Liverpool's year of culture: Ashkenazy, Rattle, and the WAGs

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The Independent Online

The question of whether Liverpool's Capital of Culture year in 2008 should be high brow or populist has been a source of intense argument in the city since it beat Newcastle to the title three years ago.

Organisers revealed last night that they will attempt to make it both, unveiling a programme of events for the year that could pitch Wayne Rooney's girlfriend Coleen McLoughlin alongside new commissions from the composer Michael Nyman and the artists Richard Wilson and Ben Johnson. There will also be several international art exhibitions and performances by the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and the conductor Sir Simon Rattle.

The Liverpool schedule, unveiled to the World Trade Market in London, did not include a commission from one of the city's living legends - the musician Sir Paul McCartney or the playwrights Willy Russell or Alan Bleasdale. But 2008 will provide a better home at last for the city's collection of work by the American artist J J Audubon, some of which will be accommodated in a new Liverpool University gallery.

Liverpool's preparations were in disarray four months ago when the city parted company with the artistic director Robyn Archer, whose tastes many considered too esoteric. But the city seems determined not to dumb down for its culture year. By mid 2007, Wilson will have reshaped a building scheduled for demolition into a project entitled Turning the Place Over. Wilson's appearance will coincide with the Turner Prize at Liverpool's Tate gallery in October.

In its determination to avoid a standing start, the city has also attracted BBC3 in Christmas 2007 to stage a Nativity version of this year's Manchester Passion, in which the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are re-enacted in a procession through the streets.

Organisers have also persuaded Liverpool-born Sir Simon to return to the city of his birth to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Meanwhile, the actor Pete Postlethwaite, who was born in Warrington, Cheshire, is likely to star in a production of King Lear at the Everyman theatre and the poet Roger McGough joins the authors Doris Lessing and Philip Pullman at a literary festival.

But a determination in some quarters to prevent the event from becoming a shrine to all things Scouse is reflected in one of the artistic highlights - the UK's first comprehensive exhibition of work by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt at Tate Liverpool. In conjunction, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a series of Vienna-themed concerts, and provide music for two Viennese balls at the city's newly restored St George's Hall. A new choral work by Sir John Taverner has also been commissioned as part of a City of Song programme which will run throughout the year.

And then there is the popular culture, with football playing an appropriately central role. The People's Festival, in May 2008, is billed as a weekend celebration of football, fashion and music, featuring images of the greatest moments in European soccer, set to music written by Nyman. This will include a fashion show featuring footballers' wives and girlfriends, dressed by the Liverpool boutique, Cricket.

The names of the WAGs have not yet been confirmed but Coleen McLoughlin is a long-standing patron.

The city's pop music heritage will be celebrated in a riverside concert, where the acts will perform on a floating stage on the Mersey. Names of the acts are yet to be confirmed but many people believe the presence of Sir Paul McCartney to be a racing certainty.