked off again on Wednesday 8 February with Scriabin's mesmerising and mystical Poem of Ecstasy, a vision of "the universe embraced in flame". The concert opened with a selection from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, which was followed by Javier Perianes' performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. The second half opened with Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, featuring the famous chord that changed Romanticism forever.

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On Wednesday 22 March came the sounds of freedom in Beethoven's Symphony No.9, given an even greater majestic power in Mahler's own arrangement. We were grateful to have our Music Director Vasily Petrenko step in to conduct at short notice after Sir Andrew Davies unfortunately had to withdraw from the performance.

Mahler was also present in the first half with Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a song cycle based on German folk tales.

Read The Times review


On Thursday 30 March the second concert in our Mahler mini-series at the Royal Albert Hall was his Symphony No.2, 'Resurrection', a blazing testament to human soul that brought the Philharmonia Chorus, soprano Elizabeth Watts and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston to the stage with the Royal Phliharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko's baton.

"The conductor’s punctilious and unshowy direction, especially in this big space, forced you to lean in and really pick out the details. Those very much worth tuning into included the delicate tread of the second and third movements, sweetly and innocently painted by Petrenko rather than smeared in irony, with graceful string portamenti beautifully judged."

The Times ★★★★

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 On Sunday 23 April we had a date with destiny in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall with Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony and Elgar's Cello Concerto with Daniel Müller-Schott. Manfred winds between hope and despair in one man's Byronic traversal through the Alps, but before that, the bassoon gots its chance to shine in Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

"...under Petrenko, the RPO is an extremely stylish limousine, slipping almost imperceptibly through all the gears, but also powering along with maximum torque whenever required. This was splendidly on show in Tchaikovsky’s largest and most challenging score, his Manfred Symphony."

Read the ★★★★★ Bachtrack review


The third and final performance of Mahler's choral symphonies was his Third Symphony, performed in the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 27 April. The women of the Philharmonia Chorus, Tiffins Boys' Choir and mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp joined the Orchestra for Mahler's longest symphony, a tour through earthly and spiritual realms of beauty.

"A memorable performance, then, which brought out the sheer scale and ambition of Mahler’s conception while underlining the all-round excellence of the RPO near the end of its second season with Petrenko."

Read the Arcana review

The performance featured other special guests - the Forever Bells on hire from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra!

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Music born from some of the deepest human obsessions, Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique delves into the strange places fervent, unrequited passion can lead us, and it was brought to blazing life on Wednesday 10 May in the Royal Festival Hall in Psychedelia. The concert opened with American composer Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral, a beautifully tender musical memorial. This was followed by Arabella Steinbacher's performance of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.2, which was composed as Profkofiev toured across Europe before he returned to Russian in 1936.

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The finale of Journeys of Discovery came with spectacular fireworks and explorations into the depth of darkness with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto with Japanese soloist Nobuyuki Tsujii, followed in the second half with Shostakovich's wartime Symphony No.8, which he described as a something of a 'Requiem'.

"Petrenko didn’t hold back in his interpretation. The central climax of the first movement is one of the composer's most visceral moments and here, in the confines of the Royal Festival Hall acoustics, it was an overwhelming experience." Bachtrack

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Thank you for joining us in our 2022–23 season at Southbank Centre and the Royal Albert Hall. We hope to you continue your journey with us in Icons Rediscovered with Music Director Vasily Petrenko.

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