Preview: Shostakovich Festival, Bridgewater Hall /RNCM, Manchester

Controversy and his comrades
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The Independent Culture

Manchester is about to witness an onslaught on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. In a rare collaboration, the city's two orchestras, the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic, take turns in the Bridgewater Hall to present all 15 of the Russian's symphonies.

In this series of 12 concerts, running from 14 January to 24 February, the last century's greatest symphonist is coupled with composers he particularly admired: Bach, Beethoven, Mahler and Britten.

Joining the orchestras' music directors, Mark Elder and Gianandrea Noseda, will be the BBC Phil's principal guest conductor, Vassily Sinaisky, and Cristian Mandeal, the first principal guest conductor in the Hallé's 148-year history. And former Hallé conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski - who knew Shostakovich personally - will no doubt stamp the 10th and 11th Symphonies with his quiet authority. Thomas Zehetmair conducts the Northern Sinfonia on a guest appearance in the smaller-scale but no less powerful, death-ridden 14th Symphony.

The Royal Northern College of Music launches the festivities with its annual chamber-music weekend, Shostakovich and his Comrades (from 15 to 18 January). It's directed by Christopher Rowland, former leader of the Fitzwilliam Quartet, which won Shostakovich's admiration, gave the premiere in the West of his final three string quartets, and was the first ensemble to both perform and record all 15 quartets.

A mark of the success of this ambitious and fascinating programme of Shostakovich, his comrades and his heroes will surely be the amount of heated debate aroused over this still controversial and enigmatic composer, who said in 1951: "I should like my music to help people live more easily, work more happily, and love more deeply."

Bridgewater Hall: 0161-907 9000; RNCM: 0161-907 5555 (