Saturday, 31 July 2010

Is the ampitheatre empty? Prom 18

Brett Dean's Ampitheatre ensures that Prom 18 will get big media coverage in Australia. Not a stupid idea, because media sales to other markets are a significant part of BBC finances. The more people watch, money goes towards funding other things. On the other hand, Dean's music raises questions,though not necessarily musical. Like how far is a composer respected for what he actually writes, as opposed to being a symbol of national identity, like a national airline?  Symbolic composers are a good thing, and needed - Finland, for example, wouldn't be Finland without Sibelius. .But Australia isn't facing what Finland faced then.

In 2007, Dean's Vexations and  Devotions had international TV broadcast which probably cemented his status, but wasn't necessarily a musical experience. It was described as a "sociological cantata" which shared the same social conscience as Beethoven's Seventh  Symphony. Dean's ideas, not the BBC's. The piece took itself far too seriously as the social issue here was automated telephone systems. Cute but trite. Maybe that's why it took such a long time to say so little. A paean to banality, rather than a critique thereof.

I had promised myself not to listen to Dean's Ampitheatre but did. Unfortunately, it proved two adages. First, that marketing turns anything to gold. Second, that the biggest fish in a small pond isn't necessarily big.

In 2007, they programmed Beethoven 7 with Brett Dean which said volumes about what Dean thiniks of himself. This time, the programme was less pointed, songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn,  sung by Ekaterina Gubernova, and Shostakovich 10th, conducted by Mark Elder. Adequate performances, dutifully done.

Better spend your time on Proms 16 and 17, both superb on their own musical terms.

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