Thursday, 14 April 2016

Sir Henry Wood, radical : New Music at the Proms

How deep must the malaise in BBC Radio 3 and the Proms go, if it's suggested that "revolution" only came in with William Glock?  The whole concept of the Proms predicates on the radical idea that audiences can rise up to the challenge of good music, whatever it might be. That's a very different concept to the modern idea that music must be dumbed down and made palatable for "popular taste". Sir Henry Wood did not patronize. He made taste; he didn't creep timidly behind it. Glock carried on his his artistic mantle.

Sir Henry Wood wasn't a Wagnerian for nothing. Only a generation before him, Richard Wagner had created a revolution with his radical new ideas: the aftershocks of that upheaval being felt for decades.  Wood followed the courage of his convictions, and did what he loved. The very first Prom for which we have full records featured many living or only recently dead composers. Some are still famous, some you have to look up, but Wood and his audiences didn't have rigid preconditions as to what was "difficult" and what was "safe". Sir Henry Wood premiered Schoenberg in 1905, Sibelius in 1903,  Mahler in 1903, 1905, and 1909, Debussy Nocturnes in 1909, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite in 1913, Janáček Sinfonietta less than two years after its premiere and even part of Berg Wozzeck in 1934.

The idea that anything new should be feared is in itself nothing new, but the degree to which it's been applied to modern music says more about media manipulation than about music. Until very recently, Schoenberg was demonized for inflicting the 12-tone system, and enforcing the end of tonality. Now he, Berg and Webern are being re-branded by those who realize the "Vienna City of Dreams" myth makes money.  Now, Boulez is the demon du jour to those who think music comes packaged in little boxes. Far from evolving, the BBC Proms are regressing to a time that never was. 

Thankfully, there are some interesting things in the 2016 Proms season, some involving new work, some involving new performers (as opposed to safe marketable names). There are other potentally good things, though some mismatch between repertoire and performers. In addition to the Proms I've already picked (more here) here are a few more goodies which may have slipped past the new outlook.  Some are must-gos, some would be fine on radio.

Prom 12 Magnus Lindberg, a work so new it has no title, but it's on with Jurowski Beethoven 9 which will be good

Prom 26 (4/8)  Oliver Knussen conducts conductor composer Reinbert de Leeuw Der nächtliche Wanderer, a substantial new work of 54 minutes. 
20/8  afternoon the London Sinfonietta, exiled to the Roundhouse despite doing Birtwistle, Ligeti, Georg Friedrich Haas and David Sawer

Prom 46 (20/8) Gérard Grisey Dérives,  oddly with Mahler songs and Mozart

Prom 48 (21/8) Matthias Pintscher conducts his own Reflections on Narcissus (33 min) 

Prom 55 (27/8)  Hans Abrahamsen Let Me Tell You.  Celebrity marketing behind this piece. It's hardly typical Abrahamsen, and several times longer than all his vocal work published to date. It's a good piece, but maybe its appeal isn't entirely musical.  OTOH, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the CBSO for the first time at the Proms. From what I've heard of her so far, she's extremely good indeed. The CBSO's track record for spotting talent seems to have worked again. 

Prom 57 (28/8)  Thomas Larcher Symphony no 2 (35 min) with Semyon Bychkov and the BBC SO

Prom 65 ( 2/9) Baldur Brönnimann conducts Ensemble Intercontemporain in Boulez, Carter, and Bartok.  Perhaps the finest new music ensemble around, one of the best conductors, and a wonderful programme. This is one of the most exciting Proms this whole year, squeezed as it is into the late-night slot which limits the audience since it ends too close to last trains, tubes and buses.

3/9  Bold Tendencies Multistorey Car Park. Don't laugh! Though this sounds gimmicky, I've been told by those who've experienced it that it is rather fun.

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