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20 shows for 2020


Our Nature Unwrapped 2020 programme opened last week with a spectacular series of events and performances from Theatre of Voices, Brian Cox, George Monbiot, The Askew Sisters and more. Looking ahead, we asked our Programme Director Helen Wallace, who curated the series, to introduce 20 shows in the year ahead that she’s particularly excited about.

© Aleksandra Majak

Fri 17 Jan | Hall One 7.30pm

Alice Oswald is one of the great poets of nature, a voice of the wild in the great tradition of John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ted Hughes. She is also one of the most charismatic performers I have ever encountered, her intricately-wrought verse made transparent in her luminous utterance. In this event, she will read her epic sea-story Nobody to the unearthly sounds of Ansuman Biswas’s tam-tam and waterphone. Mostly taking place in darkness, this promises to be an extraordinary listening event.

© Chris Friel

Firestacks: Tide, Time and Gravity
Wed 29 Jan | Hall Two 7.30pm

In his recent Underland, Robert Macfarlane ventured down through geological deep time to explore darkness, burial and man’s relationship to the earth’s past and future. For this event, he will share his fascination with Julie Brook, the Skye-based sculptor whose ‘firestacks’ form part of Pangolin’s Nature Unwrapped exhibition. She builds and sets alight great stone cairns until they are quenched by the tide, documenting the process in breath-taking films. A rare chance to eavesdrop on a conversation between two artists with a passion for time, landscape and humanity.

Extinction Events
Fri 14 Feb | Hall One 8pm

There is a real buzz around this crack contemporary music group, who’ll return in June to play GF Haas’s meditative Solstices. In this concert, they will give the UK premiere of Australian composer Liza Lim’s Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus, inspired both by the debris man is leaving on our planet, and the memory of what has been lost. She recalls the last mating call of an extinct bird and her dawn chorus is that of fish on the Great Barrier Reef. Laurence Osborn’s darkly ironic tour de force, Ctrl, examines toxic masculinity, and its ultimately destructive influence. I first heard this brilliant work in 2017; it has never left me.

In Earth, in Heaven
Wed 26 Feb | Hall One 8pm

There is nothing quite as mesmerising as the billowing veils of vocal sound released by the great works of 16th-century Flemish master, Orlande de Lassus. And few can match the luminous sonority and artistry of Belgian-based Vox Luminis led by Lionel Bringuier, whose passionate expertise has won him and his group so many prizes, not least a Gramophone Award in 2019. This may be an evening of mourning and lamentation, but expressed through music of heart-stopping beauty. Eternity awaits.

Reasons to be Cheerful
Thu 12 Mar | Hall One 7.30pm

Since his days as Labour party leader MP Ed Miliband has found a second vocation as an inspired and often very funny podcaster. He is also seriously well-informed about the environment and ideas and technologies that can stop the hand-wringing and help move policy forwards. I am so pleased that he and radio host Geoff Lloyd agreed to be part of Nature Unwrapped; I know they’ll bring interesting guest speakers – and find reasons to be cheerful even in the face of this climate emergency.

Eliza Carthy, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson
Fri 13 –  Sun 15 Mar | Kings Place

Working on Nature Unwrapped, it was soon clear that the group of musicians most profoundly engaged in environmental issues were from the folk world. Matthew Bannister’s delightful podcast Folk on Foot was the starting point for this series of headline concerts, in which Martin Simpson, Eliza Carthy and Nancy Kerry sing and speak of their personal connection to their own landscapes. With three such compelling performers, how can I choose between any of these events? Go to all of them. With much thanks to our Artistic Associate Alan Bearman Music.

Part of Regent 200
Wed 18 Mar | London Canal Museum, 7.30pm

Nature Unwrapped gave us the perfect opportunity to bring together three organisations linked by the Regent’s Canal: the quaint London Canal Museum across the Battlebridge Basin from Kings Place, and Camley Street Natural Park, that valuable slice of wilderness in King’s Cross managed by the London Wildlife Trust. In this evening at the museum we are honoured to welcome two of the LWT’s experts on canal and riverine wildlife, who’ll share their knowledge of water quality, fish, bird-life, dragon-flies and plants, including the host of rogue ex-pet terrapins.

Among Red Mountains
Thu 19 Mar | Hall Two, 8pm

Eliza McCarthy is a pianist of beguiling poise and style. She is also the muse for many living composers, including Mica Levi, who wrote a series of commanding pieces for her with fantastic titles, such as Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall. In this special concert she will weave Mica’s pieces with John Luther Adams’s monumental music of the great outdoors, TukiliitNunataks and Among Red Mountains, and share the sounds of Somerset and Suffolk in her collaboration with electronic artist Joe WillsBreathbox.

Beethoven: Pastoral
Sat 28 Mar | Hall One, 8pm + Hall Two 9.15pm

Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony is one of his most consoling – a lyrical, transcendent work drenched in sunshine-after-rain. The experience of hearing this uplifting paen to nature in Hall One played by our Resident Aurora Orchestra under the baton of Nicholas Collon will be one treat, but an even greater one will be the chance to sit among the musicians, experiencing the symphony from the inside, in the Hall Two Lock-in afterwards. Tickets already selling fast!

©Ebru Yildiz

All the Things I Lost in the Flood
Sat 4 Apr & Mon 6 Apr | Hall One, 7.30pm (Mon 6 Apr, 8pm)

We are so thrilled to be welcoming Laurie Anderson to Kings Place for the first time, bringing her intimate words and music show, All the Things I Lost in the Flood. Losing a lifetime’s art work in the Hurricane Sandy floods in 2012 provoked a reassessment of life, art and the imagination. Be drawn into the fantastical world of a deep thinker, instinctive musician and experimenter in sound, for whom there are no artistic boundaries

The Unofficial Countryside
Mon 20 Apr | Hall Two, 7.30pm

I am old enough to recall the first edition of Richard Mabey’s Food for Free, his radical invitation to harvest the hedgerows long before foraged seaweeds had turned upon Michelin-starred dining tables. Mabey is a unique and highly-influential writer on nature because he has always recognised its incredible resilience in the face of destruction (The Unofficial Countryside), and its power to heal the broken human spirit (Nature Cure). Rather than lamenting, he sings hymns to its survival: we need him more than ever.

© Marco Borggreve

Catalogue d’oiseaux
Fri 24 Apr | Hall One, 7.30pm

What I admire so much about Messiaen’s approach to birdsong is his refusal to soften or prettify what he heard. This was a composer who listened forensically, making no false assumptions. The result is music of often startling violence and strangeness, an alien language, with its own rhythmic rules and otherworldly beauty. The magnificent Tamara Stefanovich has made a very personal selection from this magnum opus, including the mystical meditation which ends the series, La fauvette des jardins.

Au Naturel
Sat 25 Apr | Hall One, 7.30pm

Robert Hollingworth has a genius for dramatising vocal music, and his new project for Nature Unwrapped promises to be just as entertaining as his trail-blazing The Full Monteverdi and Tallis in Wonderland. Pieter Breughel’s paintings are the starting point of this Four Seasons, with a delectable menu of music from across the centuries spliced with semi-staged theatrical enactments of a storm, a hunt and birdsong from Renaissance masters.

Voice of the Whale
Fri 1 May | Hall Two, 8pm

I love Manchester Collective’s fresh take on curating concerts, and this one is no exception. The starting point was my request for George Crumb’s ethereal Vox balanae, inspired by the song of the humpback whale. Next comes Takemitsu’s poignant Between Tides, a commission from Greenpeace as part of an anti-whaling campaign. Takemitsu, whose music is the focus of London Sinfonietta’s concert on 29 April too, was a poet of the elements. With scintillating interludes by Molly Joyce and Andrew Hamilton too, this will be a blue-lit gem.

© Rosie Powell

The Holistic Energies of Nature
Sat 27 Jun | Hall One, 7.30pm

The biennial festival Noh Reimagined returns this year with a Nature Unwrapped theme, ‘Spirits of Flowers’. There are some highly imaginative events, but none closer to my heart than this collaboration between the dance duo Thick and Tight and the classical Noh performers, Hengenka. If you have not seen the work of Thick and Tight (Daniel and Eleanor Perry) you have a theatrical treat in store. They combine radical mime, dance, cabaret and black comedy to spectacular effect.

Contemporary Music For All
Sun 5 Jul | St Pancras Room, 3pm

Anyone who missed Hollie Harding’s fascinating project Liquid, Shifting, Melting World at the National Maritime Museum last year should come along to catch its new incarnation, At the Tide’s Reach – and even participate in the performance as a singer or string player. Based on data that monitors the warming oceans, her music is conveyed to the audience via bone-conducting head-sets as well as live performance. Come and join in.

The Canticle of the Sun
Fri 18 Sep | Hall One, 7.30pm

Sofia Gubaidulina’s setting of St Francis’s hymn to creation is a work of dazzling grandeur. I’m so pleased that the South African cellist Abel Selaocoe agreed to be soloist with the BBC Singers in this rare performance: he is a musician of enormous creativity and presence, capable of standing in the shoes Rostropovich for whom this work was written. Expect an African surprise before Grechaninov’s evocative Vespers.

© Hugo Glendinning

Hunting: Gathering
Thu 24 Sep | Hall Two, 7.30pm

Of all nature-inspired works for string quartet, those written in recent decades are some of the best. Pēteris Vasks’s Quartet No. 2, Summer Melodies, is a ravishing major work, while Kevin Volans’s Hunting:Gathering is a delicate masterpiece evoking an African world. In between there’s Caroline Shaw’s evocation of fractured light and John Luther Adams’s transformation of a string quartet into an Aeolian harp, high on a windswept mountainside.

Handel’s L’Allegro
Sat 3 Oct | Hall One, 7.30pm

Many of Handel’s works are alive with the sounds of nature, but none more so than that dancing masterpieceL’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato. Milton’s poetry inspired some of his most colourful writing where the living world reflects inner states of mind, dawn and dusk, storms and forest murmurs, allegorical birds, and erotic exchanges between shepherds and nymphs. I’m delighted that the Chorus and Instruments of Time and Truth will grace Hall One with this indelible music.

Arctic Ice Music 20:20
Fri 13 Nov | Hall One, 8pm

Hearing an ice trumpet performed in Kings Place was one of my first memories of the venue, back in 2008. It’s a joy to welcome back Norwegian jazz artist and ice instrument specialist Terje Isungset for this magical set, and this time with a host of singers from the far north, Greenland, Finland and Siberia, who bring songs from a disappearing world.

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