Since it was founded in 1945, the Philharmonia Orchestra has been one of the jewels in the UK’s cultural crown. And if you live within travelling distance of the Southbank Centre, a few minutes’ walk from Waterloo, Embankment or Charing Cross, you’re in the enviable position of being able to pop in on a Thursday or a Sunday and hear these 80 fantastic musicians perform live in the Royal Festival Hall.
This autumn they explore the crosscurrents between classical music and jazz in their series Let Freedom Ring: Celebrating the Sounds of America. On Thursday 9 November there’s Duke Ellington’s tribute to Martin Luther King, music from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and a Violin Concerto by Wynton Marsalis, composed for soloist Nicola Benedetti. Stay behind or head to the Southbank Centre after dinner for a free 10pm performance by the Philharmonia Big Band, featuring the orchestra’s irrepressible Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali on drum kit.
The series continues with an evening of symphonic music by the late jazz great Wayne Shorter, featuring an incredible line-up of his former collaborators including singer esperanza spalding and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. On 23 November, you can hear music by William Grant Still and Margaret Bonds, two Black American composers who deserve a wider audience outside the US, alongside songs by Gershwin (including ‘Summertime’), performed by American singer Julia Bullock. Then Let Freedom Ring closes with Dvořák’s ever-popular New World Symphony.
The Philharmonia’s 3pm matinee concerts are the perfect way to brighten up a Sunday afternoon – they finish at around 5pm so you can head out for a meal beforehand or afterwards, or just catch a train home in time for tea. They’re also a great way to introduce children to the amazing sound of a live orchestra – the Philharmonia welcomes children aged 7+ to all their concerts. This winter, take your pick from Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Daniil Trifonov on Sunday 26 November, Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty on Sunday 3 December, or music by Shostakovich and Richard Strauss on 4 February.
In 2024, the Philharmonia’s season continues with music from Mozart to Mahler. Piano fans are particularly spoiled for choice, with performances featuring Dame Mitsuko Uchida, Bruce Liu, Alexandre Kantorow, and Alice Sara Ott in the UK premiere of a new Piano Concerto by Bryce Dessner.
Tickets start from £15 – book online at philharmonia.co.uk or call the Philharmonia box office on 0800 652 6717.